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California Culture

In: Historical Events

Submitted By jakeweiner
Words 1459
Pages 6
Weiner 1
Jacob Weiner
Daniel McClure
California Culture
October 1, 2014
California Sunshine and Noir California, the Golden State, where the sun is always shining, the waves are always crashing, and dreams are coming true. Right? Well, not exactly. It hasn’t always been sunshine and smiles for the great state of California. The state has gone through a variety of stages both economically, and politically. Throughout these phases, there have been a fair amount of themes that have helped build the foundation of California culture. Of course, there is the notion that anyone can move to California and strike it rich. This dream that is still very alive today has contributed in the past and present with massive booms in immigration into California. This popular conception is warm and welcoming, but it does not tell the entire story of California. When looking into the past and understanding how this state came to be, there is a dark and iniquitous aura that suggests that California isn’t really that enchanting, glamorous place that it is made out to be. The California Dream all started in 1848 when discovery of gold sparked a rapid movement known as the California Gold Rush. Word quickly spread when John Marshall first made his discovery in the American River. As Albert L. Hurtado explains in his paper, “Sex, Gender, Culture, and a Great Event: The California Gold Rush, ‘It is impossible to give more than rough estimates for the number of hopeful people who poured into California from 1848 to the early 1850s.” This movement helped create the
Weiner 2 idea that anyone can obtain fast wealth in a new place. California was known as a place of opportunity where any average Joe can strike it rich with just hard work and a little bit of luck. The California Dream did not end with the Gold Rush however.
San Francisco serves as a good example of the stages that California has encountered throughout the years. Richard Walker explains in his essay, “Another Round of Globalization in San Francisco,” how the city transformed after the Gold Rush boom started to fade. “As riverine gold ran out, mining went deep, requiring huge capital investments. This and the discovery of the Comstock Silver Lode in Nevada in 1859 changed the character of San Francisco dramatically, from a libertarian field of dreams to a gaming house for big capital.” After the Gold Rush, San Francisco had to turn to other means of capital in order to establish itself as a leading industry in the West. Walker later writes that, “Because California was relatively isolated, the chief explanation for industrialization has been the local market; yet San Francisco was the nation’s fourth largest entrepot for foreign trade by 1890.” With all of the growth arising in the Bay Area, San Francisco was able to sustain itself by extracting resources, manufacturing goods, and then selling them in local markets. This was all possible because of the development of California. Walker mentions that, “This turned out well, as the region built up a stronger base of production before being propelled again to the global forefront by wars in the Pacific.” Richard Walker sums up the economic developments of California well in another essay, “California’s Golden Road to Riches: Natural Resources and Regional Capitalism, 1848-1940.” He states that, “Its expansion to the present trillion-dollar economy was jump-started by a gold rush, maintained by a succession of
Weiner 3 silver and oil strikes, and sustained by long-term extractions from farm, fishery, and forest.”
With all this economic development seen in California it was normal for someone to move to the Golden State with high hopes. Nevertheless, it usually did not go as planned for the majority of the Californian dreamers. In the book, Screening Out the Past, written by Lary May, the world of cinema is described along with all of its harsh realities. May states, “No doubt there remained a disjunction between the promise and the reality of the good life.” Hollywood is sometimes referred to as the second Gold Rush because of what it had to offer. Like the Gold Rush, Hollywood has provided similar hopes and dreams that were inspired over a hundred and fifty years ago. Many people have believed that they were talented and gifted enough to become a famous actor or actress. All they had to do was move to Los Angeles to make it become a reality. The sad truth is that only a very small percentage of people actually have been successful in the business. Nevertheless, Hollywood thrived because, “Los Angeles offered the vision of a new West. This was crucial for the image the movies wanted to create”(May 183).
With the success of Hollywood and the entertainment business, came a movie genre known as film noir. Film noir cinemas were typically Hollywood crime dramas that underlined dark standpoints. Mike Davis describes how the film noir came about in his book, City of Quartz. “As the depression shattered broad strata of the dream-addicted Los Angeles middle classes, it also gathered together in Hollywood an extra-ordinary colony of hardboiled American novelists and anti-fascist European exiles. Together they

Weiner 4 radically reworked the metaphorical figure of the city, using the crisis of the middle class to expose how the dream had become nightmare.” Many of the film noir movies depicted the California Dream in a gloomy manner. In the movie The Maltese Falcon (1941) a private investigator by the name of Sam Spade gets caught up in a search for the Maltese Falcon, an extremely valuable “black figure of a bird.” Throughout the movie, Spade runs into a number of characters that offer him a range of rewards for the bird. In classic noir fashion, a few of the characters are murdered, crimes are committed, and the prestigious Maltese Falcon turns out to be a fake. This movie is a prime example of how film noir portrayed the California Dream. In essence, the Maltese Falcon is a metaphor for the dream. People are willing to commit crimes and even kill to get their hands on the “black bird,” when in the end it turns out to be phony. It was a clever way for the film writers and directors to express their opinions and views of the California Dream to the public. Although film noir adequately represented the realities of the California Dream, it did not bring into light the horrendous events that occurred early on that allowed the American Dream to even exist in the first place. Before the US had expanded its territories to the pacific, Native Americans occupied the land for thousands of years. The Indians lived alone in their own peaceful ways until around 1769. According to Jack Forbes in his book, The Native American Experience in California History, the Indians experienced an era of European invasion and military conquest that lasted for about one hundred years. That period of time, “Saw the Indian people overrun by the horror of imperialism and war, and reduced in numbers from perhaps 200,000-300,000 to a mere

Weiner 5
20,000.” It is because of these acts of violence that the state of California was capable of being established. The details and history of these events were later covered up and regarded as if what had happened was no big deal. Looking back into the past and understanding how California came to be, it makes sense as to why all the wickedness and struggles are associated with the California Dream. The state was founded on the near extinction of the Native Americans and then developed on the idea that anyone can migrate in and gain a quick fortune. Essentially, California, the state known for sunshine and joy, was fabricated by the evilness of greed and unscrupulous desires.

Weiner 6
Works Cited
Davis, Mike. "Excavating the Future in Los Angeles." City of Quartz. New York:
Vintage, 1992. 20. Print.
Forbes, Jack. "The Native American Experience in California History." California
Historical Quarterly. 3rd ed. Vol. 50. U of California, 1971. 234-242. Print.
Hurtado, Albert. "Sex, Gender, Culture, and a Great Event: The California Gold Rush."
Pacific Historical Review. 1st ed. Vol. 68. U of California, 1999. 1-19. Print.
Huston, John, dir. The Maltese Falcon. Warner Home Video, 1941. Film.
May, Lary. "The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry." Screening Out the Past. U of Chicago, 1983. Print.
Walker, Richard. "Another Round of Globalization in San Francisco." Urban Geography.
1st ed. Vol. 17. V.H. Winston & Son, 1996. 60-94. Print.
Walker, Richard. "California's Golden Road to Riches: Natural Resources and Regional
Capitalism, 1848-1940." 167. Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley. Web.

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