I would like to be able to take the high road about shopping sprees this Christmas holiday. I’d like to be able to say that on this of all recent Christmases we should be focusing on something other than buying more junk.
But that’s hard to do when our national leaders keep telling us it’s our patriotic duty to spend money.
For some, that message is a clarion call to do what they have always done best. Now they get credit for doing it as a patriotic gesture. Talk about a win-win situation.
In World War II, women came out of the home to rivet planes for combat. Ration tickets were issued that, if issued today, would mean the death of every Starbucks in existence.
Perhaps because our leaders know that on some unconscious level we could not handle that stress, they have handed us a much easier task. Spend ourselves into mind-boggling debt as our part of the war effort.
Go to the mall and support your local merchant. Buy another sweater, another skirt, another pair of athletic shoes made in a sweatshop in some Third World country. Do this and you will be right up there with Rosie the Riveter and Patrick Henry.
And then lie awake at night and wonder why so much of the world seems to hate us.
Even as I write these words I know that this year I am as guilty as anyone in my consumer spending habits.
Yes I still hate malls. And I still hate shopping. The idea of looking at clothing or shoes or a purse for more than the time it takes to pass by on my way to the car causes me to yawn uncontrollably.
But here I sit in a home with a bathroom torn apart and a kitchen waiting to be. I’ve had my contractor take out a toilet that worked, a shower that cleaned me every morning and a sink that never leaked, in order to replace them with new ones just because I wanted them. I will soon have a stove, refrigerator and multiple cabinets torn out for the same reason.
I am indulging in pure, unadulterated consumerism for the sheer joy of being able to. And I wish to heck I could feel more guilty about it. But I don’t.
When the scenes from cities in Afghanistan recently freed from Taliban rule were shown on our TVs and in our magazines, I was struck by the fact that every newly freed city had one thing in common – “stuff”, hidden for years from the grim Taliban God squads, reappearing from hiding places that included TVs buried in the back yard.
These people risked beatings, loss of limbs and worse if caught with these forbidden objects during Taliban rule. Yet they kept them. They hid them as though they were precious treasures, despite the threat they posed to their freedom and well being. TVs survived the Taliban while invaluable art objects that contained the history of the country were destroyed.
I’m not sure I want to look very closely at what that means.
But I do know this. Aside from rock and roll, the one thing that America is most successful at exporting is our culture of consumerism. We have infected the world with the need for things. Our universal symbol is a credit card with a maxed out limit. And here in America at Christmas time, we go overboard to make sure that symbol is honored.
Maybe the sight of Afghanis pulling TV sets out of the ground and going to the movies is not as stirring as the imagined sight of our patriots dumping tea into Boston harbor. But it carries much the same message. Freedom means just that – the freedom to be anything you want to be including an inveterate consumer.
And while people better than us might moan and groan over the decline of civilization as we know it due to our unbridled need to buy, buy, buy, I say that the only way you will be able to tear my Barrow deprivation shower with its two heads and a seating capacity of four out of my hands is if I’m dead. Because it is my unabashed right as an American to have it.
After all, isn’t that what we’re fighting for?