The Dichotomy of California's Frontier Myth: 'Hell-A' and Utopian San Francisco

“[There] is something about the frequency with which California and 'the future' are used synonymously,’ writes Kristin Miller. But the future looks much different when set in Southern California as compared to Northern California.

March 6, 2014, 1:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Does this story line sound familiar? “10 to 150 years from the present, California has succumbed to natural disaster/economic and governmental collapse/a pandemic, which leaves Southern California a corporate-fascist-military state with gross financial and racial inequality and urban squalor—while Northern California rips up its pavement, learns permaculture, gets spiritual, and models better living through technology and communitarian diversity,” writes Kristin Miller in a recent article for BOOM: A Journal of California.

In Los Angeles, a dystopian future has pervaded even policy circles. Miller cites Mike Davis, who in Ecology of Fear noted that the LA 2000: A City for the Future redevelopment plan mentioned one famous example, Blade Runner, in “warning of what could happen were the plan not adopted.” The plan called it “the Blade Runner scenario: the fusion of individual cultures into a demotic polyglotism ominous with unresolved hostilities.”

To the north, however, “Northern California-as-utopia...is strongly linked to the countercultural movement of the sixties, with its guides for technologically advanced back-to-the-land living.”

Texts like Ecotopia, Always Coming Home, and The Fifth Sacred Thing “depict Northern California as central to both speculative and practical visions of sustainable survival.”

A final, powerful point from Miller: “In the frontier myth of American history, California represents the completion of a manifestly destined expansion across the continent. It’s easy to see Utopian San Francisco and 'Hell A' as twin land’s-ends for idealists and cynics.”

Thursday, March 6, 2014 in BOOM: A Journal of California

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