Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wicker Park Brings Out Your Flaws

Like many social ideologies, Bohemia is not without flaw. It holds a number of self-contradictions and paradoxes. In his book “Neo-Bohemia”, Richard Lloyd points out one of these flaws, through the context of Chicago’s Wicker Park. Less than twenty years ago, this area was relatively unremarkable. It was the unfortunate victim of deindustrialization, deterioration, and population decline, unfit for competition with the booming commercial apex that was the “Loop”. However, within the wasteland, a new subculture was beginning to stir, a glimpse of what we now know as “Bohemia”. College-age men and women began taking advantage of the area’s low rents and like-minded community. They sought an alternative lifestyle, deviant from the soulless “corporation” and the bureaucracy it entailed.
Though this philosophy is naturally antithetical to American capitalism, in the long run it actually paved the way for economic consumption. Here lies the first paradox observed by Lloyd: as the Bohemian movement was recognized by the mainstream, the area of Wicker Park became more commercially viable. Such media outlets as MTV, Billboard, and Fortune magazines boasted the “new economy” of the area. Corporate culture saw the opportunity to attach itself to a hip and edgy neighborhood and, under the guise of “indie”, succeeded in doing so. This contradictory turn of events is illustrated on a more personal level through Lloyd’s field notes. In 2003 he found himself attending a party for the local web design firm Buzzbait. Though only a year old, the business had experienced rapid expansion. In fact, it was rumored that Buzzbait had recently received a $5 million offer of purchase. Suddenly these Bohemian entrepreneurs were finding themselves rewarded by the very corporation they opposed. During their celebration, Lloyd found himself talking to a young musician about the theory of gentrification. Her disdain for the subject was obvious. Meanwhile she, a perfect exemplar of bohemia, was fueling the very trend she despised. The paradox is clear. Once the lifestyle deviant becomes commercially viable, its politics sadly contradict. Bohemia, when exposed to it’s enemy, becomes flawed.

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