"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Bought Something Day

For the first time in my young life, I have participated in Black Friday, the day-after-thanksgiving consumer orgy during which many retail businesses go from losing to making money for the year (from red to black, natch). Or, to put it another way, I broke with my traditional observance of Buy Nothing Day.

I don't really feel any moral qualms. I need a new laptop for my job, and I have a one-day chance to get the one I want (one of Apple's new MacBooks) for $100 less than normal. I'm high-rollin' enough to buy a new laptop, yeah, but not enough that I can sneer at a hundo discount, let alone pay Apple's "black tax" for the darker cased model.

It's a matter of public record that I detest the consumption-oriented nature of our culture and economy. I believe it trivializes and perverts the human spirit while simultaneously bringing ruination to the natural world and a sentence of servitude to millions (perhaps billions) of would-be Galileos. We must find a better way.

That being said, I don't think not buying something on a given day -- even if it were done by a statistically significant portion of the population -- is all that great a tactic. Economically, it's as impactful as the Don't Buy Gas For One Day urban legend. If you want to break out of the consumer cycle and trap, it's got to be a buy less life, not just a day that averages out over the year.

Now, I recognize that part of the value of Buy Nothing Day is as sort of personal act of observance, a keeping of the faith, but I don't need that. I don't need to go to Church to feel spiritually and morally whole either.

Another part of the day is activism, which I think is the most valuable aspect. I've participated in this before, doing street-theater in Midtown Manhattan and the like. I think tactically it's a great day to do education and outreach. You've got a big crowd to work with. It would be a great day to give things away in public, maybe free coffee or apples or something, along with the message that "buying shit isn't the end-all be-all of the world." In any case, it's a great day to try and inject a viral idea (meme, sucka) into shoppers heads even as they plunge through the frenzy.

This is likely a moment when they're psychologically more open than usual, hopped up on debt-fueled euphoria, reptilian brain laid bare by the primitive hunter-gatherer aspect of the experience. It is a classic atavistic endeavor, shopping in a large crowd. It touches us deep in the genes; traditionally in moments like these is when a revelation cometh.

I live out in the country now, and I bought my new lappy online, so I'm all talk on this. But it's something I think about, how to move forward, get into post-consumer culture. It's one of the many things I would like to work on with my life.


It pissed me off royally last night when Karalyn and I, lolling on the couch stuffed to the gullet like the turkey we'd just consumed in overwhelming amounts, flipped on the television to catch the news for the day, only to find exhortation after suboptimal message after stilted anchor joking about buying things on Friday.

We got the hot shopping list (this is news?), the man-on-the-street report from the shopping mall opening at midnight, and even the "Shopper's Delight" tag thrown into the weather forecast. All I could see were lines drawn from parent company to sister company to marketing partner.

I suppose I should have been thankful to enjoy the action of fluffy capitalism betwixt the reports of a large fire in Manhattan, a stupid publicity stunt of a scholarship by some Campus Republicans, and the unexplained imagery of death and carnage in Iraq. It offered a sorely-needed escape from an already twisted realism.

On the consumer imprint tip, I imagine I'm very accidentally not much of a consumerist. The vast majority of my income buys me the necessities: home, food, electricity. I would say my only regular, non-necessity spending boils down to alcohol, DSL, NetFlix and my cellular access (provided on a three year old phone). In the last six months, everything outside of that has come down to about six CDs (of which I get a ton free working in the music industry), four books, and various maintenance needs for my bicycle.

This is all rather accidental. I get excited by gadgets and clothes, but I usually just find myself thinking I can spend that money on something else when I'm in the store. I've determined to buy a new cellular phone at least three times a year for the last two years, but the Sprint Store is perhaps the most egregious golden cow of consumerism. Pushy salespeople, planned obsolescence, locked-in contracts, and large gatherings of people who appear to me like their money would be better spent on debt and education for their large broods. It gets so frustrating and depressing that I walk out of the store each time.

It doesn't sound very accidental, just not necessarily conscious or planned. Your description of the Sprint Store reflects some kind of dispositional aversion to much of the consumer scene.

We all get excited by gadgets and clothes. I mean, who among us does not love nice things? It's hardly a sin to appreciate quality, or even luxury on occasion. That's just part of being human and caring about the finer points of your experience.

I think what I find so disturbing about the modern condition is how many natural human desires are compressed/sublimated into the all-consuming practice of shopping. Advertising works by linking metaphysical needs -- freedom, love, acceptance, security -- to physical products and purchases. These messages are so omnipresent in our society -- repeated not just on billboards and during halftime, but also in news (as you noted), embedded in entertainment, etc -- as to amount to a kind of propaganda.

It's this consumer ideology (and the ugly realities it props up) that I think are really problematic.

The critique I have of Buy Nothing Day much of the associated kinds of activism are that they are essentially reactionary. This is an ok first step, but it has to be followed up with some vision of progress for it to be truly persuasive to the public at large. That's where my interest is, evangelizing an alternative way of looking at and understanding ourselves and the world, and developing the post-consumer culture around that.

No, you're absolutely right. I don't think I'm above it and I don't think I'm not part of it. Obviously I can stand it, but I detest how blind people are to marketing from their detergent to their senator.

That's part of my problem with activism like Buy Nothing Day. It too seems blind to marketing. If it was a Know Why You're Buying Day...

Pick the most popular store, or the most popular product. Use that as an opportunity to educate people, to let them know what's going on. Sit down with your friends and point out that the reason they're advertising tampons, makeup, and Judge Judy is because their research shows 18-34 year old stay-at-home moms are watching. Show them that the premium "gifts" they're getting are included in the price. Point out how the broadcaster and the maker of the product are owned by the same company.