(this is related to part I: the yosemite trip report, but is separate enough in content to be its own post.)
“nothing is more bourgeois than being afraid to look bourgeois.”
comment in response to a long and very involved thread (see below) about some of the (sub)cultural issues in my little community. thread probably not interesting to much of the general public, but that quote is fabulous and pretty much dead on.
it also dovetails nicely from the recap of my weekend, as one of the things that was incredibly obvious, sitting on a patio of a campground where “tent cabins” are $100 a night in Yosemite valley, is that being “outdoorsy” is a hobby only afforded by the Affluent.
part of the reason we chose to do this trip now was not only because it was my birthday, because i’ve wanted to climb Half Dome for a while, and it was a less-crowded time to go to Yosemite, but also because jay and i needed to get the fuck out and spend a weekend doing something else, something outside, something away from internets and cities and parties and work and the world we live in most days.
the discussion that references the Warhol quote centers around cliquish behavior in this small community that is more or less based on fashion choices, some of which are only attainable with ample amounts of disposable income, and what that means or represents about the community’s values as a whole (valuing “hotness” over “goodness”, valuing doing something “artsy” over doing something “real”, etc.). this is, of course, a subject close to home for me, as someone who thinks a lot about what clothing means to our culture, it’s hard to get my head out of that specific thing and into what the greater issue is, because honestly: it’s not the fashion that the problem.
as my friend stephen pointed out, and with a lot of community comment, and as i have written before, particularly after burning man 2006, there is a lot of tension in my community (in simplest terms: the burning man community) as we all struggle against classism, white privilege, affluenza, and, i guess, one of the great weights of privilege, existential angst. i think this weighs heavily on all of us. what do we do with all this opportunity? all this time, all this money, all this freedom that we have as members of the American upper middle class, most of us without children? year after year it’s discussed in the burning man community: what is the best use of this context we were so lucky to have been born into?
while it is a privilege and a gift to be born into this and i’m sure many question “how can you worry about this when there is so much else to worry about in the world?”, as we’ve seen with many a celebrity who has lost it all via excess and has been culturally documented in hundreds of Great Gatsby/Less Than Zero type pieces of modern art and literature, wealth does not mean happiness, and often, it brings a great amount of stress and weight (which often also leads to apathy/ennui) to those who are conflicted about what to do with it. many a rich kid has gone down the path of excess to the point of no return, and many a person of disposable income in my community is severly conflicted about what to do with it. do you spend your hard earned dollars on hedonistic adventures like burning man, fancy clothing and travel because you deserve it? or should you be doing something else for the world, and if so, OMG – WHAT?
it’s a heavy question, and we then start to quibble and judge each other on the choices made in this context: judging those who choose to spend all this time and money on their own personal art and leisure (calling them vain and hedonistic) vs. spending it on, say, working for or developing a non-profit that services those outside of your own circle of artists/dancers/musicians. and then those who invest in art and leisure and not public service defend themselves with the (valid) argument that art is important to humanity and if it were not for art, life would be incredibly utilitarian and boring and so much beauty would be lost – and beauty does indeed have great value in this world.
these tensions start to show up in the sort of conversations that happened there – many pointed out, and on some levels i agree, that even HAVING such a lengthy discussion about such a subject as “the cool kids aren’t being nice to the not-as-cool kids on the dancefloor” is sort of silly on the surface, but stephen’s point was that the way we are treating each other within our community is symptomatic of how we treat those outside our community, outside our class, outside our culture, and that it is not good.
i’m gonna leave the discussion of that subject at that right now, but how this all ties back into our trip to yosemite is that when we were looking at photos of Half Dome earlier this summer, it looked like a frickin’ REI convention. everyone is dressed the same in the ubiquitous hiker uniform: khaki shorts, North Face fleece, hiking boots, sun hat….and often with lots of hiking-specific gear and gadgets attached to them. i realize that much of that is due to functionality, but does it have to be so predictable? isn’t there just as much of a wardrobe cult among the outdoor-gear heads as there is among the trustafarian peacocks? sitting in Yosemite Valley on Saturday afternoon watching the crowds of mostly white families herd through the campgrounds, i was hard pressed to find ANYONE who wasn’t wearing the Hiker Uniform and everyone looked Upper Middle Class. before we left, jay and i had repeatedly half-joked that we were going to wear some of our more outrageous but still entirely functional disco-camping gear to the top of half dome out of rebellion against this conformity and throw a little mini-rave when we got to the top. because the weather was so cold when we did the ascent, i wasn’t able to fully put on the outfit i had packed for that occasion, but was wearing my furry fleece hat and the bottom part of an outfit by Bad Unkl Sista. on the hike down that afternoon, i was able to wear more of a non-traditional hiking outfit, but due to wearing my backpack wasn’t able to fully buck the Hiker Uniform then either.
why so much resistance to this? why so much resistance to the “mainstream”? as i get older, as many other people can also attest, you get more and more pressure to “conform”. maintain a regular job. buy a house. get married. have kids. look normal. i guess i’m feeling that pressure more and more, not from any particular source, but just….from society…and the more i feel the pressure and am not conforming to it, the harder it is to make choices about things without feeling conflicted, especially when it ties back into this idea of the privilege/responsibility of my class. is spending our time,energy and money doing the things we’re doing just a juvenile sort of rebellion without any real impact on the real problems of the world, or is being part of a counterculture contributing to the world in a meaningful sort of way? (interesting side-link: The Rebel Sell: Why the culture can’t be jammed)
when i got back and read that quote by warhol it really struck me: is my fear of appearing to be one of the American Bourgeois – whether it’s the version that is the hikers on Half Dome or version that is the Feathered Hat Mafia at burning man – just a huge sign that i AM part of the bourgeois, and that brings so much weight i can’t deal? (this reminds me: after having a similar discussion to all of this at a campout with this subculture earlier this summer (Raindance), we had (jokingly) assigned two complementary essay topics to some of our campmates: Part I: “What is Real?” and Part II: “What’s Your Damage?”)
being out in the wilderness did nothing to resolve this for me, by the way, as i more or less opted not to think about anything much while i was out there except how beautiful it was. ah, the luxury of escapism. something else the white and privileged are really good at.Filed in art, autobiographical, burning man, culture and random linkage, fashion, friends | Tagged with affluenza, bourgeois, trustafarian, warhol, yosemite | Comments (2)