Roseville is perhaps the most spacious mall-city in the world for cities its size. According to the city’s website, its claim to fame is the “9th highest total retail sales of all cities in California,” which puts it in the same category as cities five times higher in population. Roseville’s booming population is expected to grow from 100,000 to 134,000 in the next five years alone according to demographic forecasts.
The area in which this municipal corporation has just recently sprung into being is located at the Northern most part of the California Central Valley — a place which produces nearly 1/10th of all agricultural output and represents 1/6th of all the irrigated land in the United States. Its rivers and waterways feed the thirsty San Francisco and Los Angeles metropolises. It is an area of extreme rapid housing development, with streams of incoming settlers from the price-bubbling coastal cities. Can you imagine a couple years back, just before the global “economic downturn,” the hordes of real-estate agents, sales teams and money “rainmakers” all telling their partners and clients about the “prime time for subprime” lending in places adjacent to Roseville, California?
But behind the positivity of Roseville’s economic rationality lies a city just like every other, or perhaps it is even more of a contemporary city than the rest: a boring, complacent, commodified zone of nearly-completed nihilism…
Barren parking lots, oversized shopping complexes, and endless horizons of externalized shopping space, litter these parts of the Central Valley.
Behold! This is what the artisans of desire have created…
In a city of 100,000 people and booming, where are all the photographs of this place on the internet? Even with the proliferation and availability of photographic technology, would no one else photograph such a place?
A friend even chuckled at my own boring collection of Roseville photographs, as if to suggest tourism of any kind here is just absolutely absurd. After all, every contemporary city in America looks identical to it, they said.
Which is why critical anthropologies are necessary.
This is not tourism. This is a mockery of tourism. Roseville is a place of unstudied sociology, whose self-realization lies in the future, not in the past. Why not tour and document its boring, unstudied sociology, its lifeless physical arrangements, the anthropology of its space? We can search for the dominant symbols, the power structures, study its cultural artifacts, and experience the shock of contemporary society as if we had just come from outer space and asked “What makes people do this?” We can publish our commentary about a place that has never been written about before, even though it is just like every other place. And we can create brand new content, and new media, even though it is content just like all the rest, and publish this to the web for everyone else to see and comment on.
Have you ever been to Roseville, California?
Cities are best read as the unfolding art of anamorphosis: an aesthetics of distorted perspectives and obliquely mirrored angles of vision that when positioned correctly illuminates and clarifies the controlling logic of culture and society.
In Roseville I noticed that the commodity reverse-engineers the social body from a community planned around common social needs and resources into an incoming stream of labor units based entirely around the needs of capital.
And instead of capital touching remote places of the globe, converting them to commodity forms, then bringing these forms back to the major consumptive areas, Roseville is mostly all capital already, a self-attracting universe which continually sets out to re-colonize itself. It was designed from the beginning for the massive circulation of commodity forms: clothing, automobiles, housing, virtual things, people, desires, the sign economy, etc.
Some signs you can see from the freeway: Golf Galaxy, Walmart, Starbucks, Jenny Craig, Liposuction.
Say it can’t be done, then watch as the commodity apparatus–the contemporary city–is erected from out of the earth. In its present form the city creates the destabilization of the commodity-form as it is thrown into an indefinite cycle of exchange. The physical environment in which they exist are no longer of any importance. They make a wasteland and call it “the best place to live” in Northern California.
These are not touched-up pictures from a Hollywood studio. This is not culture as it exists on television. These are the real physical territories people live in. For the labor-units of Roseville, California, this is their “real world”.
Here, the city of Roseville, CA reverse-engineers its flow of development. First comes capital, then comes labor, then come all the other amenities of modern life: parks, sidewalks, and bike lanes which are supposed to kickstart a community effort to de-alienate everyday life.
Our fate is to live in a culture of almost surgical-like deconstructions of the social body.
Some miles east, in a farming community which was not so reverse-engineered this way, the automobiles have bumper stickers reading “Don’t Roseville the Grass Valley”.
For the locals, to Roseville something is to make it uninhabitable for anything but capital and its commodity forms. To Roseville something is to commodify it and sprawl it outward. To some people at least, Roseville symbolizes everything wrong with a culture.
As the commodity exchanges mutate over time, their processes take on new forms, and create pockets of surplus labor and surplus-alienations in their wake. Capitalism itself migrates from the theater of representation to the order of (financial) virtuality.
Housing bubbles: the entire Californian economy was created out of this contemporary mode, which is only a strategy of the commodity to keep itself in production. The logical direction of the commodity tends toward bubbles upon bubbles and the virtuality of value. Even as the territory withers away, the commodities and the copies of commodities (a redundant phrase you might have by now picked up on) still hold their own, creating a skeleton of the copy — a detailed outline of the space with the commodity as its medium.
If we are reading this correctly, a busy restaurant located at the heart of Roseville’s consumptive commodity zone says it wants to make this “community” a better place? What “community” could this possibly be a part of? I can especially appreciate the point about how a place like this could be possibly considered “sustainable” given the industrial context in an inherently unsustainable society.
Isn’t it quite obvious that the rules here are completely falsified solely by the circumstances in which they exist?
Still, the best part I found was this…
Just outside this restaurant, sitting in a grassy area next to some shrubberies, are little crystallizations of life: casted metal copies of bunny rabbits, frogs, deer, and gophers. Placed in the grass to look and feel as if the environment you are standing in were untouched by the commodification of literally everything around you.
Fake replicas of life. This is what absolutely drove the point home for me. This was the kernel of truth at the center of the city.
The analogy we can draw is that these images of bunny rabbits and frogs — of life — are just like the images around us everywhere created by capital. The images are detached from every aspect of “life.” In the words of Guy Debord, they
“merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered.”
“fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudo-world that can only be looked at.”
I have left it to someone else to photograph these replicas of life and post it to the internet.
Fact: 27% of Roseville’s population is under age 18.
Most people of the younger generation are growing up in places like Roseville, CA.
Cities like Roseville, CA are everywhere and completely taken for granted. Most places I grew up were slightly smaller versions of Roseville. Federal Way, Washington was a shithole. Auburn, Washington was no different. Nearly all of Tacoma, looks the same as this. There is nothing unique about any of these spaces, yet they are integral parts of the Metropolis. Integral parts of the commodity economy, providing pools of cheap land and incoming streams of cheap labor. More people are moving to places like Roseville, California and Federal Way, Washington because there is no room for them in the bigger cities. As the settling of prices in the metropolis surge upward, the commodity-form strategizes that it spread itself out to cheaper areas, bringing new labor pools and demands with it.
Thank you for reading my post.