In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita De Boni: Everything old is new again

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These days, dropping out of the rat race doesn't make you a hippy.

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

Forgive me for being behind the times. I know Jennifer Aniston is engaged to be married (finally! phew!) to Justin Theroux, that she sports an engagement diamond as big as a piece of Hubba Bubba, and that the pair of them are currently building a multimillion dollar love nest where they'll marry. Ta very much, New Idea.

But until recently I had never seen the movie that brought the two of them together. That movie, Wanderlust, is a tiresome 90 minutes with the occasional funny line, or, as US critic Roger Moore would have it, "a random, tedious and tone-deaf comedy, a feeble recycling of every hippie commune cliche you've ever heard".

A quick precis of the movie goes something like this: young, child-free couple take huge mortgage to afford designer "micro-loft" in New York's West Village, lose jobs, have to quit New York and go to live in Georgia with obnoxious brother; on way there find themselves broken down at a hippie commune. After an ecstatic night there, both decide to stay, but while she is won over by the swami-like commune leader, he tires of the granola-munchers and leaves in a blaze of fury.

Naturally, this being a Hollywood script, they end up reaffirming an undying love and move back to a much more successful life in a bigger, brighter New York loft, quashing any faintly subversive message the movie may have contained.

In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, you'd think it may be timely to say something meaningful about turning your back on the rat-race, high-end real estate and soul-destroying jobs. It could have portrayed something even faintly redeeming in an alternative lifestyle, other than easy access to hallucinogenics. Apparently, that's still too big a stretch at the movies.

But the reality is that many people are questioning so-called "mainstream" values, in the US and all over the world. They're downsizing, slow living, and re-evaluating their priorities. Extended families of all ethnicities are living together to share costs and child-raising duties. Folk are moving out of the city to avoid the inevitable high-priced scramble for housing in the best postal codes. They're recycling, freecycling, and driving their neighbours nutty with the current craze, owning chickens.

For Hollywood, communal living hasn't moved on from the 1970s, when crazy hippies took acid trips and only bra-less women in tie-dyed clothing ate vegetarian food. But a new documentary on the subject, American Commune, paints a picture of something quite different in these times.

Made by a couple of sisters who grew up on the United States' oldest, at one time largest, commune, The Farm in Tennessee, American Commune talks about how collective living is once more on the rise, although debauchery is not its byword anymore. Senior citizens and greenies, it finds, are increasingly drawn to the lifestyle, which these days is less about free love and more about free enterprise (done collectively). The Farm has thriving businesses, including a centre teaching green construction methods and a soymilk icecream production line.

Well along from the days when 1700 people chillaxed at The Farm, today's population of 160 is an older, some may say less hedonistic group, but one that retains a yearning to free themselves of the shackles of The Man.

In Wanderlust, the old-school hippie continues to be mocked and pilloried, even as in the real world, a new generation takes the legacy and runs with it.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: illustrator@annacrichton.com

- NZ Herald

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