I did my consumer culture duty this weekend and participated in the Black Friday doorbuster craziness. Some friends and I stood in line in front of Old Navy for a midnight opening, all for the glory of a free video game and some cheap pants.
Are consumerism and Americanism the same thing? It feels that way sometimes. I strongly believe that we’re much more than that, but we can forget it so easily, especially when consumerism is presented as the easiest escape from the problems of modern civilization. What is the way out from our spiritual/psychological/patriotic fetish for shopping?
To put it another way: is there still such a thing as anti-consumerism, and is it viable? Did you (or anyone you know) do the Adbusters “buy nothing day” thing this year?
What happened to the movement against Wal-Mart’s practices? I used to get 2-3 emails a week about this or that action to reform Wal-Mart. Now, I hear nothing from groups like Wal-Mart Watch, but I do see a barrage of feel-good Wal-Mart commercials, like the one where they claim that they save the average consumer over $3,000 each year whether they shop at Wal-Mart or not.
I was talking with my Black Friday line buddies the following day about this phenomenon, and we all felt that the battle over Wal-Mart has stalled. It’s like Wal-Mart won a battle in the national media, and they’re no longer the bad guys. Maybe there’s just too much other stuff going on in the world for people to worry about the high cost of low prices, or perhaps it’s our still-wounded economy that makes us unwilling to look a
gift horse cheap HDTV in the mouth.
And now we’re getting ready for “Cyber Monday,” where online retailers try to gin up some of that Black Friday magic. (In fact, I just got nearly a half-dozen email reminders for this sale pop up in my inbox while writing this.) So, don’t expect over-the-top consumerism to go out of style any time soon, even in a crappy economy.
And increased consumer spending enough to dig us out of the economic hole we are in? I think not. And besides, we already did the “rally by spending” trick post-9/11 when GWB told us to go shopping for our country (while the richest went shopping for a country, literally). Leveraging ourselves to buy even more stuff didn’t correct the deeper problems of watchdogless industries and deregulated markets out of control.
Maybe we’ll see some attention paid to the dark side of consumerism — globalization, corruption, monopoloy/monopsony, environmental costs, labor costs — when EFCA hits the House floor. I hope so.
On a somewhat-related note, I want to plug the latest post by my fellow A-J blogger Paul Lyle, in which he reminds us of the high cost of credit card debt.