Tumblr awhile and you’ll see what I mean. There are blogs, run mainly by girls in their 20s, dedicated entirely to pictures of an idealized “bohemian” lifestyle. Apparently, the perfect life for a young, fashionable person these days involves owning lots of books, a guitar, some indiscriminate art, and a bunch of hippie clothes.
The trend scalps the surface off of several counterculture movements of the 20th century. Aesthetics that used to symbolize real political beliefs have now been heavily commercialized and sold to well-off young people who want to feel amorphously rebellious. It might have sprung from the fact that all wealthy white children are told that they will be special, unique forces in the world—that they are creative and beautiful snowflakes no matter what. They then grow up to eat up products that reinforce this feeling, that give the base satisfaction of feeling ambiguously “unique”.
These are the same people who own walls full of very intellectual books but have only really read Dave Eggers. They love feeling smart, postmodern, and on the cusp of literary trends, but are unwilling to do the work to get to that point. They enjoy looking like they love art by hanging prints of mock-Roethke on their urban apartment walls.
Urban Outfitters knows their market all too well. Their clothes and home products are cheaply made, but they rack up the prices because they know consumers will pay a lot for a well-tailored hipster aesthetic. They know trust fund babies in skinny purple jeans will pay a hundred dollars for a fake plaster deer head or an abstract wall decal. Because these products are edgy in their aloof irony, they sell.
I’ve seen custom pieces on tattoo blogs that were taken out from an Urban Outfitters “painting”. Every third rich adolescent seems to have an owl tattoo these days. Our generation has devoured the vintage counterculture aesthetic and now we’re crapping out cheap plastic imitations. We pay a four hundred percent markup for brand new products that look forty years old. We have gone completely insane.
What bothers me the most is the disregard for the ethics that accompanied the original looks. We want to dress like hippies, but we have no interest in being activists. We don’t watch the news. We have no political affiliations. Anti-war college students died protesting Vietnam. Real hippies lost their friends to a real-world struggle. Now, our biggest problems seem to be that our iPhones are too slow sometimes.
Our generation is all surface, no substance. The powers that be know this and will sell us the images of generations past indefinitely. They profit from our vague imitations of movements that actually meant something. Nike bought Converse and sells the iconic All-Stars to pseudo-punks who don’t know any better. Ours is a spoiled generation of aesthetics without ethics. Who will become the monsters in our kingdom of kitsch?