Launched in late 2010, Brandon Stanton's photo project Humans of New York set out to represent the true New York through the spirit of the people, in their own words. Out last week, Lynn Q. Yu's book Humans of Orange County does the same thing, with a little help from the author's knack for parody. As she explains it, “While Humans of New York deeply affected Americans with tales of inspiration and uplift, Humans of Orange County will deeply offend Americans with tales of self-absorption and absurdity.”
A potent mix of fact and fiction — all of the bolded, stand-alone quotes are real, including “My mom said if I get a perfect score on the ACT, she'll buy me a house,” while the HONY-style images with quotes are parody — the book is actually informative for people unfamiliar with the nuances of O.C.'s suburban sprawl. It's sure to delight expats and infuriate the people who never left. We asked Yu, who now lives in L.A., some questions about the O.C. in her book.
Where in Orange County did you grow up? Is your family still there?
I grew up in Yorba Linda, which is north O.C. Yorba Linda is a special little place filled with lifted trucks and evangelical churches. In high school, the kids of the YL invented a “Yorba Linda gang sign.” We thought we were hard in the streets but really we were a collection of white and Asian kids who would grow up to love money and Jesus. My family does still live there! I mainly go back to visit for the family Costco membership and a weekend of free parking.
What's the most O.C. thing that's ever happened to you personally?
It's gotta be the story at the end of chapter two titled “No Balls, No Peace.” In sixth grade at Fairmont Elementary School, our entire class organized a lunchtime protest. We stomped around the blacktop and screamed at the top of our lungs, “No balls, no peace.” We were so righteously outraged because a bunch of 11-year-olds … didn't have enough toys to play with at recess. I will say, though, that is the only time in my entire history as an Orange County resident that a group of people across gender, ethnic and class lines united so quickly to fight for a common cause.
Have you stayed in touch with many friends from grade school? Did a lot of people stay and go full Orange County, or did people break out?
I've stayed in touch with a lot of people from high school. Most of my social circle in high school were staunch Obama fans back in 2008, so most got away from the Orange Curtain as soon as they could.
I had one friend who stayed in Yorba Linda for a couple years after graduation. When I was back in the O.C. after college, I hit him up to hang out one Friday night. We ended up with a bunch of dudes who had all similarly never left the O.C., and worked our way through a 30 rack. I thought to myself, “So this is what I would be doing every weekend if I never left.” Funny, because that friend who invited me out that night promptly left the O.C. a year later.
Do you have any thoughts on Flip or Flop on HGTV? I feel like it's quietly the most Orange County show on television.
I've actually never watched any shows that are about Orange County! I feel like none of them give a true depiction of the vast diversity of Orange County, especially since most of them are concentrated in Newport or Laguna Beach, which is its own special microcosm. You can't really discuss Orange County without the Asian and Indian high school experience. That shit is on another level.
I did try to watch an episode of Real Housewives of Orange County once, but they opened the episode by praying for like 10 minutes, and I had to turn it off.
Where in L.A. do you live? What do you feel like the biggest difference between the two are in your experience?
I now live in Echo Park, which is reputably one of the hippest neighborhoods of L.A. Echo Park and Orange County are polar opposites in so many ways, but in terms of the biggest differences between L.A. and the O.C. generally, I'll say what I said in the opening of my book: “L.A. is like the kid in high school who left home to pursue a rap career, only to end up in vegan catering. Orange County is the kid who never left home, only to end up in family real estate.”
What, in your estimation, is a truly unique and good thing about Orange County? There's loads to make fun of, but sure there's stuff you just unabashedly love too, right?
Orange County is absolutely stunning. The Orange County coastline is far more gorgeous, easily accessible and uncrowded compared to L.A.'s. Objectively, if you ignore the lightweight racism and corporate religion everywhere, Orange County is one of the most beautiful places a person could grow up in.
Orange County also has one of my favorite bars in Southern California, which is funnily enough located in Downtown Disney. Trader Sam's, tucked away behind the Disneyland resort, has never failed to serve up a good time.
Are you expecting hate email from O.C. residents? Have you heard anything thus far?
I am fully prepared to offend a ton of people. As a writer, I would of course prefer if people enjoyed it and thought it was fun, but if people are gonna hate on it, Imma embrace it.
That's why one of the joke reviews on the Amazon page is: “'I have never been more offended in my life.' — White Person on the Internet.”
What else are you working on, writing-wise?
After this, I'm returning my focus back to television comedy and screenwriting. At the same time, I did start work on a new book, a satirical fiction on a near-future where the United States has splintered into 11 distinct nations. But we'll see where the next year takes me. I'm enjoying the ride for now and embracing my full basic-bitch potential.
Humans of Orange County is available on Amazon.