The cover of the new “What Is California?” podcast. (Image courtesy of Stu VanAirsdale)
Debuting on California Admission Day (Sept. 9), a new podcast called What Is California? takes the form of a conversational questionnaire in an attempt to deeper explore and further define the enigma that is the Golden State. In each episode, host Stu VanAirsdale, professional journalist in residence at Sacramento State and former Sactown senior editor, poses the same set of questions to a different California luminary—he’s chewed the fat with 10 of them so far for the first season, from former Gov. Jerry Brown to Karina Longworth, creator of the Hollywood podcast You Must Remember This—in the hopes of discovering more truths about this so-called Land of Milk and Honey as they pertain to his guests’ personal experiences.
“I don’t know if Americans have really reckoned with the impact California has had on the world,” VanAirsdale says. “They think of the surfers and movie stars. They think of Silicon Valley. They think of the weed. They think of Disneyland. Those are the mythologies and the mystique, but the reality is so much more complicated.” Read on to find out if VanAirsdale, through discourse ranging from gender inequality in showbiz to the free-world futility experienced by former inmate firefighters, is any closer to answering his own burning questions. Spoiler alert: Tables will turn.
Congratulations on your new podcast! In the trailer, you mentioned that it’s a project you’ve wanted to do for a long time. Did you detect something missing out there in Podcastland?
Yeah, I did detect something out there in Podcastland that I wanted to fill. There were lots of podcasts that were focused on California news and California headlines, and that was fine, but I was always hoping for a deeper dive into California. I thought for a state that has so many competing interests and contradictory legacies, philosophies and misunderstandings at its heart, it just seemed like an open space for me to do something.
Were there other state-themed podcasts you were inspired by?
I think more than actually a podcast, I was inspired by books. Like Lawrence Wright, the author from Texas, has a great book called God Save Texas. It goes throughout the state and geographically maps the terrain and communities around Texas, and also the competing ideologies and legacies that exist in a gigantic and complicated state like that.
An author named Mark Arax, whom I’m supposed to talk to for the podcast at some point, is a really good writer about [California]. One of my guests this season is Miriam Pawel, who’s another really smart and accomplished observer of California, and kind of the sprawl of its history and its people. But you know, there’s been no audio version of that. I was really influenced by their writing, but the kind of grand vision of California as this multilayered, messy, fascinating, dynamic, evolving state that also happens to be the fifth-largest economy in the world and the most populous state in the U.S., kind of coalesced into the idea for the podcast.
Published: September 09, 2021
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