Naarmcore: the commodification and appropriation of multiculturalism

There’s a new trend in Australian youth subculture. It originated on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram as a way to show off one’s self-expression in a new aesthetic. You may have noticed the explosion of loose-fitting clothing with random graphics, trucker hats, baggy jeans, jorts and carabiners latched onto belt loops as the new markers of ‘cool.’ Although it is seemingly innocent in delivery, this trend has encompassed a myriad of controversy. “Naarmcore,” as it’s known, raises questions of darker undertones attributed to a tone-deaf understanding of culture and multiculturalism, and has a deep history within the gentrification and colonisation of minority spaces.

The name “Naarmcore” was the title originally given to this trend. It’s a portmanteau of the First Nations’ traditional name for the area known as Melbourne-, “Naarm,”- and “core” is often used as a suffix to encompass the elements and zeitgeist of a particular field of interest. The controversy stems from the liberal use of “Naarm” as a means of describing those partaking in the trend. Many argue that the term’s presence is a dishonest rendering of its First Nations origins — ultimately a method of repression under the guise of solidarity. The First Nation names used to reference places; Naarm, Eora and Gadigal (Sydney) have recently been used as a means to show one’s recognition of the land they are on. It is also used as an acknowledgement of who the traditional custodians of the land are and their customs. However, the mass adoption of these terms has caused their contextual meanings to be blurred. They’ve diverged into becoming the branding of bohemian spaces, losing their original purpose, cultural meaning. 

For example, establishments such as RAW: Gadigal and filter_naarm host popular and elaborate techno raves. They aim to promote diversity through branding, but have instead skewed how bohemian subcultures approach First Nations branding. It is now liberally and superficially used due to their popularity within the alternative youth circles. The glamour and style is praised before the social messages the brands are trying to promote. This leads to a  misconstrued integration of terms and further cultural appropriation. 

Are growing subcultures in Newtown or Brunswick the ones to blame for the perversion of these terms? Are the artists and creatives really at fault? The short answer is no. The fault is on those who are overzealous about their social standing in these creative circles. They appropriate cultural elements to promote their work without contextualising and respecting the traditional cultures they draw from.

Bohemianism in itself is usually the product of many cultures. This problem isn’t necessarily the creative landscape, but to those who feign their acknowledgements. The big word of ‘gentrification’ comes into play: it is clear that within these areas, there has been a considerable influx of new migrants from the wealthier suburbs of Sydney’s North Shore, as well as the Eastern Suburbs. The reason for the great exodus of these reverse economic migrations is the promise of an unconventional lifestyle offered by these areas. They live out their struggling artist fantasy on the back of a trust fund, take part in the underground rave scene, go to the USYD and start their podcast ironically covering all of these ‘struggles’. It is in the best interest of these private school alumni not to integrate themselves within the proprietary of traditionally working-class suburbs, but to emulate behaviours that present an eagerness to appear less intimidating to its existing cultures. In turn, the works of these groups — often traditionally marginalised — are appropriated and commodified. 

In France, the self-righteous young elite is referred to as the ‘Bourgeois-Bohemian,’ (aka Bobo’s) akin to being a champagne socialist.  Such groups simply pretend to care about the working-class lifestyle by familiarising themselves with it in a superficial way. This creates an environment which makes it hard for inhabitants to live in due to the rising costs of living and property prices. For example the upmarket fusion fast food TokyoTaco, where Japanese and Mexican cuisines are stripped of their essence and thrown together. It’s located in the trendy Newtown: where housing prices have risen by 30% over the past five years. Professor Magda Bolzoni of the University of Turin states that “rather than a genuine interest, the fascination of diversity, the enjoyment of a diverse atmosphere and the consumption of exotic goods by the new urban middle classes often emerges as a means of social distinction.” In the case of Sydney’s suburbs, Bobos often see different cultural groups as the sum of what they produce; food, art or music. Conflating their exposure to these ideas with solidarity and class allegiance.

The Bobo believes that by combining these elements with ideas they are familiar with, they are innovating culture, despite the still-active agency of colonisation as a result of false pretences manufactured by their own self-righteous zeal. It isn’t hard to imagine the reasons why they would do this. It is hard to imagine what they seek to accomplish without conflicting with the notions of their hypocrisy. Rebuttals and testimonials of their solidarity rather than an acknowledgement of fault become an indication of a cynical point of view, where multiculturalism is merely seen as a tool for social enhancement. 

Over the past few years, amongst the growing celebration of LGBTQIA+ groups, billion-dollar businesses such as AMPOL, BWS and Absolut Vodka have adopted a brand of marketing specifically engineered to target progressive markets. By signalling empathy and solidarity, it has been aptly titled ‘rainbow capitalism’. The problem with rainbow capitalism is, despite the supposed virtues these companies try to disseminate to improve their ethos, they have not done anything of value to bolster the groups which they claim to support. Instead, rainbow capitalism essentially causes more harm than good — a ploy that rings hollow and false.

Navigating through the jungles of the present-day consumerist landscape, the true alignments of ‘allies’ has been obscured. Brands attempt tactics that try to appeal to a greater audience by forming an image that breaks away from conservative moulds, but don’t pursue any tangible actions to improve the conditions of the cultures and groups they take from. It is similar to how Western charities suppress the African textile industry due to the forced donations of second-hand clothing. Assessing these conditions within a vacuum, the average person may find the conditions presented to be superficially sound, but to promote solidarity within cultural production in our society, it’s best to let the creators and custodians of these works do the talking. This can be done by giving marginalised cultures the platform to showcase their own work by supporting authentic businesses and acknowledging the cultural origins of any product. Only then we may stray away from the crux of modern-day saviour complexes and faux-allyship to fully support a healthy multicultural society.

So what does all of this have to do with have to do Naarmcore? The baggy pants with carabiners, a penchant to pay for a $17 deconstructed bánh mì and an $8 flat white?

Well… everything. Modern Australia is experiencing a great cultural shift, with increasing immigration rates over the decades and 87% of overseas migrants moving to capital cities, as per the 2016 census. The multicultural landscape of Sydney has never looked more vibrant. This comes during a time where the youth are focused on social consciousness, progressive ideologies, and abandoning the reactionary ideals of the past. These demographics will eventually comprise a nouveau middle class, who will eventually comprise the majority of the bell curve. It is important to break away from the societal hypocrisies and bigotries which have plagued the past. The cliche of power falling into the hands of the young has become ever more true as the new generation ages.

As multiculturalism and cultural harmony become consequentially synonymous with this generation, understanding the facets of self-expression have also become increasingly important. Individuals strive to show their place within society either through the things they make, their interactions with others, or the mannerisms they pick up. But to accomplish these things, they need to know that they are not the great pioneers of the cultures they take from.