Who doesn’t love to hate Californians?

Everyone hates Californians. Hey, I get it, I live here, and I hate Californians. It’s an absurd state, filled with absurd people, often doing absurd things and waiting in line to do them. That’s part of what makes it great. If it wasn’t absurd, it’d probably be boring.

Here’s an article about Boise hating Californians published in 1979. But the concept goes back further, the idea of “Californication” came along well before the Red Chili Peppers (apologies if that just got stuck in your head), and traced all the way back to the 40s. It seems as though every city or state in the US has some variation on the “Go Back to California” article. Here are just a few examples:

A lot of this seems based in politics. A classic red vs blue mentality of “oh shit the liberals are coming with their ideas about universal healthcare and equality, they’re going to make girls pee in boys bathrooms” or whatever, and look, Californians can certainly be insufferable. But in my experience, so can Coloradans, Texans, Arizonans, and just about everyone else.

Most people are insufferable!

California is huge, filled with 40 million different brands of insufferable people, from Beverly Hills types to too hip for their own good types to ignorant types to Hollywood types to beach types to mountain types to desert types to yoga types to superior types and so on. I have no clue what the hell a “Californian” even is and any attempt at capturing the essence of Californian or California as a whole always fails.

I’ve been curious about this sentiment ever since I was a kid, where, growing up in Colorado, Californians were seen as evil outsiders. And because I’m a moron hell-bent at tilting at windmills I’m going to spend a little time here trying to understand it.

Let’s get the social aspects out of the way, because I think that’s the first layer of the “Love to hate Californian” onion. It’s the sort of abstract idea where locals don’t like the idea that Californians might move in, bringing their wacky liberal fantasy of orgies with goats or whatever. I’ve understood this best through the lens of locally run, extremely stupid websites, like “Don’t Californicate Arizona dot com” which has this to say to Californians considering moving to Arizona:

In Arizona, we support the Police, and we thank them every day for being the Thin Blue Line that separates society from anarchy. We especially welcome those brave first responders who have been abused by the unruly mobs while the “leaders” of their cities stand idly by. There will be no Defunding the Police in Arizona.

In Arizona, we support our children and their education. We reject the notion that teachers are more important than children, and the notion that parents should not be able to send their children to the schools they choose because the teachers’ jobs are more important than the children’s education.

You always know someone is serious when They Capitalize Words for Some Reason. Many states and cities apparently have similar single-purpose web sites, but I’ve lost track of them in my browser’s web history. But rest assured, most follow this same idea, and we don’t really need to spend much time on it as I’m certain that after the last five years we all get it. If you need more for some reason, just dig through any local paper’s Opinion section, and I’m sure you’ll find one.

I’m sure there’s also just a general “outsider” annoyance at play here, where people are upset that not everyone knows the local “rules.” I don’t know what Californians are doing when they arrive in their new states as transplants, I’m sure they’re doing insane nonsense, and I guarantee if they’re from Los Angeles they drive like absolute psychopaths. The running joke in Colorado was always that Californians and Texans couldn’t drive in the snow, and I’m sure that’s still mostly true. Obviously this part goes away over time (hopefully).

There’s also a bit of a political irony in the reason many Californians leave California: the high cost of living, which is often blamed on high taxes (which isn’t the whole story, we’ll get to that below though). I’m probably going to mess something up here and oversimplify, but I’ll try anyway.

When Californians leave, they tend to move to Republican/Purple leaning states because of lower taxes, lower housing pricing, or jobs (I’d argue here that anyone moving for the sake of a job needs to be cut out of this conversation, as it’s unfair, really, to hold someone, no matter how insufferably Californian they may be, accountable for moving because they need work. I’m sure moving for work is scary and it sucks for many people. And corporations moving is an entirely different bag of issues).

Anyway, so many of these states lower taxes and minimize regulations to entice newcomers (and companies) to the state, but often don’t bother to stabilize housing or development first. When the predictable influx of new people arrive, locals complain, because as newcomers arrive, it raises the cost of living while lowering the quality of living. Supply and demand, yada yada yada, so you need to increase supply.

But without taxes, there’s no municipal funding, and without regulations, development goes nuts building the stupid, out of place styles of architecture that locals hate (for what it’s worth, I don’t think Californians like it either. My best guess is those buildings are cheap and fit some sort of non-existent idea of what developers think California-types want, which we’ve already established is a pointless exercise). This is probably the right time to talk about gentrification, but the term get tossed around so much and means so many different things that I’m not entirely sure that it’s conceptually useful here. But in both abstract and acute terms, we’re talking about many of the issues encompassed by gentrification.

Which isn’t to say there needs to be the same sorts of housing regulations that California has, that’s a terrible idea, but the concept that you can bring in more people without building the infrastructure to keep those people happy seems bizarre to me. But it’s worth thinking about the mistakes California has made and learning from them, instead of just always doing the opposite thing because that’s the political landscape we have, now.

After all, outsiders have also been ruining California for Californians since, well, basically the dawn of the state. For recent examples the lowest hanging fruit lays in looking at San Francisco in the ‘70s in the pre-Silicon Valley era, but you might as well go back to the Gold Rush of 1848.

For those seeking to place blame for California’s housing crisis specifically, there’s plenty of it to go around. But there are a few common denominators most experts agree on: NIMBYism, prop 13, and an abundance of housing regulations (which often mean empty buildings just sit there doing nothing for anybody because of zoning restrictions), have driven housing prices through the roof, where they’ve held for decades.

(There’s also the larger, mostly American problem where everyone ties their entire net worth to their house because the American economy is a Rube Goldberg machine and we’re all just marbles falling through the system. This whole system sucks for nearly everyone involved, except, perhaps, a handful of corporations and landowners. But we’ll leave that for another day.)

The income inequality in California is obvious to anyone who drives through the state, or through a downtown area, or who looks at and thinks critically about our COVID numbers. California’s housing crisis is no joke, and not a single leader has tackled it in a meaningful way.

This is all just to point out that while people will come and go from this state for a variety of reasons, housing is a pretty big motivator for many to leave.

Okay, so we’ve established a loose and wildly incomplete history on why California is a mess, and subsequently, why a lot of people leave.

Californians often move to a so-called mid-sized city like Denver, Nashville, Portland, Boise, Minneapolis, or Austin (there’s a whole, ahem, cottage industry of blogs run by shipping companies climbing the SEO ranks with their “where to move from California” content). It is almost as though the sprawling metropolis of a city like Los Angeles actively pushes folks to these smaller cities, where they can still find a fancy coffee and craft beer, but can get around a little easier. This occurs often enough that anti-Californian sentiment grows and eventually the local paper runs one of the aforementioned op-eds.

Eventually, too many people move there, and without a meaningful increase to tax revenue there’s no money to fix the highway system or expand public transportation. As the population increases, these Californians bring “the problems of California” to wherever they’ve landed. And as more people arrive, locals, whether they’ve been living there for 50 years or five, complain about the crowds, housing prices, traffic, smog, food prices, restaurants, lines, price of a beer, etc etc etc.

Anyway. This has been all over the place—but we’ve hopefully established that California is a pain in the ass to live in (but also a wonderful place to live), people hate Californians, and like all people, some Californians are annoying as hell. Let’s zoom in.

Growing up in Colorado, there was a specific type of so-called Colorado “native” that despised outsiders. They said dumb shit like, “If you want to see Denver tomorrow, go to Los Angeles today.” This idea was so prevalent that some enterprising asshole made a sticker-company based around the idea. It cleverly was just the word “Native” on the Colorado license plate. Even if you ignore the issues of a bunch of mostly white people claiming the term “native” for a tone-deaf bumper sticker, the dude who came up with that sticker was not a local (the company also apparently dealt in bullshit like “Obamageddon” alongside a pro-Trump version of the sticker, but that was all mostly after my time there). Here’s a fun fact: for all its pride, only about 47 percent of Colorado’s population is local (Michigan is number one in this regard, at 82 percent).

Coloradans leaned into this nativism pretty heavily at some point, probably starting around the ‘60s, but I saw it in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In my time, there were not just the stickers, but full on billboards that read “Don’t Californicate Colorado.” Middle school me got a kick out of learning what “fornicate” meant. I’m told these billboards and stickers existed in other places, like Idaho, Oregon, and Arizona. My read is that this was partially about bringing the politics of California to other states, but social issues are likely a facet of that. We can probably assume there was a racism layer there too, whether that’s implicit or not is anyone’s guess though, it’s a billboard we’re talking about here.

In any case, leaning into the idea that everyone from a specific state must be bad and only people who are “local” are good sure does sound problematic to me. As for the politics, sure, California has all sorts of issues, but so does wherever you live. This whole thing is an experiment, and sometimes experiments fail. California, with its wonders and downsides, is incomprehensible, and trying to sum it up in a billboard or sticker seems especially pointless.

It’s probably worth pointing out here that I’m not from Colorado either. My family moved there when I was too young to have memories, but from a strictly statistical point of view, we, like most, moved to Colorado from somewhere else.

Our location is fungible. It can be meaningful and impactful on who we are, but it also doesn’t have to mean anything. There are always those of us who feel out of place wherever they are, and if they can find a new home somewhere where they don’t feel that way, it seems like a net win for everyone.

Sure, Californians suck, and yes, an influx of people moving somewhere causes all sorts of chaos on local economies. When too many people move to a city, it often levels out any personality a place had, leaving a washed-out, cookie cutter neighborhood in its place. In the ‘90s that was chain restaurants and big box stores, nowadays it’s crystal shops and $15 burritos. Tomorrow it’ll be something else (look to Los Angeles to find out what 😉). That’s capitalism, baby.

“California” or “Californian” has become a proxy for any non-local. It means “big government” and “liberal” and “taxes” and “socially liberal” and “non-whites” and “immigrants” and “fancy Hollywood money” and “snobbery” and whatever else you want it to mean. It might have even lost its meaning entirely if it wasn’t for the millions of people leaving the state (again) throughout the pandemic, but (once again) “Californian” means everything to anyone who wants it to mean something.

If there’s some sort of point I’m trying to get to here—and I’m not totally sure there is one beyond just sussing this all out for myself—it’s that people who suck can suck no matter where they’re at, and when there are too many people, there’s a higher likelihood of people who suck being suckier than everyone else. Moving is easier than it has ever been for some people, and one consequence of that seems to be that culture itself is being vanilla ice creamed to the point where all cities “feel” the same.

Currently reading: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Currently watching: Lupin

Recently watched:  Greenland (⭐️⭐️⭐️), Virtuosity (⭐️), Freaky (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Currently listening: Big Thief U.F.O.F.