Friday, November 27, 2009

a brief note on consumerism

I would like to have called today buy-nothing day for us, if only to counter-balance the stupidity of people who will wait all night to get in a fight over an electronic hamster. Instead, we made our way to IKEA so grandma could get Buttercup part of her Christmas haul — a desk and bookcase to facilitate the changeover to a "big girl's room" — and one of the recently-built, urban-center malls in the Dayton area for some clothes. In the end, our little shopping trip pumped somewhere in the range of $700 back into the economy.

Such a sum isn't exactly what some people might dump out on the day, and it was a bare scratch on the whole gift question. Still, it seems notable to acknowledge that we were pulled by the desire to shop on the same day that so many other people went out to pound the pavement for questionable deals. It seems a validation of the cultural norm that is shopping — we do it so well in this country.

What struck me as I was walking around today, though, is the degree to which we are marketed common experiences. I've thought about this and written about it before, but it particularly struck me today when I realized that there were few, if any, locally-owned businesses in any of the places we went. Every shopping experience was standardized to the point that location simply didn't matter. And to an extent, individuality didn't matter — and was perhaps discouraged.

This is really an outgrowth of my past thoughts on place and identity. After all, if there is nothing to connect you to the place you are, what forms your identity? Can a series of brands and manufactured experiences really pass for identity? And if this is what we're raising our children with, what sort of identities will they possess when they come into their own? Will they see the value in unique experiences or will they be like the students I've taught and worked with who only ate at chain restaurants because anything else was "weird"?


(Photo is not from today's excursion.)