Monday, June 28, 2010

hippie consumerism

For consumers who profess antimaterialist values and endorse an ideal of "simple" living, people sure seem to be spending an awful lot of money. Some might call it "the paradox of antimateri­alism." In the past forty years, antimaterialist values have been one of the biggest cash cows of American consumer capitalism. The simple fact is, not everyone has the time to grow their own organic tea. Some people have jobs. But while they may not have the time or the money to share a antimaterialist's lifestyle, they can at least endorse his or her values, and embrace his or her aesthetic, by purchasing organic tea. Growing your own tea, rather than buying the cheap mass-produced stuff, makes you seem like a better person, more in touch with the earth. Thus "dropping out" of the tea market in order to make your own does not really strike a blow against con­sumerism; it just creates a market for more expensive, "all-natural" organic tea for those who do not have the time to grow it them­selves. In other words, it exacerbates competitive consumption rather than reduces it.

This is why the hippies didn't need to sell out in order to become yuppies. It's not that the system "co-opted" their dissent, it's that they were never really dissenting. Rejecting materialist values, and rejecting mass soci­ety, does not force you to reject consumer capitalism. If you really want to opt out of the system, you need to "do a Kaczynski" and go off and live in the woods somewhere (and not commute back and forth in a Range Rover). Because the everyday acts of symbolic resistance that characterize countercultural rebellion are not actu­ally disruptive to "the system," anyone who follows the logic of countercultural thinking through to its natural conclusion will find herself drawn into increasingly extreme forms of rebellion. The point at which this rebellion becomes disruptive generally coincides with the point at which it becomes genuinely antisocial. And then you're not so much being a rebel as you are simply being a nuisance.

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