For some people, post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping is an exciting time of year in which we get to indulge our friends and family with special gifts that will hopefully bring joy and warmth into what is, in many parts of the country, an otherwise barren, dreadful season marked by darkness, cold, and the death of all things delicate and beautiful. For others, holiday shopping is mindless consumerism epitomized, representing everything that is wrong with our godless, idiotic society.
The truth, of course, is more nuanced than either of those positions alone.
After Thanksgiving dinner this year, some of my family invited me to tag along with them on their doorbuster sale shopping trip. But, I declined. I didn’t decline on any moral grounds. Rather, after I carefully looked through the advertising newspaper inserts and other flyers that my brother-in-law brought over, I didn’t really see anything that I thought I should buy, either for myself or for anyone else. I certainly didn’t see anything I would be willing to stand in line for–or even stand up for. Although I probably could have used the exercise, and I would have had fun with my family, I decided to stay home to get some work done.
My sister asked, standing by the door before heading out, “Hey Tweedle, what do you want for Christmas?” (And yes, I am a grown assed woman–and a woman of size, at that–but my older sisters call me Tweedle. Sometimes, Tweet for short. I have no recollection over how this came to be.)
“Hmmmm. Well -nothing, really…” I hesitated to list anything; I never know how to answer that question. I actually love practical gifts, but if I were to ask for a large box of soft 60-watt light bulbs or a gift certificate to Jiffy Lube, people would look at me weird. But, in response to my sister’s quit-playing-and-tell-me-what-you-need-since-I-would-rather-spend-my-money-on-something-useful-than-something-you-will-regift face, I eventually conceded, “A new sweater would be nice. My office is always SUPER cold.”
“A sweater? Okay. So, what colors do you like -oh wait, nevermind. Anything marking the absence of color. Black, grey. Or brown, maybe beige. I forgot you hate color,” she joked.
“I don’t hate color. However, yes, grey, brown–either would be fine. Ahem,” I tried to defend myself against the truth my sisters know so well.
I stayed up late that night, pretty much all night, working and writing and skimming my Facebook newsfeed when I felt like procrastinating. Between pictures and status updates from actual shoppers out there, there were numerous posts in my feed in support of Buy Nothing Day. Some posts were quite informative. Others, like Mark Dice’s verbal attack on lined-up holiday shoppers, were difficult to watch in their stupidity. (I’d be way more impressed if he took that bullhorn to manufacturers and producers of “zombie” goods.) It doesn’t take a communications expert in the psychology of persuasion to understand that personal attacks on consumers will probably do little to change consumer attitudes and behavior. Then again, it doesn’t seem like changing consumer behavior is really his primary motivation–unless it includes people purchasing his own books or videos.
That night, there were also many other posts, too, from my creative friends trying to make a living. Photographers, cartoonists, musicians, jewelry makers, other actors and performers, all of them alerting people to various goods and tickets to upcoming events that were available for purchase. Is buying nothing the best solution to combating mindless consumerism? Clearly not all that desirable for many people, is it even feasible to buy nothing? Perhaps mindful consumerism is best. It appeared that my newsfeed was as fractured as our collective thinking is on consumerism itself.
BUY THIS! SUPPORT THE ECONOMY!
BUY NOTHING! DOWN WITH CAPITALISM!
Ultimately, the trampling hordes of crazed, violent shoppers and bullhorn-wielding, insult-throwing, angry anti-consumerists share something essential in common: an unyielding disdain for their fellow man. This is not a critique against the tempered voices on the problem of unchecked consumerism. Those we should listen to. However, I am less inclined to pay attention to the Mark Dices of the world. These people derive satisfaction from basking in the glow of their self-righteous ideology in the same way those they condemn numb themselves in front of their shamefully-fought over doorbuster sale-priced televisions. That is, they do so with little regard for understanding the antecedents and consequences of their behavior–and even less regard for understanding opposing viewpoints, their merits, and how they came to be.
While I recognize I will have to do a fair amount of research in order to make responsible shopping decisions this Christmas, there is one gift I will be generously giving, without hesitation, to all, including myself: the gift of faith in humankind. We can change our ways for the better; we have and we will. We are not zombies, pigs, sheep or sheople. We are human beings with the capacity to teach and learn and change. I believe this because I know this.
Meanwhile, as I sit here finishing up this post in my icebox of an office, I cannot help but think about that sweater I am expecting and how it cannot come soon enough.