It’s as if all the retail moguls are crying out in the voice of the Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons,” “Worst Christmas ever!” Many economic analysts have pointed out the obvious answer that because Americans lost their life savings in the stock market and got laid off since George W. Bush took office, many Americans have been less generous in handing over their paychecks to the likes of Best Buy, Macy’s and Amazon.com. It’s the vicious cycle that America is put in with each Bush presidency. The recession leaves many Americans without the ability to consume, and without consumption, our economy spins deeper and faster into the financial toilet.
But the lack of giving by the middle and upper middle class to the ruling class is not just due to the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Anytown, U.S.A. simply don’t have any money. I would like to think that the Adbusters’ gimmick of Buy Nothing Day actually did make Americans reevaluate the materialistic drive, and realize how buying and selling controls our everyday lives. But more accurately, the reason why the 2002 Christmas buying season was so dismal is that Americans simply have everything.
“Oh please, I’m totally materially unfulfilled,” I hear people saying, and I kind of agree; most people naturally feel that they are missing something. But in today’s world when technology and material matter so much in our daily lives, these products no longer become special.
Even the average student, and I’m not talking about us college kids, but high schoolers, rely on individual access to transportation, Internet access and mobile communication. Look around you, and see how many people have what the desire and/or need (if you can define the difference). Laptops, cell phones and palm pilots appear on the American landscape, forcing people like me to think if they had ever imagined that desktops, pagers (and even landlines) and the simple dayplanner would be anachronisms.
The electronic era has created webstores and Ebay making purchasing less time consuming and a financial cinch. There are commodities into which industries invested all their assets because of their high value, and now they’re worthless. I remember when I had to save up in high school to buy CDs, for myself and for my friends at the assorted Judeo-Christian, gift-giving holidays. Now music is free via Internet and CD-burning.
The industries and retailers that expected to profit this holiday season like they usually do found that everything they had to offer was what American consumers already have. There’s nothing left to buy.
And it all goes back to that age-old cliche. People shouldn’t have to give gifts in order to express how they feel towards one another. Nothing says “I love you” like a diamond ring or a 52-inch flat screen television? Hogwash. How about words or actions that are original and genuine rather than a store-bought widget manufactured by 14-year-old, mangled Indonesian hands?
There are two lessons about ourselves that Americans have or should learn for the coming year after this Christmas slump. One, the next time CNN financial news says that the lack of consumerism in this country contributes to the recession, perhaps we should wonder if rolling back social services and downsizing is really a good idea. Perhaps if Americans had more access to employment and job training and didn’t have the burden of soaring prices for health care and insurance, we could put our money back into the economy and make things work again.
And two, maybe the optimists over at Adbusters did, in fact, get the message across. No, Buy Nothing Day didn’t change that many minds, but along with the standstill in consumption it suggested that we have come to the end of the road, and that the greed and innovation of the ’80s and ’90s didn’t see the limits. And that progress brings us here, to the year 2003, where we have everything and a society seeks to find new ways to use their resources. What’s it going to be then, eh? A pursuit of enlightenment? Redistribution of wealth? The rise of the Great Society? Happy New Year.
Paul is an RC junior and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.