WEIRD LIKE US by Ann Powers


My Bohemian America
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New York Times critic Powers’s giddy tribute to the giddy impulses of bohemia manages to strip the counterculture of its allure through repetitious anecdotes and muddled moralizing. Ah, la vie Bohäme. Even if the quaint cafÇs and galleries that used to foster it have passed into history and opera, its liberating impulses are still to be found in the alternative families, the freedom from sexual hypocrisy, the flourishing drug culture, and the joys of recycling. Or so you might gather from Powers’s ode to the thrills of fin-de-siäcle bohemianism. Sadly, three problems sink her call to celebration. The most obvious is internal contradictions. Powers lambastes consumerism and extols the benefits of alternative economies, yet she paradoxically praises that same consumerist impulse when it is concentrated on kitsch. Though ostensibly aware of her privileged middle-class upbringing, she drops in some offensive howlers that reveal the slumming impulse behind her well-financed jaunt into the cultural underground, such as her condescending joy in low-paying jobs that allow her to mix with “real people——that is, poor people. A second problem concerns Powers’s misconception of her audience. A book circle of religious fundamentalists would find much material for debate here, but most of Powers’s arguments on behalf of contemporary bohemia are bound to seem unnecessary to the target audience her title identifies. Her constant defensiveness combines with her confusion about just how confused she is, producing a fatal third problem: the numbing ennui of her hip, overloud catalog of up-to-the-minute fleshpots. Despite the occasional delicious turn of phrase, her bohemia is finally as sterile as an unopened Band-Aid. Powers’s final chapter, appropriately enough, describes her justifications for selling out and becoming a yuppie. Despite the Spice Girl lollipops that she claims keep her spirit free, she doesn—t notice that Scary Spice resides in the malls of suburbia, not bohemia.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-83808-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1999


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