Home > motherhood, philosophy, Starbucks > That Cabin in the Woods sounds better and better

That Cabin in the Woods sounds better and better

Slate and NPR have latched onto a “trend” — which means, of course, that it’s totally passe now — called “Hauls.”

Apparenlty, teen girls go shopping and then come home and as they take all of thier stuff out of their bags, they record it and post it on You Tube, with commentary. I heard about this on NPR first and nearly ran off the road because I was staring at the radio, mouth agape, in disbeliefe. At first I thought I’d missed a month and it was April Fool’s Day.

As I’ve been following the financial crisis, one of the things that’s struck me, again and agian, is the fact that the US economy is driven by consumer spending. In fact, it makes up more than 70 percent of our economy. It took me a while and some really long afternoons listening to NPR’s Planet Money Team before I figured out what “consumer spending” means.

I figured it was the stuff we consume: food, fuel, etc.

No, I finaly figured out that it’s what I’ve started to call Peir Barn Crap. You know what I’m talking about — the random and useless and expensive things that they sell at Pottery Barn and Pier One and all those catalogs that we get in the mail. The catalogs that encourage us to “decorate” our homes, and redo them every few years to keep up with the trends. The catalogs that want to sell us oversized things to hang on our walls, like ten foot pencils or paper flower chandeliers for $80.

That crap is the vast bulk of our economy? I was boggled. But then i started looking around.

There are several stores in Davis Sq. that sell… crap. Cute, neat, vintage, unqiue, artsy… crap. Almost everything we get from my mother is crap. The vast majority of stuff at a toy store is crap (what’s more, it’s plastic crap). Hell, even at my beloved Starbucks, the walls are lined with special seasonal stuffed animals and branded doohickeys that are, in the end, irreducably, crap.

And now we have teen girls who are buying crap and then posting about it. And other people are watching it! (I have not watched, I need to admit to that right now. I heard the story and read the article but that’s it.) Our entire culture, especially the so-called girls culture, is directed at the consumption and disposal of crap.

Now, I will be the first to admit that when I flip through Pottery Barn, I say “crap crap crap… .OOOH! I want one!” I don’t object to ALL decorative or useless things. Art is essentially useless, in a purely practical sense, but it’s vital for our soul.

But … it’s meant to be a grace note, a small touch, a sweet treat at the end of a hearty meal. But America’s diet of consuption and our diet of food has switched to mostly sweet crap and not enough real stuff.

This is all pretty obvious, of course, to anyone who spends time thinking about this stuff. But increasingly, as I have less and less control over what The Child encounters in the world, I worry about how to counteract this sickness in our society. I’m explicit about it all the time — “What’s that mommy?” “A catalog of stuff we don’t need.”

But she’s four. And perfectly willng to say, casually, “If we don’t have one, why don’t we just go buy one?”

I’ve talked to her about money and about how it impacts the environement. But it’s hard when you’re surrounded by people for whom chocolate milk is the only milk their children drink, a trio of grandmothers with credit cards and a strong desire to spoil their only granddaughter, and a coffee shop where there is a wall of constantly changing seasonal stuffed toys, right at eye level.

My major concern is that I’m not doing enough. The culture is so awful, the whole society is so saturated in this disgusting brand of consumerism, that it’s hard to escape. As a general rule, I try not to buy things we don’t need. I buy used stuff when I can. I try to limit my art to actual art, made by a person and not mass manufactured. I dont go to malls or big box stores if I can help it. (Books are the exception to all these rules, though.) But I also know that I consume way more stuff than I need, that I can be lured in by something shiny and new and want it and sometimes buy it. How do I keep those walls for her when I can’t hold them for myself?

The solution would be to go somewhere that this culture is seen as awful as it really is. But where is that? Outside of starting our own commune (SO not going to happen), I don’t know where to go.

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  1. Andromeda
    March 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    So I’m going to be deliberately snarky and provocative here, but — if consumer spending is that much of the economy, and you win and we stop doing so much of it, how do you justify all of the jobs that are lost — the people who can no longer make their livings building or selling this stuff?

    • Christopher
      March 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm

      Have them make something useful. Work to repair what we have that is falling apart, make what we have more efficient (like clean energy) or less efficient but better for us (like small local farms). Hell, lets spend the money on space exploration…no more plastic crap on Earth – plastic domes on Mars!

    • jamanda
      March 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm

      What Christopher said.

      Actually, since I’m mostly talking about American culture, lets address the fact that Americans don’t, for the most part, make the crap. The crap is imported from China or somewhere else. I’d feel bad about tanking China’s economy, but I’m not raising my kid in China, so I’m going to limit the scope of my theoretical economy changing policies to just the US.

      Now, Americans do sell the crap. But pretty much all economists agree that the service-based economy is not as stable, and has a lower standard of living, than a making-things-based economy. (If you’ll pardon the use of overly technical terms.) So all those folks who are standing around at Pier One, getting minimum wage and being bored, could learn to make things.

      Many of the problems with the crap-centric economy is that it’s all about economies of scale. The reasons we can buy things at Walmart or Costco for so cheap is because someone, somewhere, is making a bazillion of them. That is bad — it encourages us to make more (so they are cheaper) and to buy more (because they are so cheap). Thus adding to the crap-pile.

      So make fewer things, slower, better, and more expensively. If we had actual cobblers making good shoes, you could buy those shoes you want. But since all the cobblers have been run out of business by DSW’s factories, it’s impossible to get good handmade shoes.

      There are, naturally, HUGE problems with this, of course, including the fact that you need to LEARN to make shoes while any flaming idiot can stand around punching the cash register at DSW. We’ve lost an apprenticeship model, and we’ve lost a culture where a well-made good is valued.

      But a pre-consumer-centric-spending models necessarily exist — we only moved into the consumer culture in the post-war years, really. I’m just not sure how to get back there. All attempts to do so have failed — communes, Pol Pot, what have you.

      The thing is, I firmly believe that this is a non-sustainable lifestyle. It’s built on cheap oil and Hubbert’s Peak has already happened. So we have two options — make the transition ourselves, slowly, voluntarily, and in a controlled fashion, or do so suddenly, involuntarily, and in what is likely to be a violent fashion.

  2. C'tina
    March 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    I started telling my kids years ago, “They just want your money” “We don’t need to watch everything that flickers” We look at where items are made. Beveled mirrors at big box stores are made in USA, ones with frames are made in China– (hopefully it’s CONUS and not some sweat shop US territory) we talk about ‘cheap crap that’s going to break’–and as for all the stuff from the relatives…Salvation Army, Goodwill are great repositories.

    I started researching Ted Kazinski awhile ago..was curious about his philosophy before his demented actions…Luddites…or something…more extreme..

  3. C'tina
    March 26, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Luddism
    Neo-Luddites
    and Dystopian Views of Technology

    Cultural change necessarily involves resistance to change. The term Luddite has been resurrected from a previous era to describe one who distrusts or fears the inevitable changes brought about by new technology. The original Luddite revolt occurred in 1811, an action against the English Textile factories that displaced craftsmen in favor of machines. Today’s Luddites continue to raise moral and ethical arguments against the excesses of modern technology to the extent that our inventions and our technical systems have evolved to control us rather than to serve us and to the extent that such leviathans can threaten our essential humanity. http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~mryder/itc_data/luddite.html

  4. aguane
    March 28, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    On a completely somewhat unrelated note – am I the only one that saw the paper chandelier and thought “oooh what a fun project to do with my kid.” He’d love making something like that and I bet it’d cost a heck of a lot less than 80 dollars: We could make the frames out of old hangers from goodwill, the straps from used pants – all his pants have holes which makes me less likely to donate them as he grows out of them, and the flowers or whatever shape he decides on from the five million pieces of paper school kids bring home with them.

    Who knows, maybe this puts me in the group of people that disgust you by having things in their house that they don’t need, but I see it as a perfect opportunity to talk about re-purposing things to make a fun project on a day when we’re hanging out doing nothing.

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