Last week, my friend and fellow columnist Bert Marshall wrote a fine piece entitled “We are what we consume” where he played with the old saying “you are what you eat”. He pointed out that the statement correlates to much more than physical sustenance alone. We consume through various channels; for better or for worse, that consumption determines who we are, and who we will become. While digesting Bert’s words, some pretty profound thoughts began eating at me.
I’m suffering ever-increasing ambivalence when it comes to being a consumer. It’s hard to square my feelings given I’m one of capitalism’s biggest fans, but it has not escaped me that I spend my days in either of two ways: consuming (shopping), or managing the consumption (making lists for future shopping excursions while cleaning and organizing items already purchased). It’s a never-ending cycle. I’m weary from it. I even stand in line and pay hard-earned money to participate in such madness. The tail is wagging the dog, and this dog is nauseated.
I suppose it’s a little strange that I have such sentiments given that I came of age in the ‘80s with the tune of Madonna’s “Material Girl” telling me how life should be. What a difference 20 years, jobs, car payments, a mortgage, three children and a dog make. Funny, I feel almost blessed to have found out it was all a lie.
Currently, a visit to any store reminds me that I should be preparing for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years…simultaneously. That daunting task must be performed with a happy spirit, stylish attire and seasonally appropriate home decor. I’m failing miserably on all fronts. It’s a personal matter for now, but I know all too well those failings become very public. Inquiring minds want to know. The sad truth is that I’m struggling too hard with the basics – clean socks/underwear and meals – to be excited over the holidays. I get heartburn just thinking about them.
One of the basic tenets behind advertising is to create “need” for products. Once you’re convinced your life will be greatly improved by disposable toilet brushes with a retail price of $4.99 for a package of three refills and $9.99 for the “starter wand”, why you’ll never again be forced to own one that costs a fraction of the price and lasts for years. It’s that very force that brought me to realize what we’ve all been sold: “you are what you consume” …and if you consume nothing, you are nothing. It’s a sad state of affairs.
In the most literal sense, it is true that we must have nourishment to survive; we don’t, however, really need most of what we’ve been led to believe life wouldn’t be worth living without. I’m not sure when or how it happened, but I suppose a long stint of prosperity delivered this one. I can’t help but think it’s what also led to the economic issues we’re seeing today. We’ve all got to have it all, and at what cost? Indigestion and an upset stomach.
While I don’t invite the issues that come along during economic downturns, I’m sort of looking forward to the possibility of simpler times. Times when it won’t seem so terribly uncouth not to be consumed by looking for the next bigger and better [insert your choice here].Times when the contents of a man’s character account for far more than the contents of his shopping cart.
There are only 60 shopping days left until you know when. Pass the pink stuff; I’ve got a lot of consuming to do.
© 2008 Natalie Whatley