The Real Issue w/ #Vanlife: The Bohemian Social Media Movement | “Currently my work is storytelling and aligning with companies supporting our lifestyle… “
#Vanlife started kinda cool. I mean living and traveling and surfing out of your van and seeing what the great world has to offer is and always will be cool. It just seems that now with social media attached to it that people are doing it to get “Insta-famous” or to have brands fund their travels or to “create content.”
People have been doing this since the 40’s for no more than the experience. Not to dress it up to look more romantic than it actually is. If you’re doing it for any other reason than having a great time then take a look in the mirror and ask yourself some serious questions.
Our beloved The New Yorker did a write-up on #VanLife in general and it left us with that similar scratchy feeling in our throats. Do you agree?
Should marketing slogans and custom hashtags and pursuit of on-line fame and sponsorship really be the goal of all the fun we now have?
Here’s a sample:
“Part of the fun of vanlife, Sitner theorized, is the old-fashioned, analog pleasure of tinkering. But vanlife, as a concept and as a self-defined community, is primarily a social-media phenomenon. Attaching a name (and a hashtag) to the phenomenon has also enabled people who would otherwise just be rootless wanderers to make their travels into a kind of product. “There are now professional vanlifers,” Huntington told me, sounding slightly scandalized.
Vanlifers have a tendency to call their journeys “projects,” and to describe them in the elevator-pitch terms that make sense to potential sponsors. While still in Central America, King and Smith came up with a name for their project: Where’s My Office Now, a reference to their goal of fusing travel and work. “We wanted to see if it was possible to combine this nomadic hippie life with a nine-to-five job,” Smith explained. After the couple returned from Central America but before they bought a van, King registered a Web site and set up social-media accounts. “The business part of me knew there was potential,” she said. Smith, who was still using a flip phone, was suspicious of his girlfriend’s preoccupation with social media, worrying that it would detract from the experience.”
“Ken Ilgunas spent most of two years living in a van when he was a graduate student at Duke University in order to avoid racking up debt, an experience he chronicled in a book called “Walden on Wheels,” published in 2013. Living in a van makes you thriftier and more self-reliant, Ilgunas told me. You learn to live with discomfort, a quality that he doesn’t see in the Instagram version of vanlife. “My van never looked like anything out of a Wes Anderson film,” he said. “It was difficult for me to wash my cooking pots. For a couple of weeks, I had mice living in my ceiling upholstery. There were times the van got so hot I thought I would die if I took a nap. And it was lonely. Just knowing that I would have to tell women where I lived deterred even the thought of dating.” In contrast, the vans on Instagram look like “aesthetically pleasing jewelry boxes,” Ilgunas said. “Usually with one or two good-looking people sprawled out in bed in front of a California beach.”
It’s true that the same vanlife pictures get taken over and over: the van’s back doors opening onto an ocean vista; a long-exposure nighttime shot of the van, cozy and lit from within, against a backdrop of stars; a woman on the van’s roof, in the middle of a sun salutation. (There are so many images of vans parked in improbably beautiful places—the middle of a lake, the edge of a cliff—that there’s an Instagram account called You Did Not Sleep There, devoted to collecting the least believable ones.) One vanlife trope, a middle-distance shot of a van on an empty, winding road, seems more self-consciously artificial than most: someone clearly had to hop out and run back to get the shot. The ideal vanlife image has something of the hazy impersonality of a photograph in an upscale catalogue, depicting a scene that’s both attractive and unspecific enough that viewers can imagine themselves into it.”
There is an undeniable aesthetic and demographic conformity in the vanlife world. Nearly all of the most popular accounts belong to young, attractive, white, heterosexual couples. “There’s the pretty van girl and the woodsy van guy,” Smith said. “That’s what people want to see.” At times, the vanlife community seems full of millennials living out a leftover baby-boomer fantasy: the Volkswagens, the neo-hippie fashions, the retro gender dynamics.
But, for all its twee escapism, vanlife is a trend born out of the recent recession. “We heard all these promises about what will happen after you go to college and get a degree,” Smith said. “We graduated at a time when all that turned out to be a bunch of bullshit.” The generation that’s fuelling the trend has significantly more student debt and lower rates of homeownership than previous cohorts. The rise of contract and temporary labor has further eroded young people’s financial stability. “I think there’s a sense of hopelessness in my generation, in terms of jobs,” Foster Huntington said. “And it’s cheap to live in a van.” And so, like staycations and minimalism, vanlife is an attempt to aestheticize and romanticize the precariousness of contemporary life. “It looks like they’re having fun,” Huntington said, of King and Smith. “But they’re working a lot.”
Click over to THE NEW YORKER to read about the new generation of hippies making a living off social media.
#Vanlife isn't just an aesthetic. #Vanlife isn't just a mentality. #Vanlife is—as people keep insisting—a “movement.” It’s about self-sufficiency and freedom, but with Instagrams of sunsets, oceans, and bikinis. Click the link in our bio to read more about a lifestyle free from the tyranny of a 9-to-5 office job. Photograph by @newminton.
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This is a rare one.