Bohemia in America, 1858-1920

By Joanna Levin | Go to book overview

4
The Bohemian Grove and the Making of the
Bourgeois-Bohemian

Bohemia triumphs, for grim Care is dead!

Annals of the San Francisco Bohemian Club, 1880

AT THE BEGINNING OF 2000, a spate of books heralded the advent of the “Bourgeois-Bohemian”—or, in social commentator David Brooks's reduction, the “Bobo.” This figure, Brooks and others argue, represents a new American upper/middle class ethic, one that forges a synthesis between Bohemian and traditional bourgeois values. Alongside Brooks's bestseller, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (2000), Ann Powers's Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America (2000) celebrates and ironizes the ever more rapid embourgeoisment of Bohemian mores. Christine Stansell's American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (2000) similarly maintains that post– World War I versions of Bohemianism have mainly served as “a reserve of inspiration for renovating middle-class life in the great shift from a nineteenthcentury work-oriented ethic to a consumerist, leisured society.”1 With different emphases, all three books suggest that these historical antagonists have become more and more indistinguishable.

Rife with paradox, the Bourgeois-Bohemian of today allegedly reconciles such bourgeois values as thrift, diligence, sobriety, and self-restraint (the “culture of production”) and prototypical bohemian desires for rebellion, personal liberation, play, and self-indulgence (the “culture of consumption”). Though each of these books recognizes that the well-known dichotomy between the Bohemian and the Bourgeois has always involved dialectical convergences and divergences, many recent analysts suggest

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