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Hello there viewers!

This is your narrator and video-maker Rhiannon speaking--I


hope my voice doesn't grate on your nerves, because you'll be hearing it the rest of
the video. (laugh) All jokes aside, today we'll be discussing the song and video for
"Californication," by Red Hot Chili Peppers. I'd like to make a note that I present this
under the impression that you all have at least heard the song before, if not seen
the video; if you're unfortunate enough to have done neither, however, you might
want to pause this right now and watch the actual music video (which, of course,
has the song in it). The easiest place to find it is on the Peppers' youtube channel,
RHCPtv, shown here. Even if you've seen it, you may want to take a quick glance
anyway just as a refresher. Run along now and watch that video--I'll be here when
you get back.

Alright then, now that we're all on the same page, let's get into this, shall we?
Before I start making claims and throwing around details, you viewers probably
want to know why the hell I'm bothering to tell you any of this anyway. Well, first of
all, I will acknowledge that I absolutely love the Chili Peppers--they're probably one
of my favorite bands. I should be able to keep any fangirl bias from damaging the
point I'm trying to make, but--well, you'll all have to be the judges of that.

After listening to these guys for years, I've found that most of their songs have
some sort of meaningful message to them--messages I feel the world could stand to
hear. One such song, the one this video happens to be about, has one that seems
fairly obvious at first, but has a little more to it at second glance. Initially, the lyrics
seem to be fairly obviously hinting at the negative impact of pop culture on
society-- I mean, "tidal waves couldn't save the world from Californicaition?" That
doesn't sound particularly positive. It sounds like this impact is not only on
America's people, but those of countries all around the world, like "little girls in
Sweden". A closer attention to detail, however, reveals more details about what
specifically this negative impact IS. Through the factors I will point out and explain
over the course of this video, I've come to the conclusion that "Californication" is
about how American pop culture is hurting the world through its appeal to and
facilitation of escapism.

Escapism is defined by the dictionary as the avoidance of reality by diverting one's


mind into entertainment or imaginative activities. To some extent, allowing people
to escape from reality is the entire purpose of the entertainment industry. After all,
most of us don't sit down and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas to study Tim
Burton's storytelling habits or play video games to increase our hand-eye
coordination. We do these things simply because they're fun--we enjoy them. They
allow us to just sit back and take a breather, let reality take a back seat for an hour
or so. Escapism in small amounts like this doesn't seem harmful--the bit of
relaxation it allows is probably healthier than the alternative of staying constantly
wound up and rooted in the concrete. It's only once you begin to spend all of your
time wrapped up in these fantasies that escapism becomes a problem.
"Californication" easily showcases this idea of fantasy and getting away from it all.
Overall, it's a very surreal-sounding song, not only in the form of the high-pitched
but laid-back guitar riffs, but odd things mentioned in the lyrics like "psychic spies
from China", fairies and unicorns. The song also uses the word "dream" repeatedly
in its lyrics; this use of repetition may be to enhance the idea of fantasy, the
separation between reality and what we see on TV. The dreamlike nature of
Hollywood is even further supported throughout the music video, starting with
drummer Chad Smith's perilously long fall off a snowy mountain, getting slightly
more ridiculous with Anthony Kiedis decking a shark in the face, going into absolute
"seriously, what is going on?!" territory when Flea flies to the top of a redwood, and
reaching a pinnacle of surreality with Kiedis and guitarist John Frusciante's ride on
the back of a gigantic dragonfly. This all gives the song and video an overwhelming
sense of fantasy, perhaps to try and illustrate the fact that movies and video games
aren't real, though perhaps more blatantly exemplified than in Hollywood
masterpieces.

Many such Hollywood masterpieces are referenced in the song as well as the video;
these references help in conveying both that feeling of fantasy and how dangerous
it is. Two of the most powerful references in the song are in the second verse: Kurt
Cobain and Alderaan. Alderaan is the planet Princess Leia grew up on in the Star
Wars movies, which is notable because Alderaan was destroyed in Episode IV. Not
only does the sci-fi reference support the fantasy aspect of the song, but the
Peppers are likely drawing a parallel here between Earth and Alderaan, with
American pop culture playing the part of the Empire in destroying the world.

More powerful than the Star Wars reference, however, is the reference to Kurt
Cobain, former frontman for the band Nirvana. Cobain was a heroin addict in the
final years of his life. Heroin is a commonly abused drug, primarily due to its
calming and euphoric effects. Many heroin abusers use it as an escape from reality,
much as the more drug-free masses tend to use entertainment. However, Cobain's
drug use is not the only way in which he serves as evidence of the dangers of
escapism. Cobain died in 1994 when he committed suicide by shooting himself in
the head with a shotgun. While attempted suicide is often a cry for help, another
common reason behind killing oneself is to escape reality. "Californication"'s
references to Kurt Cobain seem to serve as further evidence of just how dangerous
unchecked escapism can be.

The video provides even more support of the idea that entertainment, like drugs,
can be dangerous. Continuing with the heroin theme, at the end of Frusciante's
guitar solo, Kiedis jumps off the massive dragonfly ridden by he and Frusciante
(both former heroin addicts as well) and lands in a field of red flowers that look
suspiciously like poppies. Opium is made from poppies, and heroin is made from
opium. Once Kiedis gets up from his death-defyingly long fall, he begins frantically
searching for a way out of the poppies--this seems to be a metaphor for Kiedis's at-
the-time failing attempts to kick his habit of heroin abuse. Being both a heroin
addict and a contributing factor to America pop culture, it would seem as though
Kiedis should have some authority on the similarities between drug abuse and the
obsession with entertainment, given his experience with both.

Bassist Flea (aka Michael Balzary) directly supports this theory that "Californication"
is about the harm American pop culture is doing to the rest of the world.

Flea: “...what that song means to me, is—it's really what California does to the rest
of the world, in particular what the entertainment industry doe to the rest of the
world... And I—when I think about that, mostly I think about the media and how
immensely it influences other cultures. And like, the thing is—to me—it's like, 99%
evil, y'know...?”

Note that he says "99% evil". What about that leftover 1%?

As much as "Californication" seems to be about how harmful Hollywood is, it is not


portrayed in an entirely negative light. After all, if the song wanted to make the
process of "Californication" seem entirely evil, wouldn't it have made more sense to
make the song sound heavy and dark instead of so laid-back and airy? The video
doesn't really convey absolute danger and destruction either--for the most part, the
colors are vibrant and cheery, like the baby-blue skies and green forests, and the
sun is shining throughout the entire video as opposed to having a dark and
foreboding sky looming above. As bad as californication may be, it almost seems
like there's a ray of hope.

The song portrays this little ray of hope in several ways. The first way is the near-
entireity of the third verse, just after the end of the central guitar solo.

Third Verse: “Destruction leads to a very rough road but it also breeds creation And
earthquakes are to a girl's guitar, they're just another good vibration And tidal
waves couldn't save the world from Californication....”

Sure, the entertainment industry may be pulling people away from real life, but it
has some positive effects as well. Alongside life itself, the media inspires and
displays creativity, showcasing it in the TV shows we watch and the music we listen
to. Also, as mentioned earlier, entertainment gives us a way to relax, an outlet for
all of our pent-up frustrations with life.

Kiedis: ...we had a new record out, B.) that art, and music, and that type of vibration
could be a-a source of healing and a source—and an alternative to, uh, shooting
people with guns, basically. It's like, Oscar Wilde had this notion a hundred years
ago that probably the only thing that could overwhelm man's, um, instinct to kill
and have war, would be art.

Additionally, being in positions of fame, celebrities and popular TV shows or movies


have the power to serve as good influences on the people who pay such close
attention to them. However, in the word's of Spiderman's Uncle Ben:
Uncle Ben: “Remember: With great power comes great responsibility”

The entertainment industry is kind of like a powerful drug. It can be used as a way
to unwind and leave the stresses of the real world behind for a little while. It's highly
addictive, and anyone can use it. Also much like drugs, pop culture frequently
becomes abused and life-consuming. It can ruin who we are as human beings.
Though like a drug, Hollywood's effects are mostly evil, it also has the possibility of
being helpful. It can be an outlet. It can be an inspiration.

Frusciante: “Rock stars are good people to look up to, y'know? So-so I think it serves
a good purpose...”

Kiedis: “It seems like a strange thing to say—“

Frusciante: “It is? I mean, who else are you gonna look up to, the President?”