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Commercial Hippies

by Natasha Nel, images Deborah Rossouw / 23.03.2011

So I’m walking around a trance party minding my own business when some emaciated poster child for wasted youth yells “Commercial Hippie!” at me with all the blind hatred his abused body could muster.

It was Day 2 of and we’d all enjoyed our fair share of over-indulgence. It was packed, they’d gotten the social network pseudo-marketing right on this one, if there’d been any sense of unity or purpose among us we could’ve shown Egypt a thing or two about throwing a people’s revolution.

I thought I was both practically and presentably dressed for the occasion. I had on a pair of denim shorts, tied a scarf around my top half, and pink calf-high gumboots doubling as storage space for cash, cigarettes and other essentials. Apparently, I was wrong.

Apparently, my look was less “let’s dance our faces off” and more “I buy t-shirts with Che Guevara’s face on them.” I wondered what Mr. Non-Conformist would say about the peace sign I had inked on my pelvis when I turned 18? (About six months before they started printing them on anything that moved, okay.)


My immediate instinct (I kid you not) was to be all like: “Hey I’m only here to have a good time and dance, like you are, why can’t we all just get along?” But I realised how “commercially hippie” that would sound and I chickened out and walked away thinking, what a meanie! Hypocritical superiority complex aside though, he does raise an interesting point. Like how commercialism has become the ultimate insult – and how, at the same time, it’s really ultimately unavoidable at some point in your life. We all consume. Besides “going green” is a multi-milllion dollar industry for the love of Mother Earth! They’re even trying to sell us reusable menstrual devices called “Mooncups”. See that in your mind’s eye for a moment, Gentlemen.

Every influential subculture has inevitably been absorbed back into the mainstream and torn asunder or diluted by profit-driven iniatives. This is a basic cultural principle by now. Even Fokofpolisiekar won’t play for less than R50 000 nowadays, if you believe a recent Media 24 report. Should we feel guilty about it? There are no body parts left to pierce, no tattoos left to ink, no hairstyles worth going through semi-torture to attain. The irony here – because it wouldn’t be a truly post-modern revelation without a healthy dose of irony – is that letting go of the need to identify ourselves with a certain subculture would lead to the kind of authentic individualism no subculture has managed to sustain. As many definitions of the avant-garde have suggested, to detach yourself from the prevailing ideology is to allow yourself the freedom to find an entirely unexpected stance.


The trouble is that we’ve been consuming avant-gardes and passively buying branded individuality (Kerouac was the face of Gap for a while) for over a century by now. Trapped in the media flow, it feels like there are no more unexpected “stances”. The final refuge of personal originality and cultural innovation has to be a complete detachment from the need to take any stance whatsoever. An updated kind of Seventies “opting out” of the hype-machine to re-determine the rules of authenticity and expression.

Nietzsche maligned our “inclination to laziness” as a species, blaming it on our need to “think and act in herd fashion”. As for my angry friend from the trance party, I’ve got some motivational Nietzsche for him too: “For one thing is needful: that a human being attain his satisfaction with himself – only then is a human being at all tolerable to behold. Whoever is dissatisfied with himself is always ready to revenge himself; we will be his victims by always having to stand his ugly sight!”


*All images © Deborah Rossouw / One Small Change.

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