The Paradox of Baywatch: Questioning the Enduring Appeal of the "SoCal" Beachscape

Eisa Devienne*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In the 1990s, just as Southern California was sinking under the weight of high unemployment, natural disasters, and a racial riot, the TV-show Baywatch introduced the lives of LA lifeguards to the world, scoring record-high ratings. Using the Baywatch phenomenon, this essay reflects on the enduring appeal of the Southern California beachscape in global imaginaries: was the series’ appeal, as some critics implied, all down to body and beach aesthetics? Or was it about escapism and nostalgia for a mythical “SoCal” lifestyle in a period, the 1990s, when the California dream had lost some of its legendary shine? Rescued from its original cancellation by viewers abroad, the Baywatch phenomenon is first and foremost the product of Hollywood’s long-running love affair with the Southern California beach culture and its associated lifestyle, centered around outdoor leisure and beautiful bodies. But the phenomenon also owed its success to the enduring legacy of postwar infrastructure investments in the shoreline, which led to the clean-up and artificial enlargement of the city’s beaches. Finally, the show fed into powerful nostalgic impulses by portraying the beach as a peaceful—and, most importantly, white—agora in a troubled age of racial tensions and environmental challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCoastal Architectures and Politics of Tourism
Subtitle of host publicationLeisurescapes in the Global Sunbelt
EditorsSibel Bozdoğan, Panayiota Pyla, Petros Phokaides
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherTaylor & Francis
ISBN (Electronic)9781000623093, 9781003240716
ISBN (Print)9781032147192
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2022

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