Saturday, July 10, 2010
One thing that can be said about Americans is that they/we (I really don't know what pronoun to use here) love owning crap. We (I can't deny it ... I'm one of them) are absolutely addicted to having things. Combine this desire with an irresponsible credit industry and you get a real mess. Americans firmly believe that possessing various goods is an indicator of success, status, God's love, etc. What's more, it doesn't matter if we go broke doing it because owning junk is too important to let a little thing like debt get in the way.
Americans are indoctrinated into this paradigm in a couple of different ways. For most, it begins in the home, where children are taught that certain brands are better than others, that mommy and daddy get real satisfaction from buying that $2000 HD television (even though the other TV worked perfectly fine), and that there is such as thing as "ownership" and it's more important than a silly idea like sharing. Then, the little dears go to school. School is miserable for poor kids because they figure out pretty quickly that the cool, light-up Spiderman shoes they got at Wal-Mart are not as "good" as something called "Air Jordans." Before they know it, the poor kids are spending the next 12 years of their lives fighting the uphill battle commonly known as "keeping up the Joneses." Let me tell you, the Joneses are real jerks.
By the time we enter adulthood, Americans are slaves to consumerism. Cars, clothes, electronics - hell, even bed linens - become obsession. There are stores for everything and every product has its own standard. Much of the consumer industry is driven by the American celebrity culture (stay tuned), which lures normal people into believing that they can afford and should own $200 jeans. There are television programs dedicated solely to perpetuating the belief that "you too can look as good as people who make 20 times the salary you do." Even in hard economic times, Americans will sacrifice everything just to maintain the appearance that they are A) wealthy, B) attractive and C) better than you. The problem with this dynamic is that the poor are lured into this competition along with everyone else.
In the last decade we've seen first hand how consumerism destroys people. The consumerist orgy of the 90s and early 2000s lead average people to get themselves into insurmountable debt, buying new houses, new cars, tons of electronics and falling into trap of "designer" marketing, which convinced regular people that designer labels were accessible to them - that they could keep up with the celebrities they idolized. Now, those same people are losing their homes, having their cars repossessed, and many are watching their families torn apart all because of the stress and depression that comes with financial ruin. The orgy is over and we're left with a big nasty mess - millions of Americans are out of work, drowning in debt, and completely unsure as to whether or not they will recover. Yeah, consumerism is a real bitch.
For me, what really makes this part of Americanism suck is how consumerism destroys people - it destroys people's self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It really pisses me off to see kids dragged into it. Poor kids can't help that they're poor, but that doesn't stop the little rich bastards from making the kid with the hand-me-down clothes and generic-brand shoes feel worthless. And you know the parents of those little rich snots are just encouraging this behavior. Being well-off isn't a bad thing, don't get me wrong, but there are just enough rich douches out there to make life awful for normal people.
If that wasn't enough, the media shoves the same ideals down everyone's throat daily. It continues to recklessly promote the consumerist lifestyle. Every morning "news" show, every daytime talk show - nearly every media outlet out there - continues to tell Americans that they "must have" this or that. There are people out there who can't afford to eat, but all the mainstream media wants to talk about is owning more, more, more. How about, I don't know, focusing on helping people, pointing out what's really important, revitalizing the spirit of humanism or corporate compassion? Nope. That would be counter-intuitive to things like advertising dollars and satisfying the insatiable appetite of the ever-hungry consumerist machine. It's the American way ... and is just another reason Americans suck.