Breitbart News: Not all of our readers know that you were born and raised in California–San Mateo to be exact. What was it like growing up in California?
Gutfeld: It was exactly what you’d expect. As a child everything is the same because you all do pretty much the same things in the suburbs in the early 70s. This was before video games, so our pursuits focused on creek beds, building forts and investigating abandoned buildings. I do remember when Round Table Pizza got the Pong machine. It was also the first time I had Thousand Island dressing. Arcades were places you entered and everything smelled like quarters and Fanta.
Nostalgia makes you think things were great when they really were pretty lame. I seem to remember there was more trash back then, than now–but that could very well be due to the fact that I was a little kid, playing in streets, and simply saw more trash. The chain link fences of El Camino Real, from the Hillsdale mall to the Wherehouse on 20th, were lined with garbage. The adult book store, the strip club, the gun store, the head shop–all were full of mystery, but I’m sure little else.
California also had a plethora of weird crimes and killers. My first real childhood criminal memory was the Hearst kidnapping and the SLA [Symbionese Liberation Army]. I was on 37th avenue in San Mateo, after school, in our 1964 Mercury wood-paneled station wagon, getting cookies in the bakery, when KFRC announced the abduction. You really don’t have big kidnappings like that anymore. That era, though, was all a blur of the sinister: the Zodiac killer, Manson, Leonard lake and Charles Ng. Then there was Jim Jones, the Night Stalker and of course the Dan White murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.
Northern California cornered the market on the macabre. It was truly a weird, violent era–and fed your adolescent fears of strangers, and cults. As teens we always had “cult” experts come to the school to tell us about brainwashing techniques. We had these visits when we weren’t practicing earthquake drills. Add to that the Cold War–we were awash in global and local threats. TV shows with after-school specials and cop dramas made you feel like drug dealers were everywhere, waiting to sell you something that will hook you instantly. The Dragnet episode with the stoned guy licking the paint brush….that’s forever stuck in my brain. The 1970s were one long hazy decade of random, real and exaggerated fears. And Fleetwood Mac.
Breitbart News: Your new book, Not Cool, debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List. How did California shape your ideas about “cool?”
Gutfeld: Not sure if it did as much as the elite media in NYC. But it definitely helped. I think the leftism I encountered at Berkeley had something to do with my mindset now–there, the aim to be cool was always predicated on subversion: anything that was traditional–or represented your evil stupid parents–had to be wrong, and ruined. You never needed a replacement. Government would take care of that. Remember, for most literature classes, it was always about deconstruction–reducing the writer’s great work to weird exercises in wordplay by a self-absorbed professor. Once you figured out that game, you could get A’s. But you learned nothing.
Everything “cool” was the opposite of actual achievement. Cool, as I wrote in the book, was success without achievement. All you had to do was condemn what came before. I still remember hippies. They always said “peace” and “love” but they were more of a destructive, petulant nuisance–one that contributed nothing to the world, except a testimonial about how phony and wrong everything was. Everything they were incapable of doing, was always wrong. How coincidental! How did those previous generations put up with these tools? My thinking is: maybe there weren’t as many as we thought. Not everyone who claimed to be at the Summer of Love was there. My parents weren’t.
Breitbart News: Did the culture of Southern Cal, i.e. Hollywood, have much influence on you growing up? How did you view it then and how do you view it now?
Gutfeld: The liberal dross of the motion picture industry must have had an impact–in the sense that all their definitions of rebellion were so patently predictable–and that developed an antipathy within me towards such behavior. Actors, activists, celebrities–they all fashioned themselves rebels, but they really adhered to a sheepish regimen. They believed in all the same things, and said all the same stuff. That’s when the idea of rebelling against the rebel infected me. I got tired of hearing Jane Fonda (which to me represented the phony noxious cool) spout nonsense that passed for wisdom. The late 70s created a conveyor belt of pretentious and vacuous drones, many with pixie haircuts and perms. The essential message: you can do whatever you want, as long as it wasn’t like, totally, square–or whatever. That meant your dad, an accountant, wasn’t cool. But Charles Manson was. That’s the problem with cool: it’s value-less. So even something awful and murderous can be cool. You know the names “Bonnie and Clyde,” but are hard-pressed to name their dozen victims.
Breitbart News: Art and music used to be cool because they went against the grain. They were the counterculture. Now film, music, etc. are all about propping up the government. Essentially, conservatism is the new counter-culture. How do we reclaim that? Is there a scenario where that becomes cool again?
Gutfeld: I’ve never seen an industry so far up a President’s ass as Hollywood. They are essentially his propaganda arm. That creates a very disturbing image and I apologize for that. My optimism tells me that the offspring of this current crop of yes-men and yes-ladies will, by virtue of future, natural rebellion, turn into hardcore libertarian conservatives–after seeing how weak their parents are. That’s my hope anyway. I’m not as interested in “cool” as I am interested in “good.” I dream of a new generation of strong men and women, who exist independent of the desire for acceptance, who serenely reject the Trojan horse that cool operates as: a horse that disguises a noxious progressive nonsense with a singular destructive purpose. Cool is really a death cult that one must vanquish with a belief in the good.
Breitbart News: Can you see a future scenario where California turns red again? If so, what would be the catalyst? If not, why not?
Gutfeld: Sometimes things happen because there are no more alternatives. At a certain point, the sun comes up, and all the drugs have been used, and you’re broke, and you gotta clean up the house. As Kevin Williamson points out in his great, last book, change will happen, because the end is pretty much near anyway. Can we sink any lower? We can no longer afford being the kids partying every day and night. Time to become adults, and make the stark decisions that might help create a better, more fulfilling life for everyone. If not, I suppose California can continue its bumpy decline, leading the country down a path that is so steep that there may be no way back up. But I prefer to think that, over time, we will get smarter and recognize our mistakes and try to fix things. If not, I’ll probably be dead by then anyway.
Greg Gutfeld is a mainstay on Fox News as co-host of The Five and the host of Red Eye. He’s also the NY Times best-selling author of The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage. His new book, Not Cool, debuted at #7 on the NY Times Bestseller List. For more from Greg check out his official site or follow him on Twitter.