A New Bohemian Philosophy
Posted on May 24, 2013
The term ‘Bohemian’ calls to one’s mind images of tattered clothing, greasy hair, tangled beards, empty bottles of absinthe, typewriters with worn away letters and paint-splattered cold-water flats. Fingers yellow, eyes red and stomach empty, the Bohemian haunts seedy taverns, bargain diners and empty, moonlit cobble-stone streets where professionals leaving work, or fancy restaurants, cross to the other side so as to not brush their shoulders with a lower class. Those same professionals may appreciate the fruits of Bohemian labour in art galleries, on bookstore shelves or on stage at the theater, but they will always maintain a distance from the motley assortment of artists. But things have changed.
Gone are the days when forward thinking creative types sat idly in watered-down hangouts drinking watered-down coffee, stewing about their anti-everything notions.
Culture has changed. Business has changed. Before, Bohemians and businessmen walked on different sides of the same street, now they walk hand-in-hand in the middle of the road. This is a little theory I call: The New Bohemian Philosophy.
The New Bohemian is a software engineer, an inventor, a business magnate, a product designer, a record label or film studio executive. He is affluent and respected, followed and befriended. He is original, individual, professional and career oriented. He is not a social insurgent. He is not an anti-establishment rebel. He has packed up his nominal possessions and moved out of the low-class gypsy neighborhoods of the past and taken up residence in the sprawling estates of Newport Beach, the dapper townhouses of the Upper East Side and the summer haunts of Martha’s Vineyard. He has gone from wanderer to traveller.
Sometime before the turn of the 20th century, humorist Gelett Burgess claimed the Bohemian was one who lives in the moment, one who is self-indulgent, thoughtless and a rampant procrastinator. But – I say, that was The Old Bohemian. The New Bohemian thinks of the future, of development and progress. He sees the world not for what it is or isn’t but for what it can be. He does not brood, he reflects. He is an opportunist who strikes while the iron is still hot. He does not turn his back on wealth because he knows that with wealth comes power, and power is the ultimate instrument of change. He knows that power is the tool needed to turn the world that is into the world that will be. He is still artistic. He is still creative. He continues to think differently.
In order to accept the new manifestation of something, we must first understand its origins. The term Bohemian refers to the roving Romani people, who were believed by the French to have arrived in Western Europe via Bohemia. They were outsiders living apart from traditional and accepted lifestyles and were untroubled by society’s disapprobation of them. The term showed up for the first time in the English language in the 19th century to describe the impoverished lifestyle led by artists, writers, journalists, musicians and actors, primarily in Europe’s urban centers. The term also carried with it conations of free love, frugality and even voluntary poverty. Soon, the new cultural bottom-feeder was making his way into the subject matter of mainstream art and entertainment. The French opera ‘Carmen’ (1875) by Mielhac and Halévy, the short stories by Henri Murger found in ‘Scènes de la Vie de Bohème’ (1845) and Giacomo Puccini’s opera ‘La bohème’ (1896), which would become the inspirational material behind Jonathan Larson’s musical ‘Rent’, all ventured to legitimize Bohemianism.
As great literature comes to define the era in which it is was born and provide the foundation of public perception for generations to follow, the term Bohemian and its cultural meaning were now a part of everyday life. But everyday life has changed since Queen Victoria. A few items contribute heavily to this shift in epochs: the radio (1901), airplanes (1903), pacemakers (1959), the microprocessor (1971), cell phones (1979), the Apple Macintosh (1984) and the pièce de résistance, the internet (1990). These innovations have steamrolled our cultural landscape and ushered in a technological revolution we still know very little of. Now, this is nothing new. We’ve read it all before. However, I believe that we have neglected the impact this digital era has had on the definition of our analogue friend; The Bohemian. And while the world was busy working on the assembly lines, drinking milkshakes, dancing to Elvis, texting and prowling in chat rooms – those Bohemians rose up, transformed if you will, and became an army of modern, business-friendly, creative thinkers determined to shepherd us over-eager lambs into a more humane, less fatalistic, age. Scions of the information age where big-business decisions are not made to benefit only the company’s profit margin but are made to improve the lives of the consumers, as well as the bottom line. A Nash Equilibrium.
What does The New Bohemian look like? He may look like Steve Jobs, who has revolutionized the way in which we consume our music, our movies and even our literature. He did this not with a suit and flashy briefcase but with creative, solution-based thinking. He did not have to put himself in the shoes of his consumers, because he was one already. We all need arts and entertainment and while all the white-collars were sweeping up the shattered bits of the music industry, Steve, armed with commonwealth rationality, devised a way to not only save profitable music, but make millions of dollars for himself in the process. Creative paradigm thinking. Outsider thinking. Bohemian thinking. The New Bohemian may look like any open-collared professional who recognizes, in practice or in theory, the importance of art, uniqueness and imagination because The New Bohemian has integrated himself into the world of business, broadcasting, marketing, advertising and finance. The Bohemian once made money selling his art, now, he sells his ideas.
Gone are the days when dusty artists lined dusty sidewalks trying to sell their dusty art to the wealthy passer-by. Gone are the days when forward thinking creative types sat idly in watered-down hangouts drinking watered-down coffee, stewing about their anti-everything notions. Gone are the days when those who lived with inspiration also lived with hunger and poverty on the outskirts of social acceptance. Gone are the days when he who celebrated individuality was cast out, kicked aside, spurned and wasted away his days brooding in rebellious reverie. Yes, gone are those dusty days when to be Bohemian was to be ridden with angst, hungry, eccentric and destined for a life of pauperism and weary glances. Times may have changed, but one thing remains true: The Bohemian must make his own way in this world and during his journey he must remember himself, his fellow man and the future of his planet. In the words of Gelett Burgess ‘What, then, is it that makes this mystical empire of Bohemia unique, and what is the charm of its mental fairyland? It is this: there are no roads in all Bohemia! One must choose and find one’s own path, be one’s own self, live one’s own life.’∗
Originally published in Digital Americana