Sunday, November 7, 2010

The SF Green Festival is Decadent and Depraved

A rainy Sunday for free parking and a check-up on the health of America's hippies. Great!

San Francisco - the motherland, the home-stop. 9th annual this time. San Francisco in the 2010 Hope-bust. Obama had been here a few weeks before. Now he's in India.

Crowds don't change. Whether the sloppy weather would drive people away or inside had me nervous enough to show up in the late afternoon. Last day - perhaps some good discounts on whatever the hucksters flung my way.

Rather than the Cow Palace, whose halls I know, the greens had come to significantly more lush auspices. Parking a block away from the SF Tennis Club, I wonder how many members the recession has driven away from an admittedly lousy locale. This part of town, 5th and Bryant, is useless for living, although some artistic types pleasantly resign themselves to these Tenderloin outskirts. I'm not sure of any American neighborhood so well-named.

But even if greyed the light is still from sun-source instead of lamp post, and the festival-goers are out in droves. Too slight a drizzle to keep them away, but enough to drive them inside.

My tickets were free, and there were hot pink hospital bracelets at the entrance, that no one would check for the duration.

Besides a check-up on the green movement, which I'd not looked in on in ten years, I was curious to see how it was adapting to the infirmities of middle age. They were young and strong in the late '60s and '70s, and fully adult by the 90's. After the 2000 mid-life crisis I dropped out of it, and concepts like watersheds, r-value, foodwebs, solar and snow leopards had been replaced by buying a gallon of organic each week.

The ulterior motive for this was to see if there was free ice cream and business shirts good for the tropics.

We'd missed the ice cream - that was on Saturday. So up we went to the fashion section. I should mention I was with my father, whose slate ponytail was not out of place.

Plenty of greens in the building. Were they aware of their playing to stereotypes?

The man with the trimmed white beard, beret, and suit. Olive oil vendor.

Dreadlock babies, cute eye-linered girls so fashionable they'd passed to the other side, the well-meaning hipsters in skinny jeans and caps asking the critical question "What is falafel, anyway?"

Earnest teens ready to exchange cleavage for business, and two girls showering in what was some sort of demonstration in water-recycling or soap.

Asian people selling Asian remedies, offering Asian bodywork, handing out Asian business cards.

A young girl in pink and grey rhythmically kazooing towards the kid's arena where the hand-made stuffed dolls waited.

The San Francisco suits, always men in pairs, looking for something to brighten their lives.

Gauged ears and shaved heads, goatees, long greys, and a polyester-clad braided Native American man whose bright shirt I couldn't out-manoeuvre.

Oh, the hippies are alive in 2010. I'm just not sure they are well.

The festival isn't festive at all. It's a shopping market, a indoor street fair-cum-ethics violation. Which booth do you support: the one for hard working rural Kenyans or the one for hard working rural Guatemalans? Both are fair-trade and organic! Gluten-free!

Or do you instead, I think, buy whichever is cheapest?

Not that cheap items were abundant. Besides the clothes, which I abandoned after two rounds, there were home furnishings, crafts, jewelry (of course jewelry - the American entrepreneurial ideal survives on the potential of home-made jewelry), food to go and cook and food to eat for lunch, subscriptions and petitions...

"This man who had no chance of winning, a junior senator that no one had heard of..."

Keep trying to rally the faithful. I wonder if they voted last week.

...books on every type of spiritualism and green investing, paper made of elephant dung, soap and shampoo and cream and conditioner made of anything from goat's milk to bee spit to acai juice (probably) and all of it peddled by young ladies ready to convince you why their product was the greeny-est. Water bottles water bottles water bottles: sleek, patterned, self-purifying, a collapsible bowl made of recycled chopsticks.

My dad found two rival ink cartridge refill programs, and got their business cards. I would walk away with no such find. Hemp shirts may wick water effortlessly, but at $55-95 per, I wasn't buying.

These hippies had itching palms: but what else but expensive art and crafts was there? A few speakers, getting a few listeners. Amateur musicians. Movies.

How can the hippy survive on mark-up? All the corners of the idealized world were sharing wares: Tibet, Africa, Chile - anything third-world would do. No booths bragging their items were from Paris or Tokyo. California was a safe bet: Buy Local!

Corporate greenwashing has become the green movement at the San Francisco Green Festival 2010. Nothing outlandish like BP. Just every vendor in the place happily accepting Visa or Mastercard for your [exotic location][thneed]. Even if you said "Fuck it - I'm only supporting the Guatemalans this year" you'd still feel the trap spring shut on the way home when you realize you'll be cherishing this thing because of it's dear price rather than it's ethical capital.

When your apartment burns down and all the third-world do-gooding merchandise is gone will the pang come from cultural loss of knickknackery, or loss of stuff? To put in Buddhist terms: are you attached to your organic fair-trade vegan lifestyle and do you need that wrap to prove it?

"Save the fucking planet? We can barely take care of ourselves!"

When we decided to split re-entering the San Francisco early evening glow the walk back to the car landed on any topic of conversation besides the Festival, from blinds to bars to cross-walks. A busted afternoon, void of revelry but secure in spending, the American hippy is either buying or selling.

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