Keeping It Real in Austin

In the culture wars, there are many participants who don’t even realize that they are foot soldiers in the battle between modernity and Rousseauian nostalgie de la boue, a.k.a. Noble Savagery.  For the average person, even going to the grocery store is a socio-political statement of sorts.  For many on the left side of the dial, it is an act of rejecting the more distasteful aspects of modern life, those things which offend the eco-sensitivities, which are often correlated with mysterious “allergies” and other problems that are supposedly the result of plastic wrap, artificial coloring, preservatives, MSG, gluten, nuts, dairy, animal products, mercury, and being toted too damn far.

You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it- I’ve even participated to some extent.  I do shop at Whole Foods, after all.  But I began to become squeamish about the whole organic-vegetarian-vegan-natural universe as epitomized by a place like Whole Foods when it went from a funky hippie joint on South Lamar to a corporate flagship where only well-heeled hipsters or people who think way too much about food and their next piercing (and not enough about their student loans) were shopping and trying gamely to work up an appetite for the pasty gray lasagna at the Raw Bar.  It seemed to me that a lot of the people who routinely and ignorantly decry “corporatism” were oblivious to the massively successful corporate enterprise that was charging them $5 for a half-pint of organic strawberries.

So there was a hypocrisy cum misplaced priorities aspect of all of this, coupled with the fact that all of the people at WF look like they could easily be beamed to France and neither they nor the French would notice.  I don’t think we need to explore hygiene stereotypes here- I’m just saying.

Austin is rich in experiences that are all a part of this, but I am not a trained social observer so I hadn’t started naming these interelated trends, even though they seemed to form some kind of syndrome.  Most of it has to do with saving Gaia- the big compulsion is to be eco-friendly, eco-conscious- in fact, -conscious or its synonym -aware is the big tip off that you’re in the realm of the syndrome.  You never hear that anyone is real-job-conscious, or manners-conscious, or modesty-conscious, or even faith-conscious.  People in the -conscious world are eco-conscious, socially-conscious, environmentally-aware, carbon-conscious, intentional, and sometimes intentionally-holisitcally-consciously-aware, sustainably speaking.  These people often ride bikes, as a part of their envionmentally-intentional-consciousness, but are ironically and blissfully unaware of traffic laws and are sometimes rendered unconscious as a result.  I’m not the only one who’s noticed- see Mark Steyn on The Bike Path Left, near the intersection of Militant Passivism and The Hyannis Wind Farm.

Andrew Potter has come to my rescue.  He has identified the syndrome of which I speak- it’s the search for “authenticity,” which is a snobistic way of rejecting modernity.  Stop and think, or at least recall the “Smug Alert” episode of South Park where the car in question was called the “Pious” and it’s problem was the cloud of “smug” that attended it.  If you want to lead a more “authentic” life, there are many things to be done and not done.  Sins of commission include eating processed foods of all kinds but if you want to get orthodox you’ll go the vegan-raw route.  Shopping at the “big box” is out.  So is adhering to an orthodox Western religion.  Being a Republican– don’t go there.  SUV’s, combed hair, polyester or any petrochemistry no no no.

On the positive side, there’s slow, local food for the slocavores, push mowers, condos in downtown Austin where you don’t even need a push mower (and we just ignore the undocumented workers the condo management hires who use those nasty blowers because it’s a job Americans won’t do,) and no worries about the side effects of commercial deodorants.  Then there’s the yoga- fix your soul and your glutes without really having to do anything for anyone.  And there are bicycles for those unfortunates who can’t afford a Vespa or a Prius.

But all this costs money, and that’s where the snob pay off is.  It isn’t cheap to be “authentic”  but if the lifestyle does impoverish you, it’s a noble, virtuous poverty.

Aside: My former church has been trying to ride this tide by “engaging” the artist/urbanite community with book groups (concentrating, unsuprisingly, on titles that feature Michael Pollan) and deep discussions over locally grown food- at $25 a head- to lure the unchurched, anti-religious ever-weirder Austin hoy poloy into a dialogue that might possibly open the door to a discussion about the possibility that there may be a penumbra of truth to the idea that there is a Power out there somewhere.  Maybe.  Suffice it to say, the word “Episcopalian” appears no where on any literature, and in the prayer that was intoned at the intro meeting, God never made an appearance, much less his Son.  A woman ( and I swear I didn’t pay her to say this) suggested that this format would provide an excellent opportunity to “engage” our Muslim brethren in dialogue.  Of course, they would be allowed to talk about their religion.  They already have the “authentic” religion. End aside.

Before I leave this subject, I commend to your discerning eyes an article about a woman who wrote a book about “slow parenting.” Her life actually sounds wonderful.  She’s done all sorts of things, got married, and decided that she didn’t want to raise her kids in a New York apartment, so she and her husband moved here. She has banned all electronic stuff, TV’s and the like, she gardens with the kids, teaches them how to knit, she feeds them yummy locally grown stuff, they play with wooden toys (probably intentionally,) in the back yard of their Enfield home, sometimes with Daddy the Venture Capitalist, who sends them all the way out to the Waldorf School to get just the right child-centered education in the wilds of Oak Hill (their food travels less distance to their table than the kids do to school.)  Ah, yes.  The Authentic Author is here to tell you, for  a price, how to raise your children slowly, awarely, consciously, intentionally, expensively.  And I’m sure Daddy’s ventures are all terribly sustainable.

2 thoughts on “Keeping It Real in Austin

  1. Doesn’t all this fall under the “Keep Austin Weird” umbrella? Nowadays you have to go a ways to be weird in Austin. I like your awareness idea tho – I will be free enterpise conscious and representative republic aware. Probably the wrong kind of weird for Austin.

  2. No, I don’t think so. And I’ve thought about this. This authenticity phenomenon is so mainstream Andrew Potter is making money writing a book about it. If it’s a form of snobbery, by definition it isn’t weird. Authentic weird does have its markers, however: yard art that is allowed in ’04 and nowhere else; allowing a stinky middle-aged man in a thong and a tube top to rest his cheeks on your bar stool during the lunchtime rush at a toney downtown eatery (Leslie: Louie’s 106) because it sends the “right” message about “tolerance”; fanatical love of John Kelso’s “take” on everything Austin, etc., and so on.

    Real weird is for losers and aging hippies. “Authenticity” means you still get invited to the right parties and can snag book signings and lifestyle articles for your vanity-pressed tips on acting poor in Enfield.

    And don’t get me started on the Waldorfians.

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