The Wanderlust of #Vanlife (2015) examines the travelling and blogging movement established by Foster Huntington, who quit a Manhattan corporate job to travel full time in Volkswagen. Huntington says, “I felt like I was kind of pissing away my 20’s doing that” and changed to a more authentic way of making a living, documenting his travels on social media.
The documentary examines the phenomenon of Huntington and others becoming social media blogging, and Instagram sensations with, sometimes, millions of followers. Hashtag #Vanlife now refers to the subcultural movement of thousands of successful, financially viable Van Life channels, enjoying this youthful, countercultural lifestyle that rejects dominant cultural consumerist ideologies.
In many respects, The Atlantic who produced the documentary, is promoting the transcendentalist tradition of its founder Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882).
Transcendentalist see the goodness of people and nature and celebrates the self-reliant individual as a means of escaping the perils of our modern institutions, much like the narratives constructed by the Van Lifers. There is a subversive ideology at work in the tradition which seeks to undermine dominant culture ideas about the ways we should live, work for the man, and live in houses.
Some examples are seen on this movie.
A subversive ideology as described by Brown is one that ‘challenges, contradicts, or undermines the dominant ideology’ (2014, p. 189). Interviews in the documentary emphasise the escape from institutional conventions about the ways we are forced to live an unnatural, inauthentic lives as slaves to the system. An alternative way of living, that is not all about buying a house, consuming, and having a huge debt is presented which has parallels with the hippie movement.
I explore these ideas further on this podcast.
The Atlantic documentary positions viewers to sympathise with the romantic countercultural perspective, of the individual in touch with nature and themselves. In contrast, the corrupting influence of dominant ideology which is a repeated theme in the interviews while we are encouraged to identify and sympathise with the Van Lifers who are presented as marginalised victims of the economic downturn, complete with large student debts. The effect is of positioning the audience to challenge and critique the consumerist, environmentally problematic, ideology of mainstream ways of living and presenting the #Vanlife lifestyle as a natural, common sense response to the economic situation.
When we look deeper however there is a capitalist subtext to the way subcultures have been closely associated in identity branding and consumer culture (Hobbs, 2015). The article ‘Hashtags & Hippie Buses: Cultural Contradictions Within The #Vanlife Movement’ explores another contradiction in the subtext to do with the movements dependency on technology, and entrepreneurial skills. In the documentary Huntington also sees one of the problems of #Vanlife culture as the ‘fetishization of the vans’ showing how consumption patterns and identity branding have become such huge part of the movement.
Vanlife and the Beat Generation
Who were the Beat Generation?
An episode of #Vanlife and the Beat Generation
We go on an adventure in the exploration of van life’s roots in the beat generation writers and poets of New York, discuss finding your voice.
Brown, A 2015, ‘Navigating Social Media’, in T Chalkley, M Hobbs, A Brown, T Cinque, B Warren & M Finn (eds), Communication, digital media and everyday life, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne
Brown, A 2015, ‘Reading Film: Techniques, Identification and ideology’, in T Chalkley, M Hobbs, A Brown, T Cinque, B Warren & M Finn (eds), Communication, digital media and everyday life, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne pp. 155-170
Hobbs, M 2015, ‘Designing Desire: Advertising, Consumption and Identity’, in T Chalkley, M Hobbs, A Brown, T Cinque, B Warren & M Finn (eds), Communication, digital media and everyday life, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne pp. 93-111