Traditionally, bohemians are middle class. But they are not bourgeois, in the sense that they don’t define themselves by wealth. Bohemianism emerges from the middle classes who are disillusioned with economically-driven social values.
Today, bohemianism has been distorted by lifestyle marketing.
Bohemians made an artistic statement through their lifestyles. Hipsters, use lifestyle fashion to seem like they are making a statement through their lives.
The difference is in the substance. Not just your actions, but your values.
Part of the problem, if not the complete problem of modernity, is that consumerism, brand marketing and public relations have made what you say more important than what you do.
The real value of bohemianism is in the influence these kinds of lifestyles have had on the culture. You can’t impact history, by simply dressing a certain way.
By putting out into the culture that it is possible to live a certain way other than through commercialism or politics, that you can put individual values front and centre of your existence, certain groups of people in history have left a legacy of stories, art and values, that remind us that individual growth is as important, if not more so, than collective survival.
This is different from the right wing individualism that is so prevalent in American politics. It’s also wildly removed from the liberal, hummus-eating, Camden-condo lifestyle hipsterism you see everywhere online and with which London is packed right now.
How do we tell the difference between crude individualism and lifestyle fashion, and genuine bohemianism? The influence.
Influence as a cultural force can be defined as that which new generations can’t avoid, they have to confront the phenomenon, before they can be free of it. They both love it, and resent, and the struggle for a new creative influence comes from this need to master the influence and transcend it.
Neither selfish individualism, nor lifestyle hipsterism fall into this. The selfish right wing are concerned with short term pursuits, and they believe that a momentum of short term self-advancement keeps the culture alive. Any case of corporate malfeasance, or political corruption proves this wrong.
Hipsterism is a false individualism. It reduces freedom, emancipation and creativity to fashion statements, and therefore becomes competitive and ego-driven. It’s simply commercial values masquerading as bohemianism.
To repeat, bohemianism is when you display a fresh, non-commercial, non-economic way of living in the world. It’s got nothing to do with technology, fashion or whether you drink green tea or Italian coffee.
What matters is whether you are seeking to create a new way of living that sources its values from alternative places outside the dominant, contemporary culture.
In the nineteenth century, it was bohemian to be a socialist atheist, or a christian anarchist. Nowadays, these things have become mainstream, or simply uninteresting cliches.
If you were a member of the Bloomsbury group, drinking green tea and sowing your own dresses was bohemian. Nowadays it has become a fashion statement.
Being a bohemian is not about what you do, but what values you are manifesting in the world.
Bohemian values are not to be found in certain clothing styles, record collections, or political movements, which have themselves become fashion statements.
Marketing has turned everything into a fetish. Which means that the lifestyle affectations become ends in themselves, rather than means to ends.
The true value in bohemianism is in creating a legacy of independent thought. You don’t fall for branding, advertising or marketing.
Advertisers are expert at looking to what your values are, and convincing you that their product will bring you closer to those values.
But our values must always be ready to change, or if they are fundamental, we must always be prepared to re-examine why we hold to them.
The bohemian doesn’t wear her values as fashion statements. The only value that really matters is individual conscience, free of the manufacture of opinion that characterises modern democracies.
The fastest way to embody bohemianism in the modern Mactopia, is to be suspicious of all lifestyle, fashion and advertising.
Yes, it is a losing battle. The war has already been lost. But there is something curiously and quintessentially bohemian about fighting a losing battle. In some ways that just adds value to the fight.
The number one duty we have is to dig deep into our culture, into what has stood the test of time – the architecture, the philosophy, the ideas and concepts of beauty, that have lasted centuries.
Some say this is a reactionary philosophy. I say it is truly innovative. The purpose is not to use these resources for dictation on how to live, but to build up enough of an inner world of creative possibilities and imaginative sophistication so as to be resilient against the ephemeral culture of modernity.
I am not advocating an orthodoxy of values. Simply recommending a way of feeding the soul so that we can become truly independently minded, free from the influences of contemporary agendas.
Going back to the idea of influence; we do not revisit past culture to imitate it, but to be free of it, and retain all that is useful and valuable in it. Also we remain connected to aspects of who we are that have nothing to do with the short term interests of power and money in our immediate world.
Being free of these distractions and interests is really what being a bohemian is all about.