Tue Nov 27, 2012, 07:49 PM
Plaid Adder (5,518 posts)
A Month of Black Fridays
The opening of the annual spending season fills me with extra dread this year.
Over the years I have come to find the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas ever more depressing. It's not because of the demands made on me personally; my family engaged in some crucial talks a few years ago that led to a dramatic reduction in the number of gifts that had to be purchased by each adult member. Basically we do a secret santa with one other person in the family and then buy presents for the kids. It's just the whole climate we enter the day after Thanksgiving--or, now, the evening of--in which it seems like every form of media that exists and every retail outlet on the planet joins forces to compel us all to exhaust ourselves as day after day we trudge to their big boxes to buy their stuff. The rhetoric about "holiday cheer" has gone way past being insincere and hollow to being full-on dystopian. Someone once said of Shostakovich's 5th symphony that it sounds as if someone is telling the orchestra, "You must rejoice, you must go on rejoicing." The animated series Ren & Stimpy had something called a Happy Helmet which, when one of the characters put it on, forced him to emit the most grotesque expressions of coerced glee. I think of both of these things every time I hear someone on the radio or TV orgasming over the "great deal" s/he just got on their holiday shopping.
How did this happen? At what point did the holiday season become a forced march--a test of your ability to endure day after day of compelled consumption? And why is it so difficult for us to refuse to participate? After all, there is no legal penalty for failing to shop. Obviously part of it is the diabolical way in which the act of consumption has been fused with the expression of love and affection. To refuse to buy is to refuse to give and to risk really hurting the people you want to make happy. But since all the people we give to are compelled to do their own buying, surely there is some form of collective action we could take that would liberate us from all this--as my family eventually did when enough members of it decided it was all just getting too crazy.
As a society, however, we are not good at that kind of thing. It's very difficult to pull off a successful boycott, for instance. We are not encouraged to think of our buying power as a political tool, and any attempt to use it that way--even an attempt which is acknowledged as mostly or purely symbolic--typically provokes intense resistance. Back during the BP spill in the Gulf, I posted about boycotting BP, and was unsurprised though still dismayed at the amount of energy people put into explaining why this would be wrong. On the individual level we all make choices about which marketing messages we will resist and to which we will yield. But collectively, it's pretty rare for people to get together and say, as a group, you know what, we're not buying that.
But some kind of resistance is surely called for at this point. Black Friday is now trying to colonize Thanksgiving night; Christmas merchandise begins appearing right after Halloween. The season of compulsory spending seeks to extend itself, chipping away at the time, energy, and money we might otherwise use to actually create the sense of family and community connection that the retail sector promises we can purchase along with holiday door-busting deals.
I know this is all supposed to stimulate the economy. But I guess I am coming around to the idea that this in itself is the problem: the fact that our economic model mandates continuous consumption. It's more obvious during the holiday season because the marketers' appropration of Christmas and its secular penumbra gives it all a weirdly religious aspect; it's as if we're not just servicing the economy, but propitiating some kind of capitalist god. But at all times and everywhere, it's purchase or perish; if we don't buy, nobody gets paid, and if you are not getting paid, there is no place for you in this world any more.
How can it be otherwise, you ask.
I don't know. But I feel like we need to answer this question because the process of turning the planet into crap that can be bought and sold is slowly but surely making the place uninhabitable. If we cannot find the personal and political will necessary to change not just what and how we consume but the structural importance of consumption in our economy, then we cannot address the causes of climate change.
This is a terrifying thing to realize. Conservation and electric cars and solar power and all that are all very important and hopeful; but bottom line, if we want to save ourselves we have to learn how to control what we buy and what we use...and I look around at this time of the year, and I see no evidence that we have the ability or the desire to do this.
See, all y'all who have been asking where I've been for the past 3-4 years? I've been getting less and less sanguine about the possibility of two-party politics enabling us to do the things that we desperately need to do to preserve human life on this planet. Now that we have warded off hte undeniable increase in BAD that would have been a Romney presidency, it's back to this again: winning the horse race doesn't necessarily solve the problems.
Can we talk abotu climate change now? Can we talk about consumption now? Can we push back on commercial control of our lives long enough to find some alternatives? Can we talk about how to make possible the massive changes in human behavior that will be necessary if we are to keep human existence bearable? No? This is impractical? This is not pragmatic? This is idealism and has no place in the world of realpolitik? Well, OK; but then really, what IS the point of politics if we have to give up on getting our representatives to take any of this seriously?
And this is why, now that election season is over, you will probably see less of me. A presidential election you can do something about. But these other things desperately need to be done...and I cannot imagine how they will become possible.
Then again, a lot's become possible in the past 4 years that I would never have expected. So maybe this will change too. Meanwhile I guess I will go dig out all my Christmas music and remind myself that there are some other things that happen at this time of year.
ho ho ho,
The Plaid Adder
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