Who Cares About Money or Status. It's About Making a Mark.

In her essay on Julius Shulman’s photography of Los Angeles (subscribers only), Virginia Postrel, in the November Atlantic Monthly, notes:

Los Angeles, like New York, was and is a “city of ambition,” the title of Alfred Stieglitz’s 1910 photo of a New York waterfront of towers and steam. But ambition takes a different form in California. West Coast ambition is not the upward thrust of a skyscraper, the drive to be the tallest in a small and crowded space. Californians like fame and money as much as anyone, of course. But (Hollywood agents aside) their dearest ambitions, like their architecture, are more horizontal, with room for everyone to erect an individual marker. This ambition may be less cutthroat, but it is, in its very openness, more universally demanding. Opting out of the quest for status or money is easy, even virtuous, compared with saying you don’t care whether your life leaves a mark. The things outsiders find absurd or threatening about California—the self-fashioned spiritual practices, the bodybuilder/action-star governor, the crazy diets, the junk bonds, the endless supply of new fictions, the UCLA- and Palo Alto–born Internet—do share a certain grandiosity, a ridiculous desire to change the world, or at least oneself. Better not to admit such ambitions, or so goes the fable easterners love to repeat: the story of the disillusioned California dreamer. (emphasis mine)

4 comments on “Who Cares About Money or Status. It's About Making a Mark.
  • Ben, what an astute post. While the eastern states are older and represent the American establishment, the west coast has always had a spirit of risk taking, or “dreaming.” This is partly a function of the perilous journey necesary to start a life out here. Only the most ambitious, courageous people would attempt to cross our continent (if you’re not convinced of the diffficulty, go play Oregon trail). This narrowed down the type of people of the west coast, and the culture has stayed quite distilled. This has only been aided by our immigration. I wont claim some genetic difference, but there’s something special about California.

  • Well I am not a californian, but a simple guy from India and have been observing what California does to human talent – from what I’ve heard from many of my friends living there.

    While New York is intimidating, California is welcoming…right, Ben…?

  • The country is tilted: all of the wackos slid down to California.

    The East Coast will always be the intellectual and economic center of this country.

    Only if you’re making money and getting status will you make your mark. The two go hand in hand.

  • Hey there – I just stumbled upon your blog and I enjoy reading the “Americanism” posts…

    I’ve been living in Copenhagen, Denmark for the past year and a half, and I’ve started a “typicaldane” (typiskdansk) blog at: http://www.typicaldane.com; I basically list all the ways in which Danish culture is superior to the American way of life (I’m half Danish as well). But alas, I may be moving back to the Bay Area, and at this point it’s the only place in the States where I feel at home!

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