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Faculty Shares Insight on California's Intoxicating Culture

by April Overholt '11

When Monica Ganas, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Theater, Film, and Television, realized it was time to take her sabbatical, she was uncertain how she could spend it. Having already helped create APU’s campus radio station (KAPU), the Department of Theater, Film, and Television, and several new majors within the department, Ganas wondered where to go next.

So, she prayed. And she heard God tell her to write a book. Although she had never written a book before, she decided she would obey.

Six years later the book is published and boasts a list of great reviews online that praise Ganas’s skillful and witty writing.

Entitled, Under the Influence: California’s Intoxicating Spiritual and Cultural Impact on America, the book explores what Ganas calls “California-ism” and how this “quasi-religion” affects its followers. Ganas believes that the skin-deep values of Hollywood culture attempt to captivate California residents and plague the rest of the country, even the world, to attempt to measure up to impossible standards of perfection.

“There’s an intoxicating element to film and television, and appearing in these media sometimes seems to promise a certain kind of immortality,” said Ganas. “Through celebrity culture, human beings are meant to provide models of perfection that seem achievable.”

From a combination of growing up in Hollywood and working in the television industry as an adult (including appearances on The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour, Mork and Mindy, and more), Ganas is privy to the profound effects the entertainment industry has had on her own life, and especially young people.

“What I hope is that when people, particularly college students, read the book, they’ll begin to see to what extent they’ve been distracted from honest human experience and relationships—how much has been manufactured for them,” said Ganas.

Ganas witnessed the struggles that ensue from this fabricated reality through many conversations with students in her office, which provided much of the material in the book. With plans to incorporate themes from Under the Influence into classroom lectures, she hopes her students will learn to unravel the differences between California culture and true gospel.

Ganas’ colleagues also played a significant role in the book’s development. “Niños,” a group of APU professors who meet to pray and encourage each other’s writing and research projects, provided the support Ganas needed to finish the book.

Carole Lambert, Ph.D., director of research and professor in the Department of English, is a member of Niños and has journeyed with Ganas through many years of research.

“[Ganas] has persuaded me repeatedly that ‘California-ism’ is a valid concept that continues to manifest itself in this state's culture and activities,” Lambert said. “As a lover of her native state, she can still proclaim some of the dangers of its eccentricities. I think that all of her readers, wherever they are from, will learn much from her and never see California (and themselves) in the same light.”

Despite the high praise her book has received, Ganas claims she often had nothing to say during the writing process and attributes her clairvoyance to a source higher than herself.

“I’m sure anything good about the book comes from God. The most significant experiences I had were those moments where God would show up and suddenly I’d be writing something that’d bring tears to my eyes,” said Ganas. “I feel most gratified about those moments.”

For more information on Ganas’s book, visit the Baker Publishing Group website.