I know this sudden impulse to vocalize my distress at Christmas consumerism is almost cliche, but I think that I’m going to have to express some disgust, because frankly, it’s disgusting out there. Last night I went to Toys R’ Us in search of a specific item, which they didn’t have, but what I saw had a depressing effect. It was a maze of high metal shelves beneath the glare of flourescent lights, stocked with grotesquely packaged, molded plastic things on hormones–lots of them pink, purple, and glittery for girls. Even the baby dolls looked creepy and strange to me, with their bulkily packaged, cheaply made accessories, not charming in the least–nevermind the toys designed to appeal to little boys. Parents shuffled along in the shadow of their portable cardboard box mountain-of-a-shopping-cart. Good thing that the parking lot contained plenty of souped up trucks and SUVs.
I think what bothers me most about the spending habits at large is that no one ever, ever, asks the question: where will this item be in ten years? Well the obvious answer is: a dumping ground. If everyone asked that question before they bought everything, well, I can’t imagine how things would be different. I’m not really one to speak because I don’t always ask this question, and I’m too often lured in by cuteness accompanied by low price. Perhaps our economy would come to a halt if everyone asked this question. Or maybe it would just have to adapt to an ethic of less–but higher quality– stuff. I know that our apartment would be less cluttered, but more full of meaningful, important things, whose presence I would not wind up resenting.
This is not something I would have known before I had a child, but I think there really are only a few little companies that produce quality wooden toys–the kind you might consider saving for the child of your child. The rest are peddling a lot of plastic bulk that no one is going to want to keep around in storage after it’s reached the faded, dingy, permanently sticky, and possibly busted stage. And can I just say that I really hate the company that goes by the name “Baby Einstein.” Can the conspiracy against the good intentions of parents be any more obvious?
Before last night, I hadn’t really done any Christmas shopping besides one trip to Ten Thousand Villages, which is probably my favorite store. It was crowded and crazy there, yes, but somehow it didn’t bother me in that context. I felt a kinship, not a competition or annoyance with the other customers; it felt like a Christmas party was going on. Everything there is fair trade, which makes me feel a sense of confidence and dignity that I don’t usually feel when standing in front of a cash register. All the workers are volunteers, and each thing they sell–from the little wooden bird whistles to the large clay vases– embody a little spark of human will and creativity. These things weren’t designed by market analysts for a target consumer group, and you can feel the difference.
I have been listening to NPR this morning and learned about how the limit on the hourly shift of truck drivers is interfering with their ability to deliver all the goods that people want, when they want them. Everyone is trying to get stuff by a deadline, the Deadline that Is Christmas. So, there is a push to extend the hours that truckers are allowed to drive, despite the fact that these extended hours are shown to be unsafe and produce more fatalities on the highway. Somehow the image of all of those trucks barreling through the highways of America seems like an apt metaphor for the way Americans do Christmas–preoccupation and obsession with having things a certain way–a childish fantasy of Christmas–all the more grotesque because it makes its home in the minds of adults– that refuses to entertain any interfering, sane considerations.