Confessions of a Bourgeois Bohemian: A Crisis of Identity & Coffee
Because we all like nice stuff, right?
Every once in a while I’ll catch myself deep within the aisles of Whole Foods, contemplating the difference between one bottle of organic sunflower seed oil from the next, and even I can’t keep from rolling my eyes at myself.
But the thing is, I need to buy sunflower seed oil so I can try this cleansing technique called oil pulling. You swish oil in your mouth for, like, 20 minutes and then spit it out to remove toxins from your body. No really, it’s a thing. My naturopath told me. And it’s big in India. If you’re still with me, the prices of the two brands of sunflower seed oil are the same (both are preposterously over priced), but what about the ethics, man? I mean, were the sunflowers harvested locally? What about the working conditions of the farmers making the oil? And what about GMO’s? What about my health?
In the end, I choose the sunflower seed oil in the slightly prettier bottle. It has this rustic vibe that I’m into. If you really want to read into it, I suppose my oil selection says a lot about me. I shell out $15 bucks and justify it because of the “certified organic” label, which I do care about, but evidentially I care a little bit more about a bottle that will look good next to the olive oil I brought home from Tuscany last year.
Artists, poverty and a peculiar brand of Italian opera
The term bourgeois bohemian, “bobo” for short, was coined by author David Brooks in his book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. According to Wikipedia, “the thesis presented by Brooks in Bobos in Paradise states that during the late 1970s a new upper class arose that represent a fusion between the bourgeois world of capitalist enterprise and the hippie values of the bohemian counterculture.” Published in 2000, the concept outlined in Brook’s book is eerily prophetic. The bourgeois bohemian has become almost archetypal for certain groups of people.
It should be noted here that under the “See also” section of the Bobos in Paradise Wikipedia page are links to the following pages: Hipster (contemporary subculture), Liberal elite, and Stuff White People Like. Basically the bourgeois bohemian complex describes my greatest existential conundrum (more eye-rolling at the term “existential conundrum”). See, I know that I am one and I can’t ignore the hypocrisy of my lifestyle. The inherent problem in the Bobo psyche is the privilege that’s necessary in overcoming the dirtier elements of The System (see: hippie values of the bohemian counterculture).
Take organic food for example. People (see: me) eat organically to avoid the corruption attached to the food industry: corruption in mass-production and the exploitation of workers and farmers, cruelty to animals, cruelty to the environment, unnatural manipulation of food and so on and so on. All are worthy causes. But eating organic food is expensive. It’s a luxury. So the people who have the opportunity to even care about these problems are the people that have benefitted from the very system they are trying to reject in the first place. They are the Gwyneth Paltrows of the world (and yeah… I’m one of them)
But as long as we’re consumers, we haven’t actually won. We’ve just bought into the illusion of Overcoming The System. I get to feel good about myself when brunching on my local free range eggs and organic fair-trade coffee because I’m not just enjoying a fancy made-up meal, I’m enjoying a morally correct fancy made-up meal. And sure I’m spending an absurd amount of money but it’s all worth it because I’m doing good by the environment.
And I got to sleep in; that has to count for something right?
Bobo Takes Socially Conscientious Hypocrisy to New Depths
No, the irony hasn’t escaped me. But I still buy into the whole scheme, and happily. I love my organic coffee. And sure, it’s easy to look at the world through rose coloured Instagram filters. But from behind my vintage-inspired sunglasses, I can’t help but feel like a phony. Should I accept the hypocrisy of it all? Do I just come to terms with the ridiculous contradictions I not only face, but embrace?
I mean, here I am balancing my hand-me-down designer purse over one shoulder and yoga mat over the over (I just bought this super cute yoga mat strap from a hip little market downtown. It’s made from recycled fabric), teeter-tottering on my knock-off platform Birkenstocks (they kill my feet), and contemplating life, man. I mean, how can I live authentically in a culture of material excess? Am I just a victim? Or would it be self-denial to refuse to wear those shoes that I really like just because I would be buying into a trend? But fashion trends are, like, the embodiment of the subjectivity of reality. Like, my understanding of aesthetics is entirely dictated to me by society, so wouldn’t embracing a fashion trend be the ultimate denial of the authentic self?
Would it be worse, though, if I turned my back on the symbols of the very social system which has allowed for my individual freedoms in the first place? I mean, it’s totally paradoxical to find individuality through rejecting society when we’re social animals by nature. You know? I would be conforming to just another set of external conventions if I created a false sense of individuality by pursuing whatever is opposite to mainstream culture. RIGHT? How do I accept my role in society without sacrificing my integrity? Also, when did the pronoun “man” become part of my lexicon of everyday dialogue? (I thought I was only using it ironically.)
Slovenian ideologist Slavog Zizek explains the epidemic of “cultural capitalism” in this super cool animated video, which pretty much sums of the Bobo dilemma.
Something Much Bigger Than All Of Us
Zizek uses Starbucks coffee to explain cultural capitalism. He says that when buying Starbucks coffee, “you are buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee, you are buying into a coffee ethics.” Coffee ethics involves fair trade, positive labour practices, local communities, you get the picture. As Zizek says, “in the very consumerist act, you buy your redemption from being a consumerist”. In other words, Starbucks tricks us into feeling warm and fuzzy by satisfying some ethical duty of ours even though we’re still buying into the consumerist structure which we claim to resent so much.
Good thing I only drink non-corporate coffee.