In Which We Go West Young Man And Grow Up With The Country
Friday, November 7, 2008 at 10:00AM

Go West

by Robert Rutherford

Horace Greeley the then editor of The New York Tribune, supposedly coined the phrase "Go West, young man" in a 1965 editorial. Others maintain that John Babson Lane Soule originated the phrase in a 1851 Terre Haute Express editorial and that it was originally "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country."

The Soule camp, a minority, insists the 14 year head start he had more than establishes him as the originator of the term. The Greeley camp asks for proof, because although there are a number of secondary sources that point to the article dating from no earlier than 1890, there are is no primary evidence, nor can the article itself be found to exist. The argument rages on today.

Here's the thing: No young man, gone west or otherwise, can be reasonable expected to give a shit. This may fly in some cloistered east coast literary salon (do those exist?), but way out left in the vast suck of Southern California, we've gone West, by land and by river and by pool. We're already here, and debating the origin of the phrase is like driving in LA: a lot of work for a terminally useless result.

[Call] Go West, Young Man

[Response] I'm Ghost, I'm Gone

This frontier has always been one more of imagination than reality. The Asiatics who walked across the Bering land bridge (La Brea Tar Pits) were first, Spain tied for second as Mexico established its independence, then Les Etats-Unis walked west and annexed most of California, leaving that little dangle Baja to the drug lords and drug fueled frat boys, and aped Europe at the edge. It was all Mexico anyway. To "grow up with the country" presumes the one that was there before it had not reached adolescence.


This music video and the archaic computer game Oregon Trail summed up the quintessential experience for many Americans. The West has become an idea of cultural hegemony, which splayed itself out across the globe in myriad directions. All foods, one cafeteria. Cultural rebirth through economic migration was the theme, and it has remained relevant along the trail: Hawaii, Japan,  South Korea (Korean BBQ and Koreatown), Israel, China etc. These export markets all became metaphoric American frontiers if not actual ones. The west has run out of new material (Point Break Live) and alcohol is welcome at the viewing parties in the graveyard (Film Screenings at the Forever Hollywood Cemetery).

And now, like a collapsed star or black hole the steady flow out has doubled back in on itself. It may not yet reversed course enough so that the water flows uphill as so often predicted in the dystopias of our films. But if there's nothing but cultural detritus here in the good 'ol it was on the way out, California will be the case study on the trail back in.

Will the west become lawless? Will we return to vigilante justice? Will superheroes come to save us? Will the new frontier draw a divisive line in the sand right at the old one? What happens when decades of pushing west folds back in on itself? The not-so-far East may very well become the cultural exporter – America the market, Cali the forefront – and the world's attention may yet come back to California Frontier.

I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali

I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali

I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali

I'm going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali

LA: Welcome to the crumbling and regenerating future Alex.

NYC: You'll be back.

Robert Rutherford is the senior contributor to This Recording. He lives in Los Angeles.

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