To Angelenos, the first circle of hell is the San Bernardino Valley; the second, the High Desert; the third, Bakersfield; the fourth…well, let’s just call it “out of state”. Downwardly-mobile ex-Californians face a rather horrifying way of life, often pouring into cheaper parts of the Sun Belt and even into the South, imagining places like Nashville and Austin represent some viable alternative to their beloved (but, alas, unaffordable) SoCal, but either finding out differently or, perhaps worse still, desperately huffing copium to avoid facing the truth that their new location is just a halfway house to their bloodline’s ultimate destination: the Rust Belt, if not the Third World.
As the Twitter account known as NEET World Order has pointed out, these purgatories are strange, sinister, and liminal places, their vibe perhaps best encapsulated by his (or her) favorite image:
It’s all cheap, minimalist, modern, and with that faux-“country” faux-“Southern” affectation adopted by all the losers of society who are moving down, into the browning masses of the lower class who will, as the World Economic Forum infamously predicted, “own nothing and be happy”, in stark contrast to those winners of society who are moving up into the club of the super-rich, who (still!) look toward old Europe’s aristocracy when forming their tastes in life, who needless to say will own everything (most especially their mansions on the California coast) and be as lily-white as Gavin Newsom and family.
Only rich liberals get to live the dreams of poor conservatives…
Anyway, back to the picture below, I saw where “NEET World Order” was throwing some more shade at Austin, Texas, and using this picture, and it got me curious about what exactly the provenance of this image is. Surely, I thought, it had to be somewhere in the South or at least in Texas; it certainly looks like somewhere that would be in or near Austin.
But nope! Turns out the source of this picture, as near as I can tell by a Google Lens search, is this picture posted by one Michelle to Foursquare, which shows up on a page dedicated to a certain business that this is a picture of, “Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row”, which honestly sounds like some cringe bar in Nashville or perhaps Asheville (though I still would have guessed Austin)…but “Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row” happens to be located in…Gilbert, Arizona!
Gilbert is a town outside of Phoenix, located in Maricopa County, and has seen explosive growth over the past few decades, from an agricultural town of five thousand people in 1980 to a suburb harboring over a quarter million today. The place has some history, but it’s largely been subsumed into the sprawl of the nearest metropolitan area.
Fun fact: Gilbert is the largest municipality in the entire country that officially styles itself a “town”. Around the turn of the millennium it was atop quite a few national lists of fastest-growing places. It ranks highly in many national lists for livability and blah blah blah, but realistically it no doubt serves as a circle of hell for Californian exiles.
Many of them no doubt seek solace in country music, which, true to the uncanny synthetic downwardly-mobile vibe of the whole culture places like “Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row” are set in, has largely merged and blended western, folk, and mountain music almost beyond recognition into an undifferentiated pop mass spoon-fed to the poors by corporate media that stretches, like the ethnic mix of the original white settlers, in an unbroken swath of the country from North Carolina through Tennessee into Texas and clear past Arizona.
From the crest of the Pacific Coast Ranges to beyond even the Appalachian Divide, right up to the realm of infamous “Rich Men North of Richmond”, the hellscape encapsulated in this picture prevails anywhere that’s remotely affluent or desirable. Southernized, so much so that even a bar outside of Phoenix seems only vaguely western, but without any of the rough-around-the-edges parts of being Southern that would make it “unsafe” for big brands to advertise themselves with…or for middle-class professionals desperately coping with being consigned to the incipient Rust Belt that is the bottom hundred or so metropolitan areas to put on as a costume.
As for places that are not so affluent or desirable? Well, there’s the wasteland that looks like a bomb was dropped on it decades ago and nobody ever bothered to pick up the pieces; certainly not the hideously obese masses that amble around on walkers, faces more and more resembling deformed morlocks with each passing year. The rougher left-behind regions northward of the faux-country crowd’s stronghold, i.e. the Midwest’s Rust Belt, have led the way, but increasingly the vast majority of the country is following in the transmogrification.
Outside the superstar cities that only multimillionaires can afford to live in anymore, those are your choices: a bombed-out wasteland full of fentanyl-addled morlocks, punctuated only by the odd island or two where copies of the Californian aesthetic from 20 years ago twisted beyond recognition into a circle of hell, with faux-country affectations like “Pretty Girls Drinkin’ Tall Boys” slapped onto it, are your only solace, the sort of place a mere single-digit millionaire can aspire toward if you sell yourself into student debt slavery and work like a dog for 20 years as you super-commute from the surrounding bombed-out wasteland so you can grab a job paying enough for you to just barely qualify for a mortgage on a cheaply-built crackerbox with less color than a Borg cube and where you can reach out your window and touch your neighbor! Your dating pool as a young (or, increasingly, not-so-young) person in this affluent enclave? Well, at least the people there look mostly normal, but that’s about all you can aspire to as a mere single-digit millionaire: someone who’s sorta-OK looking and can settle for as a wife (or, worse yet, live-in “girlfriend”) to make that crackerbox house a “home” where you can start a “family” in consisting of mediocre children you don’t even like much.
No human beauty, much less natural beauty; all that is a privilege reserved for the Gavin Newsoms of the world, and neither you nor your progeny will ever be in the club, because asset prices are through the roof, wages never keep up with inflation, and “you’ll own nothing and be happy” in your low-cost-of-living hellscape everyone said was a viable alternative to the Pacific Coast of California (well, as long as you huff enough copium…). There’s no escape for the cheap…