All the pundits are rushing to pass judgment on California’s Day of Dystopia. This is one of the best.
Excerpted from Vanity Fair – Joanna Robinson 9.9.2020
“Have you seen the sky…? It is actually Bladerunner status.”
Hanging near my desk is a poster I picked up years ago at a Northern California independent bookstore event. It’s a quote from Don DeLillo’s classic 1985 novel White Noise about a mysterious airborne toxic event that ravages the country.
It reads: “California Deserves Whatever It Gets.” (The longer quote, a bit of classic DeLillo snark: “They invented the concept of lifestyles. This alone warrants their doom.”)
I woke up this morning to that text from my housemate, upstairs in our Oakland home. It was 8:30 in the morning, California time, hours after I usually get up to try to work in step with my East Coast colleagues. See, I usually get up with the sun but on this September morning, four years into what we’ve started calling our annual “fire season” in California, there was no sun. Just a dark and sickly orange glow.
“Does it really look like that?” one friend from down south texted. Meanwhile a closer neighbor got a little more reflective: “This level of weirdness definitely sends the mind scrambling for precedent or explanation. The scale of it feels Biblical, or at minimum a Buffy season finale cliffhanger.” It’s true I can only reach for sci-fi/fantasy references. It’s Herbert’s Dune, Tolkien’s Moria, Lucas’s Tatooine, or, yes, Whedon’s Hellmouth . And it could be so much worse. Our homes could be ashes. Our families could be hurt.
But today’s creepily dark orange sky seems to have gotten everyone’s attention—nothing like a #nofilter visual to make people sit up and take notice. Folks from all over are checking in with me in a way they didn’t when the fires were at my door. The bitter irony is that despite the creepy post-apocalyptic images coming out of San Francisco, Oakland, and the rest of the Bay, our air is actually quite nice, cool, and breathable today. A comparatively clean 72. But it’s approaching noon and it feels like midnight.
That’s the sense I have sometimes. That we’re finally paying for our gorgeous views and balmy weather and our extreme wealth and privilege brought here by rushes of gold, towns of tinsel, and valleys of silicon.