Before I talk about the rivalry between Northern and Southern California, I have a confession to make:
I’m biased. Disgustingly biased.
Usually, I perpetuate the war as if I get paid to do it. I love the NorCal fog. I often describe Los Angeles as a dystopian desert. At USC, I say “hella” more than I ever did in the Bay, just to keep things especially obnoxious.
But a weekend trip to the Treasure Island Music Festival in Northern California got me thinking. I looked at the crowd. Sure, we were all wearing parkas — but take that away and none of us would have seemed out of place in Southern California.
Neon leggings, loose tank tops, unnecessary sunglasses — it’s the kind of attire that is frequently seen around campus.
The geography and landscape of the regions will always be different, and Northern California will always be more granola than glitter, but I’m willing to bet that no one outside of the West Coast sees that big of a difference.
At the end of the day, most Californians can admit that NorCal and SoCal aren’t so fundamentally different. Their disparities are vastly overshadowed by the defining factors the regions share.
Blasphemy, you say? Hear me out.
First, both sides are dominated by fickle, high-profile industries that consistently make the news.
For Los Angeles, it’s Hollywood. Moviegoers across the globe speculate about the next big films coming out of Los Angeles, not to mention the careers and personal lives of actors. It’s something of a spectator sport.
In many respects, NorCal has its own version: Silicon Valley. It’s hard to open a newspaper without reading about something that’s getting digitalized. The cults of personality surrounding Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could rival those of A-listers.
Great programmers are often as quirky as great actors — something David Fincher’s The Social Network aptly demonstrated. If the movie wins an Oscar, don’t be surprised to see a blockbuster about Apple.
Second, neither side likes to follow tradition. The United States might have been founded by Puritans, but in most of California, you can swear like a sailor and buy liquor at a pharmacy.
These behaviors might not be acceptable in much of the East, the Midwest and even some of the actual West (Utah, anyone?)
What’s more, in California, alternative views and trends aren’t relegated to insular subcultures.
In Northern California, environmentalism isn’t just for hippies; in Southern California, ripped shirts and unlaced boots aren’t just for punks. The big cities in the Pacific Northwest do have similar nontraditional vibes, but California is loud and proud about it — the entire state is famous for marching to the beat of its own drum, which would probably be a bongo.
Perhaps this trait is mainly apparent in the metropolitan regions, but many of the surrounding towns follow suit too.
Finally, people on both sides dream big. Thousands of migrants come to California — north and south — with the specific intention of making it big, whether that means producing a movie or creating a popular social media tool.
Dreamers are readily apparent in California’s political arena, too. Berkeley and San Francisco’s activists come to mind, but consider the fact that it was our Republican movie star governor who said that California should lead the way in green energy.
Then, there’s same-sex marriage. It’s an issue all over the nation, but Californians will probably be the ones who bring it to the Supreme Court.
And what if California becomes the first state to legalize marijuana? The issue is still polarizing, but hardly because of a north-south divide.
The point is that all Californians live with the awareness of infinite possibilities — a factor that influences state culture more than any regional disparities.
Being from Palo Alto, Calif., I sometimes joke that I’m an out-of-stater. I still think it’s strange that people in Rhode Island drive three hours to go to college in Massachusetts, yet I have to drive six hours to go to school in my own state.
California is vast, but it retains a distinctive feel, one that stands tall against regional differences. Texans just say they’re Texans. From now on, I’m going to say that I’m just a Californian.
But I’m still going to say “hella.”
Maya Itah is a junior majoring in communication and international relations. Her column, “Wait, Think Again,” runs every other Friday.