Photo by Jack GouldOur verdict on Orange County: American Hip Factory, the VH1 special that aired March 25? Not half bad, really, as much as we hate to admit liking anything that's broadcast on a sister network of MTV.
The 45-minute documentary (60 with commercials) was a well-researched history of OC's ironic evolution from right-wing Republican John Birchville into punk rock mecca into what today, according to the special's voice-over, "may now be the hippest spot on the planet."
OC's officially sanctioned hipness, VH1 argues, is due to three factors: the success of several OC bands who've broken big in recent years; the prevalence of surfwear/skatewear clothiers; and the image of OC as a target-marketer's wettest wet dream, a point supported by the Advertising Age exec who says OC is "the area that [advertisers] are most desperately trying to associate their product with."
That point is backed up somewhat humorously when that same mysterious voice-over claims that "Without OC, no one would be doing the Dew," as if the fate of an entire caffeinated beverage is in our hands alone. Oh, the responsibility!
But we suppose that, when even a conservative corporation like Ford, with its roots in the notorious anti-Semitism of founder Henry Ford, is trying to tap "OC cool" by striking a deal with Newport Beach skater Omar Hassan, as American Hip Factory points out, well, we suppose you can say we're hip, goddamn it, as long as there's money to be made.
Mostly, though, the documentary is about music, and all the obvious faces appear onscreen to offer blurbs about living the OC life—No Doubt's Gwen Stefani, Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath, Lit's Popoff brothers, Dexter Holland of the Offspring, Mike Ness and sourpuss Zack de la Rocha, who recalls "growing up in the rich, racist, white suburbia of OC."
But give VH1 credit for also interviewing players who've been huge locally, but far less so globally, like Steve Soto, the Crowd's Jim Decker and Jim Kaa, and even Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, who finally gets some of that national TV exposure he couldn't nail during his 1992 presidential run. Squeaky, nonthreatening Disneyland is a major source of consternation, with Ness recalling that he wasn't allowed into the park for looking punk rock back in the day and TSOL's Jack Grisham telling of breaking into the park one night after closing and wanting to chop off Snow White's head. (The eternally quotable Grisham gets loads of face time.)
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The county's conservative genesis is illustrated with visuals of Dick Nixon and Old Mother Reagan, made weirdly cool as Social Distortion songs spin in the background. The cops-vs.-punks clashes at the Cuckoo's Nest are augmented with vintage club video and the Vandals' "Urban Struggle." The influential Beach Blvd. compilation is noted, and Posh Boy Records founder Robbie Fields is interviewed, but there's no "Robbie Fields ripped us off!" counterpoint, which would take up way too much time anyway (perhaps in the sequel, Orange County: American Hip-Replacement Factory?). The origins of skate punk are traced to Steve Olsen's Haircut That Launched a Thousand Wifebeater-Wearing Mooks (but why no Duane Peters interview, an obvious—and colorful—choice for comment?) We guffawed loudly at such breathless comments as Stefani being called "the scene's first legitimate sex symbol" and the ESPN programming guy who says "OC to action sports is sort of like Liverpool to British rock." Also fun was spotting the glaring mistakes, like the skateboarder doing a ramp turn with what's clearly the San Diego Sports Arena in the background and the footage of Knott's Berry Farm's Parachute Sky Jump that's meant to illustrate Disneyland.
Grisham is given the honor of summing up the Orange County rock scene this way: "The sad thing is they took a look and made it into a uniform. They took a movement and turned it into an advertising campaign. So, yeah: for that, I'm bitter."
Don't grouse, Jack: when VH1 and other conglomerates start branding anything as the arbiter of all things hip, that almost always means the end is near. Can we now declare non-hipness the New Hip?
Orange County: American Hip Factory repeats on VH1. April 12, 2 p.m.