10.23.2006

Over the Top Consumption

Earlier this fall, I signed myself up for a trial subscription for one
of these lifestyle mags that talks about easy things you can do around
the house and in your day-to-day to create beauty without breaking the
bank. Yes, sounds very metrosexual, what are you going to do?
Anyway, while the mag clearly skews female, I have to admit that I
enjoyed looking at different uses for common household items, and
before-and-afters of made-over kitchens, and tips for how to reach out
to people grieving in various ways.

What I didn't like was the over-the-top consumption that this
magazine's ads represent. I mean, I'm all for capitalism and have no
problem with the fact that there are some very rich people in the
world. And what I'm about to say, I say not on a high horse, for
though I am relatively well-off I still give into the covetousness of
new window treatments and classy furniture.

Still, I was bugged by the sentiment that many of the magazine's ads
seemed to convey. One has a sultry woman leaning forward, the
advertised product (a fancy watch) barely visible, with the tagline:
"It's your watch that tells most about who you are." Is that so?
Catch me on the right day, and the only thing my watch will tell you
about me is that I like the Oakland A's.

A second ad says in big block letters: "Ralph Lauren Paint: Over 60
Perfect Shades of White." Are they being sarcastic? Are there really
60+ different shades of white? And they're all perfect?

The third took the cake, and forced me to the computer. It shows the
sexy, stockinged legs of a slender female, surrounded by shopping bags
and ornate accessories, and says, "A whole new you put together by a
Saks personal shopper: $3,800 . . . another great session with your
retail therapist: priceless." It goes on to say: "It's hard to feel
blue with your new red croc clutch."

Wow, where to begin? First of all, I have to ask, "What is a clutch?
Isn't that what you use to shift gears in your car?" But seriously,
is that all we need to do to chase away our demons, is a good shopping
spree? Does anyone really believe that the holes in our lives can be
filled with possessions, even ones that are new and red and "croc" (I
can only suppose they're referring to crocodile skin, which poses its
own set of protests)?

The letter by the publisher seemed to concede the folly of it all.
The issue was devoted to holiday prep, so the publisher spoke of how
silly it is to fret like we all do when there are parts of the world
that don't have running water or that face constant civil war. And
yet, the publisher continued, our worries are no less real.

Are they? The angst of arranging seats at your dinner party so that
conversation flows and everyone has fun is as important to us in this
country as providing clean water for one's family in most of the rest
of the world? The stress of the holidays in America can be likened to
the stress of living in the middle of civil war in any number of
war-torn countries around the globe?

Don't get me wrong; I had a blast thumbing through this eye candy of a
magazine. Kudos for their design and their insight. My beef is with
our society, and in pointing fingers I have to admit that three of
them are pointing back at me. For as I stated earlier, I might not
drown my sorrows in purchases of things new and red and "croc," but I
do dwell in the land of discontentedness and want of possessions, when
I have more in the material than I could ever need and when I know
that the material isn't what makes a man rich anyway.

The holidays are certainly stressful, with germs and gift-giving and
family awkwardness to navigate through. I'm not so deluded as to say
I've so mastered the contented life that I can sail through all this
with peace and joy. But I do hope to be able to detect over-the-top
consumption when I see it, and rather than giving into it call it for
the ridiculous and tragic and soul-destroying sin that it is.

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