I have often contemplated Southern California’s obsession with things that need a lot of water. For instance, trees look nice, and there are local endemic species of trees that are well suited to our arid environment. And yet the grassy lawn, not the tree, is the area’s status symbol.
Susan M. Pearce, one of the leading psychologists of collections, notes that there are three main psychological motivations for collecting. Collecting souvenirs links the collector to past experiences, systematic collections represent and display an ideology, and collections of fetish objects strip the original historical and culture of the object so that the collector can redefine it in terms of him or herself.
Now consider the signs on very nice lawns (for instance, the one in the middle of the Kravis Center) that ask pedestrians to stay off the grass. If we look at a lawn as a collected object, we see that it can be either a systematized object or fetish object. If it were a systematized object, perhaps the presented ideology would be that nature is beautiful, or that a lawn makes the building or property look nicer. But neither of these ideas discuss why others should stay off the grass. The idea of a lawn as a fetish object does.
The original purpose of a field (which, in southern California, is an entirely man-made relic of European influence) was either for livestock grazing or for use as a meeting place. Both of these uses obviously necessitate being on the damn grass. By ripping away the original significance of a lawn and giving it a new meaning as a status symbol, Californians have fetishized grass. I don’t know if I should be proud or worried.
The upshot is that I will continue to walk across the grass in the Kravis Center, because you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that fetishes are wrong. Trees made America strong. They can make her strong again.