America is a large country of stunning diversity, but the film and television industries are largely confined to one little corner of it: southern California
, where Hollywood is. Writers tend to write what they know, and since they know Southern California, the rest of the country will often be inaccurately portrayed as being just like L.A. (And it'll look just like L.A.
, too.) Often, this happens just because it's cheaper to film in nearby locations than to spend money relocating staff to other parts of the country. Because of this, minute details about other locations tend to get written in media as being just like California, even when it's very different.
This trope has been especially prominent in American culture since the 1980s, when Los Angeles began to supplant New York City as the "hip"
place to be.
This is arguably the reason why It's Always Spring
. Also known as Californication
, which is the trope namer for a TV show
and a song
. Especially as a Take That
by residents of the Pacific Northwest
. Nonetheless, it can be inverted by having shows that actually are set in Southern California... but filmed in Vancouver
See also Big Applesauce
. Subtrope of We All Live in America
, which happens when American media assumes that life and culture in other parts of the world is the same as in the United States. Britain Is Only London
, Free State Amsterdam
, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
and The Eiffel Tower Effect
occur when a country is deliberately reduced by the writer to its most iconic city or just one landmark. Contrast Canada Does Not Exist
, a weird Canadian inversion of this trope, and Eagleland Osmosis
, where the omnipresence of American media leads non-Americans to believe that their country works just like America (or L.A., for that matter).
Non-American media is, of course, not exempt of its equivalents. The main difference is that unlike in the United States most media in other countries is often produced in or around the nation's capital.
Examples of the trope namer:
- The death penalty. Until recently, often sought in California, but rare in practice due to the drawn-out process of appeals. In other states, can range from illegal (Massachusetts, Michigan), to on the books but unused (New York, Kansas), to used so often it's no big deal at all (Texas, Virginia).
- Stacy Keach's Mike Hammer made repeated references to the gas chamber, a means of execution used by California, but inconsistent with the series New York setting. The latter state relied on the electric chair for most of the 20th Century. Later law provided for lethal injection.
- Law & Order plays with this, with suspects pointing out that no one had been executed in New York since the federal moratorium a few episodes after seeing someone executed. And then in other episodes, they like to threaten criminals who've murdered in Texas with extradition, as they're a lot faster to pull the switch.
- California cops have 48 hours to charge a suspect with a crime before they have to release him. The standard under federal law is actually 72 hours, but You Have 72 Hours isn't a trope.
- Speaking of cops, "To protect and to serve" isn't a general police slogan, just the slogan of the Los Angeles Police Department.
- To be fair, the phrase turns up on some other departments' cars and letterhead, due to a kind of Red Stapler effect.
- Also, other departments more commonly use "To serve and protect".
- New York's cops use "CPR: Courtesy Professionalism and Respect" as well as "New York's Finest" with other branches being other "New York's ___est" (e.g. FDNY is New York's Bravest)
- California Penal Code section numbers are often turned into slang, even outside California where entirely different laws apply.
- 187: Murder is defined in California Penal Code section 187.
- In 2010, ABC offered Detroit 1-8-7, a show with a title referencing the California penal code (murder) in a city not in California. In the Michigan legal code, 187 is a long repealed section on assisting prison breakouts.
- On Will and Grace, set in New York, Will's policeman boyfriend Vince receives a page to participate in a "187" investigation. He is pleased to be called in to investigate one of these, which is odd given that he's not investigating residential mortgage fraud.
- While on temporary duty with the NYPD, Marshal Sam McCloud responded to another "187" in Manhattan.
- 5150: has recently entered urban vernacular for "crazy". Section 5150 of California Penal Code allows for a person to be involuntarily committed for up to 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation, if it's believed that person presents a danger to himself or others.
- 211: Armed Robbery. Often heard on police dispatch channels ("Two-eleven in progress at...") Seen in Hawaii Five-O [the original] and Miami Vice, even though neither show takes place in California. That would be a failure to guarantee a commercial loan and an attempt to subvert taxes on oil or mineral extraction, respectively.note
- In the novel Mr. Monk on Patrol, there's one scene where Monk and Natalie get into a squad car and respond lights and siren to a burglary. Natalie reports into the radio they're responding to a 211 in progress. I don't know what the actual police radio code in that part of New Jersey is for a burglary, but it isn't a 211.
- California is one of nine "community property" states. This has led many people in TV and movies (and real life) to use the term when they mean "marital property".
- While California is far from the only state to use the term "District Attorney" for their prosecutors, many states and the Federal government use different terms. Despite this, no matter where a work is set, a prosecutor is going to be called the District Attorney. You'll rarely hear US Attorney (the federal title), Commonwealth's Attorney, County Attorney, State's Attorney, or any of the other titles.
- Parole is nearly always an option in fiction, unless the crime is especially heinous, in which case it can be taken off the table, like a "life without parole" sentence, just like in California. In reality, sixteen states have no parole system, and neither does the Federal government.
- Metropolitan areas are large, sprawling, and separated by hundreds of miles of countryside. This is nothing at all like the relatively compact and closely spaced cities of the Northeast and Midwest, or the really compact San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California, which has Marin County, plus the length of the San Francisco Peninsula, the East Bay, Oakland, Fremont, Stockton, and San Jose.
- Carbonated soft drinks are always "soda" – never "pop", "cola", or "coke" – because that's what the generic name for a fizzy drink is in California. Compare.
- Stories set ostensibly in places such as Ohio or Connecticut have characters wearing tee-shirts and other spring appropriate clothes in the middle of Januarynote .
- In Southern California, highway numbers take the definite article: Interstate 5, for instance, is "the 5"; state highway 22 is "the 22", and so on. Despite this tic being pretty much unique to LA, it is often carried over into shows and films even when people in the setting would say "Route 22", "State 22", "I-5", "Highway 5", just plain "5", and so forth.
- In one episode of QI it is pointed out that only a particular subspecies of frogs, found in California, go "ribbit", while frogs can actually produce a wide variety of different sounds.
- The large government office that deals with motor vehicle registration, driver's licenses, and state identification is invariably called the Department of Motor Vehicles, or "the DMV." Only about 18 states have an organization that could be called the DMV. Some states have a similar office under a different name. This can be a minor change like Arizona's Motor Vehicle Department (MVD) or Ohio's Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), to something completely different like Minnesota's Driver Vehicle Services (DVS) or the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Nonetheless, "the DMV" has become shorthand for this office all across the country.
- Other states have government offices that handle issues not typically associated with driving or vehicles also handle the tasks of vehicle/driver registration. For example, Illinois handles these tasks via local offices of the Secretary of State.
- A teenager will always be "legal" at the age of 18, as if this is the age of consent for the entire country. In reality, that's not even close to the truth. Each state◊ has its own age of consent, and only eleven of them have it at 18, California being one of them. It's 16 in most of them (thirty) and 17 in the others. Also, most states have exceptions if both are younger than the age of consent, or one is at it but the other is slightly below; California, however, has no close-in-age exemptions at all. Also, it is a federal offense in the United States to take a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in sexual intercourse.
- However, it should be noted that Baja California, Mexico (home to stock drunken debauchery site Tijuana, literally just across the border from San Diego), does have a legal age of 14, and some parts of Mexico have it as low as twelve. However, in that case the age is still 16, unless you are paying for it (then it is 18) or you happen to be a minor (then it is your age -4, minimum 12). Very few places worldwide have it as high as 18.
- Less an effect of state age of consent than the American standard of someone being a legal adult at 18. In areas strictly under the jurisdiction of the federal government (e.g. Americans living on military bases abroad) the age of consent is 16 (as per the Uniform Code of Military Justice) or the age of consent in that State/Nation (whichever is higher).
- This is a key plot point in the webcomic Treading Ground, where this trope is even name-checked. Half the troubles Nate and Rose went through could have been avoided had they known what the law actually was in North Carolina, where the comic takes place.
- In-N-Out Burger – This fast food chain has the vast majority of its stores in California, with a scant handful in surrounding states. But they are sometimes mentioned in shows that take place elsewhere. Other franchises, such as Sonic and Jack-in-the-Box, are also commonly seen on T.V. despite the fact that they aren't prevalent in some areas. Conversely, chains that are common in other parts of the U.S., such as Hardee's and White Castle, are almost never seen or mentioned, even in stories set where they are ubiquitous.
- California-specific namings of stores with different names across the country: Ralph's (supermarket chain owned by Kroger), Checkers (known in some places as Rally's), and Carl's Jr. (known as Hardee's in some places; mostly the South and Midwest).
- An hilariously odd sort of SoCalization appears in the Star Trek novel Spock's World by Diane Duane, in a description of Vulcan- "Jim tended to think of it as southern California, but with less rain." note
- Radio and TV stations sometimes have call letters beginning with "K" even when the setting is in the east, where they usually use "W".note
- For years, the opening credits of Matlock showed a Georgia license plate on a car's front bumper. Georgia, like most Southern states, has never used front plates.note
- The cities and terrain in SimCity have a distinct SoCal feel to them, with no seasonality, palm trees, and brown ground. Made especially odd by Maxis, the company behind SimCity, being from Northern California.
- Five-card draw poker as the gambling game of choice (at least until Rounders was released and Texas Hold'em started airing on ESPN). California for a long time had an esoteric law prohibiting any form of stud poker, and Gardena (a Los Angeles suburb) was fairly well known for its draw poker cardrooms. From 1900 until the 1970's, five and seven-card stud games were far more popular in the rest of the country than TV and movies would indicate.
- In many 80's/90's teen movies that don't take place in California, the "popular girls" have stereotypical Valley Girl lingo and fashion, despite the fact that this culture is mostly relegated to the Southern California area. Heathers, which takes place in suburban Ohio, is a notable example of this, as the three main Heathers look and act more like they belong in Beverly Hills than the Suburban Midwest.
- Suburbia featuring sprawling one-story houses and wide streets. Outside the Southwest, suburbs tend to be far more compact with dozens of towns surrounding a city; the roads are narrower if the town predates automobiles, and the houses tend to be 2-story to accommodate the lack of space (this varies the further out you go).
- An inversion: While Los Angeles and New York dominate in entertainment, the South and the Midwest will be more discussed in politics. This is due to small rural states having disproportionate power in Congress.note
- Public school architecture. Instead of a single large school building, most California schools use a "campus" design with several structures (often single story) surrounding a courtyard, to take advantage of the generally good weather during the autumn and winter months note . The courtyard is usually where lockers and lunch tables are located. Unless it's explicitly set in the warmer parts of California (or another area with a mild climate), a movie or TV show about high school will look really odd to most people if it shows the characters congregating outdoors in a courtyard or walking to class through a covered walkway.
Examples in other countries:
- In Canada, it's called "We All Live in Ontario'''". Due to the concentration of media in Toronto in an otherwise enormous country, pretty much anything of a "national" nature in English Canada is "Ontario". This includes terminology, accents, products and stores, etc. CBC takes a lot of flak for this from non-Ontarians. There is even a degree of Canadian Eagleland Osmosis that goes with it, as many people from thousands of miles away in British Columbia, for instance, have internalized Canadian stereotypes as their own, even though they never were. Some examples from Vancouver in particular: ice hockey (not that common when you can't make outdoor rinks); anything wintery for that matter (hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics does not help that image, although as noted by many, it rained the whole time); Ontario pronunciation ("Canadian raising" is much less obvious in B.C.); Tim Hortons (almost entirely absent from the Vancouver area until the merger with Wendy's – Vancouver is a first-rate coffee town with tons of local options).
- In Sweden, it's called "We All Live in Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö." And sometimes not even the last two are counted. The country has a population of 9 million, with over two million living in these cities. For comparison, there are only eight cities in Sweden with a population of over 100,000. Now, consider that most entertainment advertised, and lots of the brands as well can't be found in the smaller communities, and that going to a major city can take hours if not days...
- For the Netherlands, it often becomes "We all live in Amsterdam". Especially common among tourists. Related to Freestate Amsterdam.
- Or at least, "We all live in the Randstad" even though about three fifths of the population lives in the remaining three quarters of the country. Even national politicians seem to frequently forget that things that work in the major cities, or requirements imposed on them, don't necessarily also apply to the rest of the country, especially the more rural areas.
- For Denmark, it's "We all live in Copenhagen or (maybe) Aarhus". Aalborg or Odense might be included, but it's rare. The rest is referred to as "Udkantsdanmark", meaning "outskirts of Denmark" – or what would be Flyover Country in the US.
- For the Philippines, it's "We all live in Metro Manila". Justified considering that Metro Manila, a collection of seventeen cities named for the capital of the Philippines, has the highest population density in Southeast Asia as well as being the headquarters of most if not all of the major media broadcasting companies. A curious subtrope is "All Filipinos are Tagalog," which applies both to the language (Tagalog is the basis of Filipino) and to the people and is a potential Berserk Button for anyone who doesn't live in Metro Manila or the surrounding provinces.
- For Italy, it's either "We all live in Rome\Naples" or "We all live in Tuscany". Italy has 60 million people and less than 3 millions live in either Rome or Naples. While most of the peninsula is mediterranean in nature, lots of cities are located far from the sea and warm weather. And let's not mention how every single region is quite different from the others in culture and traditions.
- In Russian internet, Moscow is often jokingly called "Default city" (in English) for exactly that. Everything outside Moscow is known as "Замкадье" ("Transmkadia"), referring to the MKAD highway encircling Moscow.
- Apparently, in Australia, we all live in Sydney, or to a lesser extent Melbourne. Other cities? What other cities?
- The Melbourne Cup is celebrated as an official public holiday... in Melbourne, only. It's optional throughout the rest of Victoria, and the rest of the country fronts up to work as usual each first Tuesday in November. Although nearly everyone stops to watch or listen to the race when it's run.
- In general, any television show showing "modern Britain" will focus on either "modern London" (where most of the big telly companies are based) or "modern Manchester" (where the BBC is trying to move to avert this trope).
- Exceptions are when the show is produced by one of the BBC's subnational branches (BBC Scotland, BBC Cymru, and BBCNI), where it will almost certainly be "modern Glasgow" (where 1/3 of Scots live), "modern Cardiff", or "modern Belfast".
- It seems that all Germans are from Bayern (Bavaria), as almost every stereotype someone could possibly have about us is based on the Bavarian culture and are not part of the average-German. Lederhosen, anyone?
- In New Zealand, it's "We all live in Auckland", since this is where most of the media outlets and television companies are based.
- Auckland Anniversary Day (the Monday closest to 29 January) is particularly bad - it's treated as a national public holiday on television even though it's only a public holiday in the upper North Island; elsewhere it's a regular working Monday. Wellington Anniversary Day (the Monday before) is closer to a national public holiday than Auckland Anniversary Day: Wellington is the capital city and therefore every government department is affected.
- In Finland, it's "We all live in Helsinki". One guy critiziced the trope by saying that 4 of 5 Finns don't live in Helsinki, Espoo, or Vantaa, but almost every TV show takes place in there.
- Somewhat averted in France. While most TV series take place in large cities such as Paris and Marseille and 1 of 7 French people live in the Île-de-France region (composed of Paris and all its suburbs), several large companies and a fair share of movies and cultural events put less known towns in the spotlight. Furthermore, French cuisine hailing from every part of the country, you can be sure that some people will know about towns such as Castelnaudary (hometown of cassoulet) or Roquefort sur Soulzon (hometown of Roquefort cheese).
- Nearly every TV series produced in Spain will take place in Madrid, unless it has a pre-defined premise/plotline that calls for a different setting in particular like in crime/mystery and historical dramas. In sitcoms, it's common to start with a vague urban setting supposedly to appeal the same to everyone (so there is no other language but Spanish, there is no accent but Standard Castilian, there is no mention if the city has a port to not give away if it's in the coast or inland, etc). As the series goes on, more and more 'Madridisms' will creep in, until the plot finally reveals what was expected if not painfully evident to everyone, that the show does take place in Madrid. This process is particularly eyebrow-raising because 1) most sitcoms are shot entirely on sets, so they could really localize them anywhere had they wanted to and 2) there is as much media produced in Barcelona as in Madrid.