Good consumerism vs. Bad Consumerism

by on April 26th, 2005

Piles of car magazines, worn posters dangling on walls peppered with tack marks, a desk littered with corpses of writing utensils whose gelatin life force have long waned, assignments from school and work heaped askew, licentiously co-inhabiting with half used nose wipes whose yellow blotches of viscous wetness had hardened into a fibrous clot. Coins of denominations casting a metal menagerie on the dust laced deskscape. Troves of useless pennies, some shining like gaudy Mexican tourist trinkets, others crusted with 60s vintage gringo dirt and lint: strewn like clamshell tokens of conscience. Dust specks layering every possible article and surface, the slightest movement of limb setting off a sneeze. Welcome to suburban life in the capital of world consumerism.

This perpetual obsession with hoarding is a marked denominator of existence in this part of the world, or at least, parts of this part of the world I have had the opportunity to frequent, including my family’s living room. It’s a peculiar psychosomatic condition that is triggered by the impulse to buy cheap things when they are cheap, and trust me, these things are eternally cheap because the protector of man and the master of the Universe made them that way.

The penny wise, pound foolish middle class miser, who strives to find a merry compromise between the perception of economy and the perception of aesthetic to a point, where both Economics and Aesthetics become diluted Sciences, and the need to possess cheap things in abundance becomes a overriding state of mental compulsion bordering on the perimeters of obsession. Leaping from one cheap acquisition to another, the hour blends into the night, and the night blends into the hour. Cheapness becomes an addictive placebo tablet in the realm of rat race. Every cheap conquest is an accomplishment. “Life” continues. The “splurges” go on.

But as the reality of cheapness persists around one, existence feels cheap. The dollar value in everything is so clear cut that the receipts shine through the cracks, nicks, and sags of the bookcases. The permanent scratches and blotch marks on the thirty dollar mail-in-rebate writing desk that came with a screeching wheeled chair with a cloth pad for a back rest torment the suppressed consciousness of sensibility.

Is there peace in this way of life? We call it utilitarian, economic, and many other self-conciliatory things. We give ourselves consolation prizes. But in the end of the day, we come back home exhausted and as we lay sprawled upon our untidy sheets like a human swastika, through the aloof and inert corners of our eyes surveying the surreal ornamentations of our existence in its assorted dusty hues. Who knew the demographics of cheapness could come in such dazzling colors, textures, and shapes? Alas, some amongst us know all too well.

We devote so much of our life balancing interest rates, juggling portfolios: collecting paychecks at the end of the month, and invoices at the end of the day; trying to outdo Mexico and its lawn mowing émigrés in standards of living. Yet, our retarded minds, perpetually tormented and misguided by our economizing, forget what quality of life means.

Consumed with the idea of a safe and sweet retirement we forget that life doesn’t continue beyond now, for all that matters. Without knowing it, we are living in Michael Jackson’s Never Land. Our faces are cosmeticized by artificial implants of fake smiles. Our hairs are colored with unnatural hues. We torture ourselves on unwieldy diets. “Hi! How ya doin’!”

“First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.” alleged Napoleon Hill (American author, 1883-1970).

Similarly, there is nothing wrong with spending less or spending more, as long as the purchase is accompanied by a specific visual and visceral consideration. A purchase can be as ‘economical’ as a discounted picture frame or a vase from a specialty décor store at the end of the season. It may as well be a solid wood teak side table from the summer flea market.

As long as each new acquisition is analyzed in the spirit of compatibility, assessed with consideration, welcomed with delight and approval, without mental compromises; the expenditure however paltry or princely is insignificant. A good, solid, purchase will renew itself over the years and grant a positive and warming familiarity to each room.

An existence cultivated with the question “What do I really want?” can add to life the zest of that extra something we do not quite snatch from CNN’s reporting on the relationship between government expenditures and soldiers dying in foreign countries; or Fox news’ daily appraisals of embarrassing, unsightly, city center conditions; or from the omniscient pretensions of the Weather Channel.

It is idiotic to allege that consumerism is bad. It isn’t. If done with a good heart and a good mind, anything can be divine. Or perhaps even given half a chance…human?

Alexander Rai