Tag Archives: consumerism

Friday Miscellany

I handed in my last major assignment on Wednesday. What a relief. Now I just have some reading to do for Monday and then a Hebrew final exam next Friday.  Lessons learned this semester:

1. I am unable to measure the quality of my own work. (Incidentally, I got my major Patristic Fathers paper back from Briercrest and I did very well!)

2. After all these years of post-secondary education, I still cannot write a decent introduction or conclusion.

3. I am too concerned about pleasing/impressing my professors.

4. Christ the centre (there were more theological lessons to be learned, but this point was driven home very strongly, particularly in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics)

* * *

We’ve watched a number of our Annual Christmas Movies.  A new addition to the lineup this year is The Family Stone. We must have played it six times already, each time in the background while doing something else.  Yesterday we finally payed attention to it.  I could watch it again tonight.  I’m not sure why this is–there is nothing particularly remarkable about the story–it’s not even a Christmas story, technically–and I can’t stand Diane Keaton’s character (too smug in her progressiveness). But it’s warm and funny, and Luke Wilson’s character is great.  I want to be him.

Also watched Love Actually.  I have a love-hate relationship with this film.  The Liam Neeson storyline is just a bit over the top for me, and I’m frustrated with the lack of satisfying resolution to the Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson storyline–it may be realistic, but if everything else in the movie resolves nicely (and sometimes over-the-top-ly), then why shouldn’t theirs? It doesn’t help that Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are both such likeable actors.

Emma Thompson’s performance is stellar, I think, particularly in the scene in which she discovers that her husband might be having an affair, but because it’s Christmas Eve, she has to put on a brave face for her children.

On the other hand, the Hugh Grant-as-prime-minister-of-England storyline is fun.  And the relationship of the pron film stand-ins is brilliant.  That may sound awful if you haven’t seen the movie, but it’s really quite moving: it’s a story of innocent love in an over-sexed industry. I never noticed this before, but near the end of the movie it is revealed that the two get married, and the guy is all excited about actually sleeping together for the first time.

Next up: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

* * *

Ran some errands alone in Winnipeg today and had to do a wide loop around to get home, because I needed to pick something up in Steinbach. I drove east on the TransCanada highway–the farthest east I have ever driven (other than with my parents). I had this strange sensation of nervousness for some reason, wondering if I had taken a wrong turn and ended up an hour out of the way in the middle of nowhere.  I knew I was on the right road, but I was in unfamiliar territory. I started thinking about how much of our fear is motivated not by actual danger but simply the unknown.

A couple of weeks ago I went to downtown Winnipeg at night to listen to someone speak. I had to find my way around dark and unfamiliar one-way streets, find a parking spot, find the location. I was quite nervous, actually. Again: no danger, just unfamiliar territory.

Anyway…eventually driving east on the TransCanada, the light fading, CBC Radio Drive playing softly, snow drifting across the highway, I started to feel like I was on a road trip–maybe to Christmas across the border in Ontario’s Canadian Shield, to a log cabin in the woods somewhere, bear-rug glowing in the light of the fire blazing in the hearth.

I was actually going to Steinbach.  But it was a nice daydream anyway.

* * *

On my way home after doing some shopping I wondered if internet shopping has increased retail sales and consumerism. If other people are at all like me, when I’m in a store I’m less likely to buy something than when I shop online.  In-store I get overwhelmed with “stuff” and consumerism and can quite easily tell myself I don’t need whatever it is I’m thinking of buying.  Shopping online at, say, Amazon, I find it quite easy to simply click “add to shopping cart” and “proceed to checkout”.  Not sure what the difference is. Perhaps there’s something to tactile reasoning–if there’s no product to handle and no credit card/cash to hand over, it’s easier to imagine that you’re not accumulating more stuff and spending more money.

Spend Like Santa, Save Like Scrooge

I noticed today that next semester’s textbooks are starting to arrive at the college bookstore on campus.  I had considered buying them from Amazon–mostly because I wasn’t sure if the texts would be available before Christmas, but also because I could, in some cases, save up to 50% of the cover price by purchasing through Amazon.

I stuck my nose in a conversation after class yesterday. Two students were discussing the campus bookstore and various other campus business matters.  Business issues generally do not interest me in the slightest, but in the course of this conversation it occurred to me that fundamentally there is no difference between the independent bookstore and the big-box bookstores like Chapters/Indigo (or Borders or Barnes & Noble) or online retailers like Amazon. There is fundamentally no difference between them insofar as they are all businesses seeking a profit.  They are businesses and they want your money.*

And yet we tend to feel guilty about buying our books from Amazon or Chapters.  They are the big, bad retailers who buy at special bulk rates, which allows them to undercut their competition.  (“Competition” is an odd term for an independent bookstore relative to the big boxers, isn’t it?)  This kind of cut-throat competition gives me, as a Christian, pause: how do the commands play out in the business world? What does it mean to love your neighbour at a corporate level?  I don’t know the answer to that, although I’m tempted to think that it means absolutely nothing at the corporate level.  This is the capitalist, market economy, folks; that’s simply the way it goes. It’s the Darwinism of Wall Street: survival of the biggest and cheapest. It’s just business.

Our incredulity (even if it’s only in theory) is bit disingenuous, though. After all, if the independent local bookstore somehow managed to undercut the big-box retailers, no one would think worse of them.

But beyond that, I wonder if perhaps our finger-pointing at the big-box stores is too…finger…pointing…y.  The big-box stores may be offering lower prices than the independent store can afford, but the big-box store is simply offering what we desire (and what the independent store would presumably like to be able to do). We are obsessed with saving money on our purchases, but ultimately saving money is done by many of us simply to acquire more.

Many years ago, Canadian Tire ran an annual yuletide ad campaign with the mantra, “Spend Like Santa, Save Like Scrooge.”  The message was that you could get more stuff for less at Canadian Tire.  The irony that is often lost on us, however, is that our response is generally not to buy what we need and pocket the savings, but to simply buy more stuff and technically not save anything.  Christians tend to be consumerist creatures just as much as anyone.  Saving is good because it allows us to buy more.  We buy because we have the disposable income, not because we need something.  We buy because it’s on sale, not because we need it.

I often say something that drives Dixie nuts.  She’ll justify a purchase by saying, “It was 40% off!  I saved $30!”  And then I’ll respond with, “Yes, but if you hadn’t bought that item, you would have saved 100%”.

I don’t want to suggest that I always take the anti-consumerist high road.  I am as consumerist as your next person.  But that isn’t good and it is bothering me more and more these days.

My point in all this is that perhaps questioning what we purchase and from where can be a transformative experience, rather than an accusatory one.  Perhaps it would be more beneficial to me to not buy from a big-box store not because of their questionable business ethics, but because of my own questionable consumerist mindset.  Savings aren’t everything.  “A penny saved is a penny earned,” as the saying goes. The question is, earned for what?

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*There is therefore little reason, if any, for a Christian to purchase from a retailer who happens to be Christian rather than one who happens to not be.

**I do think there are legitimate reasons to purchase from online retailers, but I’m beginning to realize that there are fewer reasons than I might think.  Instant access, for one, is generally not a good reason. Patience is a virtue nearly lost in the western world.

I want it all

Another one I stumbled upon while browsing through Bill Bryson’s fabulous book, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America:

In the evening I sat in Hal and Lucia’s house, eating their food, drinking their wine, admiring their children and their house and furniture and possessions, their easy wealth and comfort, and felt a sap for ever having left America.  Life was so abundant here, so easy, so convenient.  Suddenly I wanted a refrigerator that made its own ice-cubes and a waterproof radio for the shower.  I wanted an electric orange juicer and a room ionizer and a wristwatch that would keep me in touch with my biorhythms.  I wanted it all.  Once in the evening I went upstairs to go to the bathroom and walked past one of the children’s bedrooms.  The door was open and a bedside light was on.  There were toys everywhere — on the floor, on shelves, tumbling out of a wooden trunk.  It looked like Santa’s workshop.  But there was nothing extraordinary about this; it was just a typical middle-class American bedroom.

And you should see American closets.  They are always full of yesterday’s enthusiasms: golf-clubs, scuba diving equipment, tennis-rackets, exercise machines, tape recorders, darkroom equipment, objects that once excited their owner and then were replaced by other objects even more shiny and exciting.  That is the great, seductive thing about America — the people always get what they want, right now, whether it is good for them or not.  There is something deeply worrying and awesomely irresponsible, about this endless self-gratification, this constant appeal to the baser instincts.

Do you want zillions off your state taxes even at the risk of crippling education?

‘Oh, yes!’ the people cry.

Do you want TV that would make an imbecile weep?

‘Yes, please!’

Shall we indulge ourselves with the greatest orgy of consumer spending that the world has ever known?

‘Sounds neat! Let’s go for it!’

The whole of the global economy is based on supplying the cravings of two per cent of the world’s population.  If Americans suddenly stopped indulging themselves, or ran out of closet space, the world would fall apart.  If you ask me, that’s crazy. (pp. 158-9)

The book is 20 years old, so it may sound a bit dated, but his perspective (he is an American ex-pat in the UK)  is one many of us now share (even if we fall within that category of the middle-class and don’t know what to do about).

Black Friday indeed

From the Globe and Mail:

Wal-Mart Worker Killed in Bargain-Hunting Stampede

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — A Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled by a throng of unruly shoppers as consumers, who had snapped their wallets shut since September, flocked to stores before dawn Friday to grab deals on everything from TVs to toys for the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, feared to be the weakest in decades.

Retailers extended their hours — some opening at midnight — and offered deals that promised to be more impressive than even the deep discounts that shoppers found throughout November.

The 34-year-old Wal-Mart worker was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at about 6 a.m., an hour after the store opened, when a throng of shoppers “physically broke down the doors, knocking him to the ground,” a police statement said… (Link)

This needs no comment, does it?