Consumerism has reached a new low with the trampling of a man in a Wal-Mart Store by shoppers eager to obtain deep discounts on the day after Thanksgiving. While shocking, this kind of behavior is a consequence of the messages in the United States we all receive about buying things. The “Holiday Season” has become less about enjoying time with family and friends and more about shopping. We, as a nation, have developed what bell hooks describes in, where we stand: class matters, an “obsession with consumption.” (p. 46)
Advertisements for holiday shopping that used to start after Thanksgiving now start right after Halloween. The decorations are hung, the holiday music plays and just like Pavlov’s dogs, we start to salivate and buy things.
In an earlier post, Tangled Threads and Cultural Beliefs that Damage the Quilt of Humanity, I wrote about how this nation’s cultural beliefs in materialism and consumption along with the myth of the “rugged individual” create a dangerous combination that serves to rip apart the Quilt of Humanity. The reality of shoppers so eager to buy that they trample another human being in the process is a perfect demonstration of how damaging these beliefs are. Even worse, according to one witness, when the police attempted to clear the store, explaining that an employee had been killed people kept shopping yelling, “I’ve been on line since yesterday morning.”
hooks discusses the impact of media messages about consumptions on young people:
“Today’s youth culture is centered around consumption, Whether it’s wearing designer clothes or cruising in luxury cars, materialism becomes the basis of all transactions. For young people, the world is their marketplace. All one’s worth, mass media advertising tells them, is determined by material things. [Youth] are constantly told that the only peace and happiness they can have will come to them through rugged individualism, through a focus on meeting self-centered needs.” (p. 81)
hooks goes on to write:
“In part, youth culture’s worship of wealth stems from the fact that it is easier to acquire money and goods than it is to find meaningful values and ethics, to know who you are and what you want to become, to make and sustain friends, to know love. When materially privileged white high school boys slaughter students who are different from them, from different races and classes, it is easier for the nation to talk about the luxury cars they drove rather than to talk about the emotional emptiness and nihilism that permeate their psyches.” (p. 85)
In my earlier post, I discuss what my approach would be if I were asked to consult to a youth leadership organization to help them replace the messages of materialism and consumption with messages of community and interdependence. Using the Quilt of Humanity ModelTM, I would design workshops to encourage young people to explore how the culture of materialism and consumption impacts them in their daily life (i.e., the way that culture leaves them feeling they need to purchase certain things in order to “fit in”).
Then, I would have them investigate how this culture impacts people in other countries (i.e., how certain products are made in other countries with the use of child labor and sweat shops) as well as how it impacts the environment as a whole (i.e., while the earth’s resources are dwindling, our drive to consume leads us to purchase more and more things that cause damage to the environment). This would help these youth learn about the connections between what happens here and elsewhere as well as between their daily actions and the larger environment.
It takes a conscious, intentional effort to keep at bay the urge to buy and consume. This is made even more difficult with the planned obsolescence of technology of all kinds. As bell hooks writes:
“Confronting the endless desire that is at the heart of our individual overconsumption and global excess is the only intervention that can ward off the daily call to consume that bombards us on all sides.” (p. 48)