On Thursday, Nov. 27, you’re going
to stuff yourself with obscene amounts of food as a way of showing
thanks — to God or the Indians or your divine birthright or
the Third World — for letting you have obscene amounts of
food, and then the next day you’re going to The Mall.

Kate Green

You’re going to buy sweaters and mittens because you
can’t knit; you will buy posters of basketball stars because
you don’t like art, or posters of artwork because you have no
artistic talent; you will buy electronic toothbrushes and cell
phones for the whole family, because circular motions are tiresome
and prearranged meeting times are impossible; you will buy all of
page 27 in the American Eagle catalog, because it matches
perfectly, and you will look devastating on your road trip to Vail,
which you read about on page 28; you will buy your little brother a
combination car-chase-shooting-hand-to-hand-combat video game,
because this year the blood is more real, and you both identify
vaguely with ’80s new wave music; you will buy
“I’m a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch story” for
an inspiring member of your community; you will buy ties for your
father and chocolates, wrapped in an elaborate ribbon, for your
mother; and then you will buy cards, lots of cards, for everyone
— beautiful red and green cards, with passages of good will
written in ornate, glittering script, followed by an anonymous poem
with an A/B A/B rhyme, to be undersigned with love by you.

And then you will wait for that moment when you can make
everyone you know incredibly, unceasingly, inarticulately happy
— when they see what you bought. Your purchases will show
your love and dedication in a way no other gesture could, for only
you could know your father prefers paisley, and acting on
another’s consumer preferences is the truest sign of
affection.

And, of course, this year will be different. Your girlfriend
will not comment on her thighs when you give her candy, because she
finally has the right skin moisturizer, and along with it the
perfect body image. Your friends will switch to cleaner burning
gasoline, cure their halitosis, get off the anti-depressants and
get with the program. And by the time New Year’s Day comes
around, you will feel as if you’ve arrived at a new plane,
where technology and economic progress extend without limit past
the horizon.

Or does that sound a bit hollow?

Do we all think that goods are always good and more goods are
better?

After the attacks of Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani told New Yorkers to
go shopping and to buy anything, even if they didn’t need it,
to keep the economy afloat and to calm fears about an increasingly
troubled world. Shopping was our patriotic duty. It sounds strange
now, but it sounded even stranger then, because in our moment of
peril our leaders did not call for anything new. Before, when
things were good, we consumed. Now they’re bad, so we consume
more.

It is the essence of our nation, and it is what defines us as
Americans. According to Adbusters, the average citizen consumes six
times what a Mexican consumes, 47 times the average African, and
over 500 times an Ethiopian.

Our agriculture has become so cumbersome that, whereas farmers
used no petroleum in the process of planting a hundred years ago,
they now put 20 barrels of crude oil into an acre of corn. Our
wastefulness with livestock is equally appalling, as five pounds of
crude oil go into one pound of beef. And out of innumerable species
of plant and animal, many thousands of which would be nutritious to
humans, our country relies on just 20 for almost all of its
food.

All of this comes at a time when, for the first time in the
history of the world, more people live in cities than in rural
areas. We have experienced a complete reversal of our relationship
to nature and of our understanding of what nature is. Art-eco
professor Joe Trumpey reports that teenagers can recognize 85
corporate logos but can barely name 12 species of plant. In the
book “Confronting Consumption,” media historian Robert
McChesney says, “Although people may have once been critical
of hypercommercialism, perhaps they are becoming inured to it. In a
political culture where commercialism appears to be a force of
nature rather than something subject, that would be a rational
response over time.”

Americans have gotten to the point where they can’t
imagine anything else. And most of them don’t have the means
to go to other countries, which are termed
“underdeveloped” by the world’s powers, in order
to see for themselves that the United States is in fact
overdeveloped.

The Buy Nothing Day campaign by Adbusters magazine aims to
spread the word, and the once-a-year appearance of its ad on CNN is
a minor miracle. Most of you will not see the urgency in rants like
this one. But a few of us understand that we owe our environmental
concerns, resource wars and growing North/South disparities to the
burden of feeding this insatiable monster, and so we’re going
to keep ranting. And on Nov. 28 — or on any other day —
we won’t be anywhere near The Mall.

Cotner can be reached at
“mailto:cotners@umich.edu”>cotners@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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