National News

Dark Depictions of a Sunny State

Posted December 26, 2017 10:10 a.m. EST

The fires that ripped across California have produced a round of commentary about the perils that come with living in this state. It is nothing new. California has inspired an entire genre of literature and film over the years: dark and apocalyptic, with a disaster lurking behind every stunning sunset illuminating those late-afternoon winter surfers on the Pacific.

“Wildfires are the price Angelenos pay to live in a city that straddles mountains, builds housing into hillsides, and threads communities through brush-filled canyons,” The Atlantic wrote this month. “We pick this poison, in place of living with tornadoes or hurricanes or winter storms where ice falls from the sky and blankets whole regions.”

Over the decades, California — in films and books — has been pummeled by earthquakes, tidal waves and fires. It has been invaded by aliens. Film noir has flourished, particularly in Los Angeles, a city that seems perfect for setting dark, creepy and pessimistic films.

Why are people picking on California? Well, for one thing, there is some truth here: This state is a place of wildfires, mudslides, catastrophic flooding and earthquakes.

“When people come to California and they see the hills decked with poppies — everything is beautiful — they expect this is the norm,” said Mike Davis, a Southern California historian who recently wrote about the fires in a New Yorker essay. “The promotion of California as this paradise is a fundamental misrecognition of the nature of the environment that people live in.”

But could there also be a whisper of East Coast resentment — or shall we say schadenfreude — from out-of-state commentators who, understandably, might be irritated by, to use a seasonal example, the cheery “Merry Christmas from the Santa Monica beach!” Instagram posts that pop up this time of year. Some people, as Davis noted, just don’t love California.

“People love seeing LA destroyed,” Davis said. “They love seeing all those weirdos get it.”