I have been thinking about shopping lately, especially as the holiday advertising campaigns are beginning in earnest. The madness that is Black Friday (which is now bleeding into Thanksgiving Day) is fresh in my mind. I happen to think it’s an ugly development in our culture.
Why do we care so much about buying stuff? Like most Americans, I am a consumer–but I am not proud of it. I try to resist, but I think that materialism surrounds us like water surrounds a fish… we don’t even recognize it anymore. We have to consume or die, like sharks need to keep swimming. I don’t think we were created for this.
And I especially don’t understand status goods. You know, the names that make stuff fashionable and significant—Hermes, Coach, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Lexus, BMW, Tiffany. It’s not like I don’t recognize good design or quality. I like things that are pretty. But it’s naïve to think that owning them will change my life. Yet that’s the message we get from advertising, which has become so sophisticated that it is sinister. It makes you feel inadequate until you buy the product (whatever the product is).
I can assure you: After the glow of owning an expensive purse or raincoat or wristwatch wears off, it’s just a purse or a raincoat or wristwatch, and you are still you, trudging through slush, and today is another working day. Your life will not change, except that you will be that much more deep in debt to an evil credit card company. Cash therapy is not about therapy; it’s about cash.
Owning things–even beautiful things–will not give you peace of mind. Consumer goods will not prevent the loss of people you love. New stuff will not shield you from feeling not good enough or attractive enough or successful enough. And expensive, status-focused toys will not make you a celebrity giddy with champagne.
What will give you peace of mind? I think you know: Love. Faith in something or Someone bigger than you. Making a difference by helping others. Doing something you really believe in. Spending quality time with people you love. Having experiences that open your mind, your imagination and your heart.
It’s the beginning of Advent, a season of reflection and silence and preparation and hope. But the message we encounter all around us—at the mall, on TV, the Web, and radio, will be buy buy buy. And we will think of what gifts we need to get for friends and family—and what we hope to get for ourselves. We will see commercials with happy families feasting over bountiful tables and elegant women opening tiny jewelry boxes by the fireplace. It might make us feel that we are missing out, that this is the Christmas we should have.
It is fiction.
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather magazine.
Photo by photogratis. Used with permission.