Posts Tagged ‘consumerism


Hangover Saturday

If Thanksgiving is the appointed time for rampant overeating and Black Friday our annual date with discount frenzy, then today could perhaps become enshrined as Hangover Saturday, a good time to reflect on consumption rather than engage in it.

Here a selection of Hangover Saturday thoughts gathered in the course of a restful day:

When people talk about what they are grateful for (on Thursday), they never say, “I’m grateful that I have so much stuff” or “My cup runs over because of those Manolo Blahniks I bought last spring” or “The best thing that ever happened to me is my Lamborghini.” It’s possible they’re just trying not to tip their hand, but I suspect we don’t hear those things because, actually, we all do know better.

Our current economic woes have had one advantage: to clarify the point that consumption is not a selfish indulgence but a patriotic duty, philanthropy flowing ceaselessly towards the wealthy, so that our expenditures can come back to us in the form of jobs, which may be defined as a palliative for massive debt or as a subsidy for patriotic duty, sadly insufficient.

Can't touch that 42% of greenhouse gas tied up in goods and food!

Whoever thought of the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” was not really clued in to the realities of our economic system. We do our bit to help with recycling at least in some parts of the country, but when we make an (unwilling and modest) start on the “Reduce” component, the whole country goes off the rails. That must be why the EPA report “Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices”—which is to say “How to Save the World by Tackling Consumption and its After-Effect, Garbage”—declines to estimate the impact on greenhouse gas production if we ate less and bought fewer things. Instead, it tries to figure out what difference it makes if, for example, we were to capture ALL the landfill gas that percolates up from our trash and convert it to electricity or if we recycle ALL the construction and demolition debris coughed up by the never-ending pursuit of bigger and better (as opposed to affordable) homes and gardens.

The opposite of consumption that most easily comes to mind on Hangover Saturday would be abstention. But consumption also has an opposite in creation, which is or can be blameless and much more fun than just saying no. The best place I know to get a feel for the truth of that proposition is S.C.R.A.P. (, an inspired program in San Francisco that diverts virgin merchandise from the landfill, makes it available for dirt cheap to all those with an urge to create rather than consume, and provides a bunch of jobs into the bargain.

What one might do with scrap

The San Francisco warehouse (on Newcomb between Toland and Selby) is huddled rather inauspiciously under Highway 280, but step inside and be greeted by a carnival of color and texture—papers, fabrics, buttons, doodads, figures, threads and yarn, birds, notions, glass, wood, boxes and containers, table legs and carpet squares,  stickers, ribbons, cards, and vinyl discs. On and on. Not everything leapt out at me as obvious fodder for art, including the industrial-sized potato mashers. For many things, it is immediately obvious why they are not in a store somewhere. In their original identity, the scraps that S.C.R.A.P. offers are not saleable, but as art materials they’re irresistible, guiltless, and very inexpensive.

Over it all hangs an exhibit of unpretentious art: scrap boxes emulating the best of Joseph Cornell, mobiles, a digestive tract laid out in flopping beakers and retorts, quilts, and many other works that demonstrate the virtues and joys of clean salvage.


Garbage Island

Garbage Island, a cartoon from Icebox, is a sort of phantasmagorical trip through the infernal pleasures of consumerism, seen through the eyes of a child who doesn’t want to go shopping for shiny new toys because he loves his chewed-up old doll, Mr. Messy. The cartoons take such a sledge-hammer approach to the sacred cows of a consumerist economy that they race right past heavy-handed, into the realm of gleeful fun.

I love the way each episode grabs hold of a convention of Hollywood story telling, and then just refuses to follow through at the end–a very clever way to implicate mainstream cinema in the consumerist exploitation these cartoons spoof and attack all at once.

Under cover of darkness, all the children\'s favorite toys are disappeared.

The first episode starts us off with evil doings under cover of night to set the scene–all the children’s favorite toys go in the trash, just so they have to be replaced. Even the trash can goes in the garbage. Meanwhile, the young hero is whisked off by his horrid parents to Toy City, where a pumped-up Santa shackles each child in an all-you-can-buy bracelet. He’s to go shopping so his parents can be relieved of his presence and enjoy themselves in the Skyhigh Lounge over some skyhigh cocktails. But in the midst of these proceedings, the Kid–our young hero, that is–is discovered to harbor a filthy old doll in his shirt, Mr. Messy. Santa rips his beloved dolly from his chubby fingers and tosses it onto a conveyor that runs straight into the maw of the garbage machine, the mouth of Hell, the entrance to the horrible cave–yet another instance of this endlessly recycled motif in the stories that surround us in the mainstream media.

You know the rest. The Kid, in mounting horror, squirms in the clutches of the horrid parents, desperately trying to reach dolly before it is too late. Santa laughs a Satanic laugh. The dolly slowly approaches perdition. The music reaches a furious crescendo. We are awaiting the moment when the Kid wrenches himself free, hurls himself onto the line to rescue dolly, and saves the day.

But no, the doll simply tips over the far end of the line, into hell and damnation. End of story. Goodbye. Every episode ends, not with a cliffhanger, but with a complete anticlimax.

An average day of shopping, with a rather unconventional end.In episode 2, the Kid wanders around in Toy City for a while, beleaguered by toys that scream BUY ME! BUY ME! and by kids in the Kombat Korral, who train the heavy toy artillery on him, before he is deserted by the horrid parents. When he hears the mournful cries of dolly, he crawls into the maw of garbage hell himself. You know the rest. He spies his little dolly, his heart flooded with joy, the music keeping pace. But then the Gremlins come and tip him into the abyss. Heave-ho. End of story. Goodbye.

It’s thoroughly inspired, and I highly recommend it.

July 2018
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