Way back in the day, I belonged to a very rigorous political collective, which contained several Marxists. They policed everyone, as Marxists are wont to do, proclaiming themselves the keepers of Advanced Political Thought and Revolutionary Consciousness, also known as Class Consciousness. I actually bought this for awhile. I was young and stupid.
And then, I found out several of these people were rich kids. Kids of privilege. Kids who were basically slumming. I had been utterly fooled by the boho, hippie lifestyle, the fashionable thinness that I had mistaken for semi-starvation, and the gung-ho talk of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and the government. I had never met people OF the class they wanted to overthrow; it made no sense to me. I was stunned. And: Class consciousness? I asked them (during one of their interminable meetings), wasn’t it impossible for rich kids to have the proper class consciousness? Aren’t you irreparably tainted? After all, one of their heroes, Chairman Mao, thought so, and sent the grown children of the rich to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.
Rather than answer me, they kicked me out of the collective for other manifestations of political incorrectness.
Why, you ask, is she telling us this?
Because it was one of the turning points of my life, the moment I Got It: The reason these people thought they could be the Best Marxists of Them All, was because they came from families who communicated to them from the time of their birth, that they were the best, always right, the people who should be in charge. Thus, when they entered the Left, they took charge of that too, not missing a beat. Of course they did. You didn’t really expect them to let poor or working class people lead them, didya? They know best, they are educated, they can quote Herbert Marcuse and Antonio Gramsci at you. They looked down on me, rather as rich kids had always looked down on me. Of course they did.
there is a lot to think about there, without even getting into the rest of the post about feminism, particularly while i’m reflecting on some of the things brought up in the comments on this recent post about me being high-and-mighty in my anti-consumerist ways. i didn’t grow up a trustfund kid, and i’m not slumming it, but a lot of it probably still applies. i knew a lot of those kids in college (e.g. those who used summer break to follow Phish around Europe because they didn’t need to get a job), and i still do now, and yeah: it took me a while to realize that it’s easy to preach revolution when you’ve got a cushy pad to fall back on if the world crumbles.
i have recently been more aware of how my own personal wealth has affected my morality (aside: interesting article/video on morality and intention here). i have even considered that perhaps i make too much money for my own good. that i am staying with my job not because i really believe in the work or that it is the best use of my time and energy, but because leaving would almost inevitably mean a pay cut, and taking a paycut would mean giving up a lot of extra benefits that i have in my life now. things i didn’t have growing up. that if i left my job to work for a nonprofit or somesuch and took a paycut, maybe i would remember some of the things that i have been forgetting about being poor, and maybe i wouldn’t be so bold about making statements such as that the financial collapse might be good for us as a culture. but oh, then, how privileged it that, thinking that taking a paycut would be good for yourself morally?
“nothing is more bourgeois than being afraid to look bourgeois.”
sad news from the underground fashion world:
Influential fashion designer dies — designer Tiffa Novoa, credited with creating the look referred to generally as “techno tribal” or “feathers and leather”, and sometimes negatively referred to as “trustafarian peacock“. her work was simply gorgeous – WOW.
the author previously wrote an article on the SF underground fashion scene and the influence of Tiffa, which sums up very nicely what so many of us love about it, despite the negative assumptions often made about vanity and cliquey-ness: the creativity, the ingenuity, the poetic love of beauty, the self-expression, and the inspiration that so many of us find in that little part of our culture.
That fashion sense has carried over onto the streets and into the clubs of San Francisco, giving an open and otherworldly feel to many parties. There’s a constant updating of wardrobes, with much of the shopping done at fabric stores and sewing collectives like Stitch Lounge, and other outfits constructed from modified thrift store items or outrageous duds from places like Haight Street’s Piedmont Boutique.
“By now everyone in San Francisco has a closet full of costumes. You don’t see that in LA or anywhere but here,” Bullock says. “It’s also an icebreaker. How many times have you gone up and said, ‘Wow, that’s a really great costume,’ and then you can start to talk or flirt.”
It can also be a personally transformative experience. “At first, this was all costuming, but now it’s who I am,” says Matty Dowlen, who manages El Circo’s operations and looks like a cross between a carny, a hippie, and a trapper. “I really love Burning Man. It helped me discover who I am as an artist.”
i would also offer that whether you are an aspiring artist or not, finding your own personal style also helps you discover who you are as a human: what you value and what you don’t.
it’s sad to lose someone so creative and influential, especially if the speculated cause of death – drug overdose – is true. i often feel like some kind of square because i wish so many of my friends would stop doing so many drugs. “responsible drug use” isn’t an oxymoron, but it’s a very, very fine line to walk. personally, i don’t think it’s worth it, and the more people in my community we lose – or almost lose – to drugs, the more i become an anti-drug/pro-sobriety advocate.
THIS CHANGED EVERYTHING is a beautiful recounting of how this designer changed one person’s – and probably thousands of others’ – life.Filed in burning man, fashion, friends | Tagged with trustafarian | Comment (0)
(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)