What if we refused to occupy Black Friday? Or, at least stopped shopping at Wal-Mart?

One might think that Black Friday mania might be scaled-back this year, given the economic crisis and the rising awareness of socio-economic injustices evidenced by the Occupy movement. But, no, consumer capitalism will not go gentle into that good night – instead, it will bang the shopping drum in a mad frenzy, exhorting people to buy, buy, buy as if their life and happiness depended on it. Unfortunately, like children running after the Pied Piper, we heed this call, heading out to Wal-Mart ON THANSKGIVING DAY. Yes, that’s right, Black Friday, is being “rolled back” to Thursday.

I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart years ago, years before a Wal-Mart worker had been trampled to death by stampeding shoppers eager for bargains on Black Friday. But, I readily admit that I am somewhat of a shop-aholic. I grew up in a family that loved to shop, and I have not rid myself of the addictive pleasures of consumer consumption. I try to shop less though, to deny the siren call of the shoe sale or buy-one-get-one-free bonanza. And, I try to be more savvy about where I shop.

Of course, buying sweatshop free or supporting fair wages is nigh impossible in today’s world, but we can all take little steps – and giving up Wal-Mart is a great way to start. Why? Because the Waltons are the apex of the 1%, because Wal-Mart exploits is workers, relies on slave labor, and is sexist and racist in it’s hiring, promoting, and firing practices. It is also one of the most powerful and profitable mega-consumer-corporations of its kind. If we could force Wal-Mart to change, other chains would surely follow suit.

As someone who includes a directive to not buy any needed supplies at Wal-Mart on my course syllabi, I often get questions as to why I have a vendetta against this store. Many cite it is hardly the only company that relies on exploitive labor systems both here and abroad, and that, more prosaically, they rely on the cheap prices. Well, Wal-Mart is like the grand-daddy of exploitation, the icon of cheap consumerism. If we can, as socially conscious consumers, bring down this evil symbol of corporate global capitalism, other companies will surely take notice.

As for the claim that people ‘need’ to shop at Wal-Mart for economic reasons, I do not fully agree, at least not in all cases. I understand that restrictive budgets require ‘bargain shopping,’ yet, what places like Wal-Mart promote is not shopping for necessity, but shopping in mega-quantity, the happy face price slasher beckoning customers to fill, fill, fill that oversized cart.

Wal-Mart encourages people to BUY MORE and PAY LESS doing so, rather than to buy less and be willing to pay more for equitably produced products. Yet, I realize that for some non-urban dwellers, Wal-Mart is pretty much the only place to shop (as the corporation has been so successful at putting mom-and-pop stores out of business). For others, the cheap prices really are a necessity. It is not these shoppers that are treating Wal-Mart as a temple – these are the very shoppers that are consumer capitalist system FORCES to make choices that are in fact counter to their own interests. Those at the most exploited end of the labor system are the most likely to HAVE to shop at places like Wal-Mart, and also the most likely to be exploited by employers such as Wal-Mart and other corporations. This is why, of course, that in these darker economic times (I say ‘darker’ as they have been dark for MANY for a lot longer than this latest “economic meltdown”), about the only places seeing sales increase are places like Wal-Mart. What horrible irony that the very corporations that create such an exploitive, unequal society also reap the most benefits when the economic house of cards comes crashing down…

At cites like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch make clear, Wal-Mart is a major corporate evil-doer – it is, in keeping with the faith metaphor, the devil that entices us to keep sinning, both individually and collectively. This holiday season alone, each employee will generate over $2,000 in profit for Wal-Mart, or, “from the work of 1.4 million Americans, Wal-Mart will reap billions of dollars in sales” (as cited here). Yet, these workers will not reap the benefits of the billions in profits. Rather, they will, in true Wal-Mart fashion, be denied healthcare and other benefits, be underpaid and overworked, and be prohibited from unionizing. Or, they may be, as Jdimytai Damour was on was on Black Friday 2008, trampled to death by Wal-Mart customers.

As Jeff Fecke reports in “Always Low Wages. Always,” WalMart is allowed to carry on their heinous practices with merely a light slap on the wrist once in awhile, as in the case of the latest settlement where the company has agreed to pay $54.3 million to settle a lawsuit. The suit, about their practice of requiring employees to work off-the-clock, is one of many taken against this frown-inducing corporate giant. As Fecke reflects,

“While it’s good to see the suit settled, and employees compensated after a decade of stalling, I’m a bit disappointed that it’s being settled. As noted, a jury trial could have cost the company $2 billion, and that kind of money might have motivated them to, you know, pay their workers and give them adequate breaks. Instead, Wal-Mart will pay their parking ticket and continue to screw over their workforce.”

Issues like these are only some of the reasons I target Wal-Mart as a place to BEGIN the consume-less-and-do-so-more-responsibly revolution (ok, so I need to think of a shorter name for this revolution…)

Another key reason to people-cott Wal-Mart is because it perpetuates social inequalities in the areas of race, class, gender, ability, etc. For example, the trampling of Jdimytai Damour serves as a horrible, yet telling, symbol of the racism and classism Wal-Mart propagates. An analysis of the pictures of this tragedyreveals that not only was the person killed a POC, but the majority of people waiting outside to take advantage of bargains were also POC. Is it a COINCIDECE that POC are disproportionately represented as workers and shoppers at Wal-Mart? No – it is a reflection of the race and class inequalities in our society that means CERTAIN people will be more likely to have to work the shit jobs and to shop at shit stores to make ends meet.

This is also true on a global scale – Wal-Mart could in fact be viewed as one of the prime masters of modern slavery. As with earlier historical slave practices, the masters are white (the Walton family) and the slave workers are largely POC – especially the lower down the Wal-Mart job ladder you go (although it can’t rightly be called a ladder as many will never climb anywhere in that corporation). Wal-Mart, as the documentary The High Cost of Low Price makes plain, is not one for advancing/promoting its workers, especially if they have vaginas or non-white skin…

Further, while I appreciate the fact that so many films, websites, and activist groups are focusing on Wal-Mart’s deleterious effects, I take issue with the tendency to offer “buy American” as the (under-analyzed) solution. For, while there are many merits to shopping locally, the “buy American” mantra is often framed in an us-verses-them way. As in THEY (the rest of the globe) are “stealing our jobs,” are “ruining American industry,” are “driving down wages.” What gets lost in this us-verses-them thinking is that we all live on one planet.  In fact, the otherwise wonderfulFrontline series on Wal-Mart announces this mentality right there in its title: “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” What we should be asking instead, is: “Is Wal-Mart Good for the Globe?”

As global citizens we should be worried about fair wages and an environmentally safe planet for ALL PEOPLE, not just for Americans. Further, buying items that claim to be “American” or “Made in the USA” is no guarantee they were produced equitably, nor do “Made in USA” tags guarantee items were actually made in the US let alone made under fair labor conditions (as Ms. Magazines article “Paradise Lost” reveals). This narrative also ignores the fact that there our many sweatshops within the US – they are not all “over there” in China or Indonesia. They are right here in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York. The “made in the USA” is a false feel good tag.

While there are no easy answers to the Wal-Martization of the world, a first step would be for those of us who have the privilege of being able to afford to shop elsewhere to do so. Further, we need to make sure we are not using the “LOW PRICES!” as an excuse to buy more stuff then we really need. We need to ask ourselves is shopping at Wal-Mart REALLY a necessity due to budget, or do Wal-Mart prices encourage the buying of many non-essentials thus mitigating the “I can’t afford to shop anywhere else argument.” If you are buying things you don’t need at Wal-Mart because they are so cheap, the money saved from not buying these things could be used to shop somewhere with more equitable labor practices (and hence higher prices).

Further, rather than worship at this temple dedicated to ceremonies of conspicuous consumption, we could do like Jesus and attempt to destroy the temple. In order to bring down this money-changing temple, we must resolve to resist the false happy face promises, the artificially low prices, and the lure of bargains. For, the bargains at Wal-Mart come at a very high cost – they come at the expense of exploited workers around the globe, environmental harm, and, yes, even democracy. (See, for example, my post here for how Wal-Mart bribes politicians such as California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger).

So, dear readers, if you haven’t already, please consider people-cotting Wal-Mart. If monetary or geographical locations don’t make this possible, you can take action by staying on top of Wal-Mart news at cites like Wake up Wal-MartWal-Mart Sucks, andWal-Mart Watch and via signing petitions, writing letters, and making your voice heard in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Wal-Mart may be only one consumerist temple among many, but it is the ‘patriarch’ of temples in so many ways – bringing down this daddy of corporate capitalism would help give our global family a better chance at living free from domination and exploitation brought to us via Wal-Mart sweat-shops, factories, and ‘super-centers.’

 

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What if the Supreme Court in a Supremely Sucky Decision Sides with Wal-Mart?

The Supreme Court sided with Wal-Mart. I am still in shock. This is such a blow on so many levels, especially in regards to sexism, worker’s rights, and the continuing corporatization of the U.S. For background on the case, go here and for a list of proposed actions/protests, go here.

I am re-posting a piece critiquing Wal-Mart to mark the day of this  heinous decision.

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 3: The Temple of Wal-Mart)

When I read that a Wal-Mart worker had been trampled to death by stampeding shoppers eager for bargains on “Black Friday,” I flashed back to Reverend Billy. His over-the-top evangelical-style preaching’s that encourage ‘worshipers’ to STOP SHOPPING in the docu-comedy What Would Jesus Buy equate our consumerism to evil, to greed, and, catchingly, to the “SHOPACOLYPSE.” Black Friday’s news, with one Wal-Mart worker dead as a result of consumer madness, and several others injured, as well as the shoot out at a Toys-R-Us in Palm Desert that left two more men dead, seemed to indicate that the ‘SHOPACOLYPSE’ is indeed upon us.

As someone who includes a directive to please not buy any needed supplies at Wal-Mart on my course syllabi, I often get questions as to why I have a vendetta against this store. Many cite it is hardly the only company that relies on exploitive labor systems both here and abroad, and that, more prosaically, they rely on the cheap prices. Well, Wal-Mart is like the grand-daddy of exploitation, the icon of cheap consumerism. If we can, as socially conscious consumers, bring down this evil symbol of corporate global capitalism, other companies will surely take notice.

As for the claim that people ‘need’ to shop at Wal-Mart for economic reasons, I do not fully agree, at least not in all cases. I understand that restrictive budgets require ‘bargain shopping,’ yet, what places like Wal-Mart promote is not shopping for necessity, but shopping in mega-quantity, the happy face price slasher beckoning customers to fill, fill, fill that oversized cart.

Wal-Mart encourages people to BUY MORE and PAY LESS doing so, rather than to buy less and be willing to pay more for equitably produced products. Yet, I realize that for some non-urban dwellers, Wal-Mart is pretty much the only place to shop (as the corporation has been so successful at putting mom-and-pop stores out of business). For others, the cheap prices really are a necessity. It is not these shoppers that are treating Wal-Mart as a temple – these are the very shoppers that are consumer capitalist system FORCES to make choices that are in fact counter to their own interests. Those at the most exploited end of the labor system are the most likely to HAVE to shop at places like Wal-Mart, and also the most likely to be exploited by employers such as Wal-Mart and other corporations. This is why, of course, that in these darker economic times (I say ‘darker’ as they have been dark for MANY for a lot longer than this latest “economic meltdown”), about the only places seeing sales increase are places like Wal-Mart. What horrible irony that the very corporations that create such an exploitive, unequal society also reap the most benefits when the economic house of cards comes crashing down…

At cites like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch make clear, Wal-Mart is a major corporate evil-doer – it is, in keeping with the faith metaphor, the devil that entices us to keep sinning, both individually and collectively. This holiday season alone, each employee will generate over $2,000 in profit for Wal-Mart, or, “from the work of 1.4 million Americans, Wal-Mart will reap billions of dollars in sales” (as cited here). Yet, these workers will not reap the benefits of the billions in profits. Rather, they will, in true Wal-Mart fashion, be denied healthcare and other benefits, be underpaid and overworked, and be prohibited from unionizing. Or, they may be, as Jdimytai Damour was on was on Black Friday 2008, trampled to death by Wal-Mart customers.

As Jeff Fecke reports in “Always Low Wages. Always,” WalMart is allowed to carry on their heinous practices with merely a light slap on the wrist once in awhile, as in the case of the latest settlement where the company has agreed to pay $54.3 million to settle a lawsuit. The suit, about their practice of requiring employees to work off-the-clock, is one of many taken against this frown-inducing corporate giant. As Fecke reflects,

“While it’s good to see the suit settled, and employees compensated after a decade of stalling, I’m a bit disappointed that it’s being settled. As noted, a jury trial could have cost the company $2 billion, and that kind of money might have motivated them to, you know, pay their workers and give them adequate breaks. Instead, Wal-Mart will pay their parking ticket and continue to screw over their workforce.”

Issues like these are only some of the reasons I target Wal-Mart as a place to BEGIN the consume-less-and-do-so-more-responsibly revolution (ok, so I need to think of a shorter name for this revolution…)

Another key reason to people-cott Wal-Mart is because it perpetuates social inequalities in the areas of race, class, gender, ability, etc. For example, the trampling of Jdimytai Damour serves as a horrible, yet telling, symbol of the racism and classism Wal-Mart propagates. An analysis of the pictures of this tragedy reveals that not only was the person killed a POC, but the majority of people waiting outside to take advantage of bargains were also POC. Is it a COINCIDECE that POC are disporportionately represented as workers and shoppers at Wal-Mart? No – it is a reflection of the race and class inequalities in our society that means CERTAIN people will be more likely to have to work the shit jobs and to shop at shit stores to make ends meet.

This is also true on a global scale – Wal-Mart could in fact be viewed as one of the prime masters of modern slavery. As with earlier historical slave practices, the masters are white (the Walton family) and the slave workers are largely POC – especially the lower down the Wal-Mart job ladder you go (although it can’t rightly be called a ladder as many will never climb anywhere in that corporation). Wal-Mart, as the documentary The High Cost of Low Price makes plain, is not one for advancing/promoting its workers, especially if they have vaginas or non-white skin…

Further, while I appreciate the fact that so many films, websites, and activist groups are focusing on Wal-Mart’s deleterious effects, I take issue with the tendency to offer “buy American” as the (under-analyzed) solution. For, while there are many merits to shopping locally, the “buy American” mantra is often framed in an us-verses-them way. As in THEY (the rest of the globe) are “stealing our jobs,” are “ruining American industry,” are “driving down wages.” What gets lost in this us-verses-them thinking is that we all live on one planet.  In fact, the otherwise wonderful Frontline series on Wal-Mart announces this mentality right there in its title: “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” What we should be asking instead, is: “Is Wal-Mart Good for the Globe?”

As global citizens we should be worried about fair wages and an environmentally safe planet for ALL PEOPLE, not just for Americans. Further, buying items that claim to be “American” or “Made in the USA” is no guarantee they were produced equitably, nor do “Made in USA” tags guarantee items were actually made in the US let alone made under fair labor conditions (as Ms. Magazines article “Paradise Lost” reveals). This narrative also ignores the fact that there our many sweatshops within the US – they are not all “over there” in China or Indonesia. They are right here in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York. The “made in the USA” is a false feel good tag.

While there are no easy answers to the Wal-Martization of the world, a first step would be for those of us who have the privilege of being able to afford to shop elsewhere to do so. Further, we need to make sure we are not using the “LOW PRICES!” as an excuse to buy more stuff then we really need. We need to ask ourselves is shopping at Wal-Mart REALLY a necessity due to budget, or do Wal-Mart prices encourage the buying of many non-essentials thus mitigating the “I can’t afford to shop anywhere else argument.” If you are buying things you don’t need at Wal-Mart because they are so cheap, the money saved from not buying these things could be used to shop somewhere with more equitable labor practices (and hence higher prices).

Further, rather than worship at this temple dedicated to ceremonies of conspicuous consumption, we could do like Jesus and attempt to destroy the temple. In order to bring down this money-changing temple, we must resolve to resist the false happy face promises, the artificially low prices, and the lure of bargains. For, the bargains at Wal-Mart come at a very high cost – they come at the expense of exploited workers around the globe, environmental harm, and, yes, even democracy. (See, for example, my post here for how Wal-Mart bribes politicians such as California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger).

So, dear readers, if you haven’t already, please consider people-cotting Wal-Mart. If monetary or geographical locations don’t make this possible, you can take action by staying on top of Wal-Mart news at cites like Wake up Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Sucks, and Wal-Mart Watch and via signing petitions, writing letters, and making your voice heard in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Wal-Mart may be only one consumerist temple among many, but it is the ‘patriarch’ of temples in so many ways – bringing down this daddy of corporate capitalism would help give our global family a better chance at living free from domination and exploitation brought to us via Wal-Mart sweat-shops, factories, and ‘super-centers.’

What if jeans are a weapon? On Levi’s sexist, war-happy advertising…

Last week the Levi’s Dockers “wear the pants” ad campaign received quite a bit of feminist critique for its obvious sexism. (For example, see here and here.)

Not happy with promoting misogyny alone, Levi’s has another ad using Walt Whitman’s “Pioneers, O Pioneers” that promotes battle-happy manifest-destiny.

Wow, who knew pants could be such a rallying cry.

Using the text of Whitman’s poem, which celebrates Westward expansion and the American “children” who stomp their way across the globe, the Levi’s commercial celebrates wild, angry youth. They bang things against fences, rage against constraint, dance around raging fires, rip off their shirts and march west in triumph.

How ironic the commercial celebrates youthful rebellion and anarchy in order to ultimately promote conformity – conformity to buying into a corporate brand, a normative style, and into the idea that FIGHTING is the answer. Yes, buy your over-priced jeans and you too can “bear the brunt of danger” and celebrate American imperialism. Woo-hoo!
If you feel like writing a letter to Levi Strauss to tell them where they can stick their pants, go here.

For a letter campaign opposing the Docker’s ad, go here.

What if Fight Club, ten years on, is more relevant than ever? Part 1: The Capitalist Body

In honor of Fight Club’s recent release on Blu Ray and ten year anniversary, I will be posting a three-part ode to this class anti-capitalist film.

In honor of Fight Club’s ten year anniversarynt and recent release on Blu Ray, I will be posting a three-part ode to this classic anti-capitalist film.

Here is part 1:

In opposition to the celebratory policing of the body so in vogue in the contemporary USA, Fight Club scorns a society that has allowed the body to become a mere object.  Deriding the very technology that many other films (such as Forrest Gump) celebrate at both the level of content and form, Fight Club refuses to buy into the supposed technological promise of disembodied capitalism where we can project our bodies into the past or future.

Through a contemplation of the pervasiveness of violence, ennui, and lack of affect definitive of the late 90’s, the film meditates on the body as brutalized not only by the self and by other bodies, but by the whole ethos of capitalism.

In contradistinction to Forrest Gump, the film did not celebrate the current state of affairs in America by offering up a bodiless white male hero.  Rather, it introduced us to a dejected and morally bankrupt capitalist everyman who suffers profoundly due to the disembodied and depersonalized capitalist landscape in which he must live.

Most reviews and articles about the film did not consider it in this light though. Instead, they focused on its supposed celebration of violence and virulent masculinity.

Again and again, writers interpreted the film as a sort of call to arms that inveigled viewers to reject ideas about the ‘new man’ and return to ‘traditional masculinity’, complete with bloodthirstiness, aggression, and domination.

For example, Henry Giroux claims the film “locates violence as the privileged vehicle for male community and solidarity.” I myself see it as critique of violent masculinity, rather than a celebration of it.

The film’s critique of consumer capitalism was not lost on most, but the majority of commentators felt this focus was overshadowed by a larger concern with the supposed ‘crisis of masculinity’ occurring in the late 90’s.  Giroux argues the film in fact reduces the crisis of capitalism into a crisis of masculinity arguing that “the crisis lies less in the economic, political, and social conditions of capitalism itself than in the rise of a culture of consumption in which men are allegedly domesticated, rendered passive, soft and emasculated”.

In a sense, Giroux is suggesting that the film serves as a rallying cry to re-masculinize the body, to bring back the brawn and bravado of the Rambo age.  To him, this is a key weakness of the film as it focuses on an individualized politics that waters down real world issues into mere fist fights.  However, Giroux’s reading of the film focuses mainly on the surface images – he spotlights the violence, the quasi-fascism and celebration of militaristic hard bodies that the camera repeatedly captures. Yet his reading fails to address the fact that that the main character Jack ultimately rejects his alter-ego’s violent credo and that Tyler is, in fact, an undesirable double that is destroyed by the film’s end.

What readings such as Giroux’s also fail to consider is the film’s sustained focus on the body – at both the level of form and content.  At the formal level, the camera zooms in on bloodied faces, battered bodies, and black eyes.  The film is also awash in the fluids of the body – blood, sweat, spit, and urine practically ooze from the screen.

The sound editing further accentuates the material factors of embodiment, emphasizing the thud of punches, the thump of bodies hitting the ground, the thwack of fist against bone.

At the level of content, the film contemplates the status of the body within the advanced capitalist American landscape.  This bodily fixation is not quite as apparent in the film as it is in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, but the movie nevertheless gestures towards broad questions involving what consumer capitalism does to the body. And what it does is not pretty.

Up next: Part 2: (Dis)Embodying Capitalism

What if Jesus were out shopping this holiday season?

This holiday season, give yourself a present: watch the hilarious and disturbingly informative What Would Jesus Buy.

This anti-consumerist documentary follows Reverend Billy Miller and his “Church of Stop Shopping” choir as they tour the U.S. in the consumer-frenzied run up to Christmas. The film begins with images of crazed, stampeding shoppers and various news channels reporting on “Black Friday,” as well as other Christmas-induced shopping mania.

It is the perfect film to watch at this time of year as we enter the manic descent into the mindless consumerism of the holiday shopping season and the directive to buy, buy, buy is everywhere. This directive comes through the mailbox via catalogues, through the television via ads, even via one’s email inbox via messages about “lowest prices of the season.” In general conversation, people pepper their speech with Christmas shopping “must-do’s” or share news of recent “bargains.”

As a professor quoted in What Would Jesus Buy clarifies, Christmas successfully convinces us to buy because it “combines commercialism with this true feeling of love and affection.” Or, in other words, we have come to associate the giving and receiving of gifts with love – the better the gift, the more gifts, the more we are loved – or so goes the loving-through-buying narrative, a narrative that translates into 5 million tons of extra waste generated from the holiday season via all the wrapping paper, packaging, etc (and this is in the US alone).
Yet, where all the stuff we buy during the holiday season will go is not a question we as consumers are encouraged to ask. This point is made clear by the “stop shopping counselor” featured in What Would Jesus Buy. Noting that many people are quite literally addicted to shopping, she encourages breaking the cycle via asking questions such as: “Do I really need this?” “Where will I put it?” While we don’t tend to consider where purchased items will go in the short term, neither do we think about where they will go long term.

The “disposing” side of consumption, so well captured in the film The Story of Stuff as well as in the garbage filled earth featured in Wall-e, is not a side we are prompted to think about. In fact, even given the popularity of the “go green” and “save the planet” paradigm we are now in, we are encouraged to SHOP to save the earth – BUY more green products, PURCHASE a hybrid car, GET re-usable shopping bags! This is not to say that these directives do not have their merit on some level, but that we are rarely given directives to NOT BUY, to STOP CONSUMING, let alone to consume less.

Driven by what the film refers to as the familiar god of “buy now pay later,” we are very reluctant to give up our consuming habits and instead create more palatable alternatives, ways to keep shopping that make us feel better about doing so while simultaneously doing nothing to stop our consumerist mindset. This is hardly surprising given the deification of consumer capitalism in the United States. It is, I would argue, the one true religion – the one that speaks to (nearly) all US citizens, that transcends race, class, gender, sexuality, and belief- the worship of the dollar and the joy in spending that dollar is the foundation of the “American Dream.” We are, as the story goes, a country where the streets our paved in gold, where anyone can make it, where Joe Six-Pack can become a millionaire!

Even in times of national crisis we are encouraged to identify as consumers, rather than as citizens. And, just as GW directed Americans to go out and shop post-9/11, so to are we being encouraged to buy our way out of the current economic crisis. Why the focus on “black Friday” and “cyber Monday” as if shopping will solve all our problems??? I am no economist, but I think it will take more than stuffing stockings to cure our economic ills.

Unfortunately, we learn this lesson of ‘good consumerism’ our entire life span in the US. As children, Disney hawks its wares to us, promising hours of endless fun and adventure. As tweens, we have entire genres of film, television, and music marketed to us – not to mention a whole slew of fashion and techno gadgetry. With college and the era of one’s first credit cart, we are tantalized with cars, stereos, and endless dorm/apartment ‘needs.’ As we enter the ‘real’ world, we are prompted to buy houses bigger than we can afford, cars bigger than we need, vacations we cannot pay for, and enough clothes and accessories to outfit a small country. As we age, we are incited to think about devices that can supplement our slowing bodies (purse finders and lights that turn and off with a clap!), as we near death’s doorstep, we are not allowed to go gently into that good night, but are tantalized with designer coffins, special headstones, and snazzy urns.

Not consuming is, in US parlance, tantamount to being dead.

This is why, to Robinson’s question “Is it too much to suggest that consumerism has become a kind of alternative faith, a religion of sorts?” I would answer “Heck, NO!” Consumerism is the most popular, and most impervious to critique, of all US faiths! As What Would Jesus Buy makes clear through its witty conflation of faith and shopping, Wal-Mart has become our Temple, Disney our Church, the mall our place of worship.

(This post ran last year, in a slightly different form. The original can be found here.)

Professor, What If…? Short takes 11/29/09

1.Wal-Mart in Upland, California forced to close for two hours when shoppers got out of hand on Black Friday. Please, can we all stop shopping at this horrible corporation? Do we want the future to look like the one in Wall*E? (Not the fat-hating part, but the world taken over by Wal-Mart part.)

2.Huffpo reports that “First Ever Store for Porn Apps Launches.” Yup, that’s just what we need in this world, more porn. Especially porn on the go. And we thought texting while driving posed a problem. Wait until porn apps promote wanking while driving…

3.More troops to Afghanistan? Yeah, cuz we need more war in the same way we need more porn. I am disappointed in you Obama. Sorely.

4.IRS filed $79,000 lien against Governor Schwarzenegger. So, we in Calif our governed by a man who can’t pay his own bills? Hmmm, no wonder our state is in such an economic dilemma. Maybe he could sell off some of those Hummers to pay his debts.

5.Entertainment Weekly ( 12/4/09) notes in it’s Hit List that “Heidi Klum hits the runway in lingerie six weeks after giving birth.” Guess, the mommy myth so cogently critiqued by Susan J. Douglas is still going strong. Soon women will jump off the delivery table straight into a pair of high heels or exercise shoes. Nothing more important for a new mom than losing the weight or getting the sexy back. Gag.

What if you would like to give thanks for capitalism? (Reconsidering Thanksgiving part 1)

In the run up to turkey day, I am reposting my three-part piece on Thanksgiving. Here is part one:

If you are looking for a reason to give thanks this Thanksgiving, how about this: give thanks for capitalism! I came across this nifty idea when searching around the internet for “alternative ways to spend Thanksgiving” (as I am one of those crazy radicals that has problems with the holiday.) Anyhow, in so doing, I came across an article that must be read in full to be believed.

If you have an empty stomach, go here to read the full piece, entitled “An American Holiday: The Moral Meaning Behind Thanksgiving.” If your stomach isn’t empty, I would wait to read the piece, unless that is, you want to be cleaning vomit off your keyboard… (Or, if you are one of those troll-types who believes in the American Dream and clings to the idea that Native Americans were ‘savage’ and capitalism is the bees knees, well, you can read the piece anytime and, as you do, you can nod in agreement that yes, you, DESERVE to celebrate.)

Anyhow, the Ayn Rand worshipping author of the piece, Debi Ghate, encourages us to celebrate our ‘bountiful harvest’ of  “the affluence and success we’ve gained… the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy… the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on…the good life.” Granted, Ghate’s piece is from November 2007, and thus predates our current economic meltdown. Even so, it is wildly myopic in its vision of America as “the land of plenty.”

So too is Ghate a tad wrong about American history.  According to her, “This country was mostly uninhabited and wild when our forefathers began to develop the land and build spectacular cities.” Yeah, if you call 10 to 15 million indigenous inhabitants “mostly uninhabited.”

These “forefathers” (uh, do you mean genocidal, power-hungry maniacs?) used “the American spirit to overcome challenges, create great achievements, and enjoy prosperity.” Yeah, if killing, enslaving, and raping is what you call the “American spirit.”

As a proponent of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, this author proclaims “We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.” Does she mean, “we are the corporatist bastards who exploit the world’s people and destroy the planet, and Thanksgiving is our day to celebrate this gluttony”?

Now, if you feel a tad bit squeamish about celebrating the wonderful “forefathers” and the glories of corporate capitalism, Ghate has the answer; she insists you DESERVE to celebrate and greed is GOOD. She laments that “We are scolded not to take more than “our share”–whether it is of corporate profits, electricity or pie. We are taught that altruism–selfless concern for others–is the moral ideal. We are taught to sacrifice for strangers, who have no claim to our hard-earned wealth. We are taught to kneel rather than reach for the sky.” Yes, because why should we share the planet? Why should we care about other humans? Damn it, this world is MINE and I don’t give a shit about anyone else. Furthermore, I am eating the whole damn pumpkin pie so screw you! Wow, what a great philosophy. No wonder why the Ayn Rand Institute is so popular.

Ghate continues “morally, one should reach for the sky. One should recognize that the corporate profits, electricity or pie was earned through one’s production–and savor its consumption. Every decision one makes, from what career to pursue to whom to call a friend, should be guided by what will best advance one’s rational goals, interests and, ultimately, one’s life. One should take pride in being rationally selfish–one’s life and happiness depend on it.” Rationally selfish??? Oh my, the ways capitalists find to make their greedy machinations sound moral…

Ghate closes her piece with the claim that “It’s a time to selfishly and proudly say: “I earned this.” Sadly, this is the true, though NOT moral, meaning behind thanksgiving. Thanksgiving truly is a holiday where we rather selfishly celebrate personal bounty (if we are able to do so) while ignoring the historical costs, as well as the present costs, of our individual as well as national bounty. In the posts to follow over the next few days, I will further consider the historical costs as well as the present costs of “US bounty” and how we might better frame the holiday so as not to dishonor the atrocities of the past, condone similar carnage in the present, or perpetuate such myopic, selfish celebrations of US imperialism in the future.