Category Archives: consumerism

Because There’s Absolutely Nothing This Country Won’t Commercialize

[Update: Welcome, Wonketteers!]

Ummm….

An Oregon firm introduced an action figure of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. ThatsMyFace.com, whose catalog also includes Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, said that the 12-inch Snowden figure comes dressed in a blue shirt, casual trousers and black high-top shoes, but wardrobe options include a gray-striped business suit, Indiana Jones outfit and a combat uniform. It sells for $99. ThatsMyFace.com promises that proceeds will go to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, although the foundation’s executive director, Trevor Timm, denied any association with the doll or ThatsMtFace.com. (Agence France-Presse)

The Edward Snowden action figure sells for $99:

Edward_Snowden_a_53014ad925cf1

If the $99 price tag seems a little steep the manufacturer notes,

By selecting Head only in the Outfit selection box above, you can also buy Edward Snowden’s head for $60 only and fit it onto your own 12-inch figurines.

Well, hey, kids! Now that’s a bargain!

You can see the Julian Assange figure here, including set-ups where he’s brandishing a military-style assault rifle and one where he’s dressed like a pirate.

You can see them in “action” here (laptop comes separately?):

In all fairness, I noticed this company also makes an array of celebrity action figures, including Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Eric Holder and Rahm Emmanuel, to name a few.

Sigh.

As if we needed any more evidence that American politics has moved away from actual governing and into the realm of mass entertainment.

11 Comments

Filed under consumerism

Baaah Friday

This landed in my mailbox this morning, under the subject line “Knock Down, Drag Out Savings.” Sender was “Walmart.”

yesmen

Bwaahaa. It’s those rascals, the Yes Men.

At my first Thanksgiving with Mr. Beale’s family, the women all invited me to join them on their traditional Black Friday shopping trip to the mall in Evansville, Indiana. I think I responded with something like, “I’d rather stick pins in my eyes, thanks.” I honestly never thought I’d meet someone who actually shopped on the Friday after Thanksgiving. And in a mall, no less? I simply don’t hate myself that much.

Thanksgiving has always been the one holiday that defied commercialization. Non-religious and a-political, it was the last honest holiday. It centered on three core American values: family, food and television.

But no more. Now we’re all arguing over Walmart and Best Buy making their underpaid employees work on Thanksgiving Day, and we’re treated to Black Friday Brawls on the TV as people behave like children fighting over toys.

Another cherished American holiday relegated to the dustbin thanks to Glorious Capitalism. Baaah.

4 Comments

Filed under consumerism, Holidays

Black Friday Rant/Good News Friday

Is everyone excited about Black Friday? No? Neither are 82% of Americans.

Kai Ryssdall of NPR’s Marketplace made this discovery on yesterday’s show and it was hilarious. Kai was literally shocked — shocked! — to discover that “Black Friday” is a media-created myth utterly lacking any toehold on reality. Really! Here he interviews Frank Newport of Gallup and was told only 18% of people surveyed plan to do any “Black Friday” shopping.

Newport: Despite all of the media frenzy […] on Friday significantly less than half of us wil be out there braving the crowds.

Ryssdal: I actually think that’s huge news, that we’re all going absolutely bonkers for 18% of the American public.

Yes, Kai. Better grab some gloves to handle this hot scoop. The media has created one of its cute little pet memes, reported on it incessantly, and then facts prove it to be utter bullshit. Let’s see, when has this ever happened in recent memory? Oh, how about Iraq has WMD and the Tea Party is a major grassroots thing and killer sharks roam American waters and white women mysteriously disappear from their homes and people actually liked Mitt Romney?

If only folks like Kai Ryssdal, one of the media’s consistently worst purveyors of the false narrative, were in a position to do something about this stuff.

/sarcasm

In fact, one of my local news stations has already devoted an entire section of its web page to reporting on Black Friday “news.” But I understand this, I really do. Our merchant class is desperate for Black Friday to become a thing. They want this to become a national event like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, two other fake holidays they created out of thin air. Of course, I’m all for setting aside a day to honor your mother and father. Black Friday, on the other hand, is all about honoring greed, consumption, and some of humanity’s baser instincts, like shoving the little old lady in front of you out of the way to grab this season’s hot new toy. I’m not sure endless news stories of people getting trampled to death at Wal-mart are good for the brand, y’all. Maybe you ought to dial it back a notch.

I’m trying to think who buys the Black Friday bullshit. The only ones I know are the “nails ladies” at the Vietnamese sweatshop I visit for my pre-Thanksgiving manicure. Every year the nail tech asks if I’m going to go shopping on Friday; every year I tell her I’d rather stick pins in my eyes. Every year the person says, “Big savings! For Christmas!” Every year I have to tell her no, she’s been conned. The sales are no better on Black Friday than on Saturday, Sunday, or a week later. Those $25 flat screen TVs they advertise to get everyone through the door? Nobody gets those. Nobody. They aren’t real.

“Black Friday” is a narrative counterpunch to a day traditionally devoted to giving thanks for those things money can’t buy: family, friends, tradition, togetherness. These are things which have no price and can’t be turned into a commodity. Black Friday is its polar opposite, and to see it encroach on a holiday set aside for something pure offends me.

Thanks to supremely bad planning on my part, I’ve run out of dog food today. Breakfast this morning was scraping the last kibble from the bottom of the dog food bin. My quandary is that I buy my dog food at CostCo, it’s a store brand and it can’t be purchased anywhere else. But the absolute last place I want to be today is a big box retailer. And tomorrow is “small business Saturday,” another fake holiday the merchant class has created to pacify the mom-and-pop businesses Wal-Mart and Best Buy have crushed under their massive boot heels.

And this is what I hate about our consumer culture. When our best vote is the one we make with our wallets, then every action is a statement. I’d like to buy some damn dog food today, but now it appears doing so violates every principle I hold dear. It lumps me in with the 18% who want to stand in line in the pouring rain instead of enjoying breakfast with their families. It tells the merchant class that I support this stupid phony baloney crap they’ve shoved down our throats.

Le Sigh. Probably I will find a locally owned pet shop and buy a small bag of food, enough to last a couple days. It shouldn’t make any difference whether I buy my dog food today or Monday, it really shouldn’t. But thanks to the media magnifying glass placed on retailers today, it does. I really hate that for all of the many reasons I’ve outlined here.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Friday programming. Hope y’all had a happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones. Time for some good news:

• The cease-fire is holding.

• Wireless EV charging is coming.

• Alaska tribes go tobacco-free.

• School buses in Southern California are getting cleaner and greener.

• Otters make a comeback in Illinois.

• Are bombs raining down on your Israeli neighborhood? Yeah, there’s an app for that.

• Real Madrid soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has donated €1.5 million to Palestinian children in Gaza.

Democrat Ron Barber has won Gabby Giffords’ House seat.

• Hate radio feels the pinch.

• The UN reports that the rate of new HIV/AIDs infections has fallen by half in 25 countries. More than half of them are in Africa, the continent most affected by HIV/AIDs.

• Grover Norquist faces some GOP push-back.

• Allen West surrenders.

• They taught an autonomous sub to speak whale.

Good News, Tennessee Edition:

• An injured Afghanistan veteran gets a new home custom-tailored to his needs.

• The TN Dept. of Environment & Conservation, Dept. of Transportation and the Tourist Development Dept. are joining forces to start recycling at all of the state’s welcome centers. Let me say, I’m kind of shocked they don’t recycle already, and I’m not sure why it takes three state agencies to do this. I’m going to guess (hope) that the program goes beyond the “throw your empty Coke can in this blue container” stuff.

This week’s cool video is personal. I’m an environmental science grad from Pitzer College, class of ’83. This week my alma mater announced it has joined forces with Robert Redford and the Pritzkers (of Hyatt Hotels fame and fortune) to launch the Robert Redford Conservancy For Southern California Sustainability. Learn more about it here:

13 Comments

Filed under consumerism, Good News

Just … No

I’ve never heard of Celeb Boutique before but I promise you, I will never, ever shop there:

I’ve seen a lot of things about the Aurora shootings on Twitter today — perhaps the best was John Aravosis’ observation that,

When for political reasons we permit guns to be bought and sold at epidemic proportions in this country, this shooting is per se political.

That is exactly right. Cries not to politicize the tragedy are just another way of saying “shut up!” And yes, that means Rep. Louis Gohmert has as much a right to spout his latest idiocy as the gun control people have a right to spout theirs. The alternative, which we’ve seen play out a thousand times before, is everyone refusing to have the hard conversation — first out of resepect for the victims, then out of pure cowardice.

So yes, please politicize this. Because it is absolutely, 100% political. When the head of the NRA repeatedly gets up before the microphone and claims President Obama wants to take your guns so you better run out and stock up now, this issue is definitely political.

But one thing I simply cannot stand, and will not tolerate, is using a tragedy to sell cheap Kim Kardashian-inspired crap. That is beyond crass. It’s sickening.

6 Comments

Filed under consumerism, gun violence, twitter

Where There’s Shit There’s Always Flies

Is there nothing an American corporation won’t try to exploit for profits? Nothing at all? Of course not. So who’s gonna be the first company to turn unemployment into a commodity?

Ta-da: it’s Hallmark and their new line of sympathy cards for the unemployed! Hallmark’s Creative Director Derek McCracken says the idea came from consumers. Or, to be more precise, “that macro trend around the economy” that is millions of people getting pink slips. Le sigh:

MCCRACKEN: Wow. It was just that macro trend around the economy where there were layoffs and consumers were asking us for something that was more specific to the situation.

BLOCK: So you’re saying this idea actually came from people who buy cards, from customers?

MCCRACKEN: Yeah. They sent us letters. They phoned it in. They asked their retailers, you know, in their neighborhood, where do I find a card that says this?

Oh, bullshit. This is the kind of crap spewed by corporate MBA types who always like to pretend whatever they’re doing meets some great consumer demand. That’s how we got stuck with New Coke and the late, great Qwikster. And now it’s the “sorry you got canned” sympathy card. McCracken might as well say, “We would never do anything that tacky but … heh heh … it’s what our customers want!” Give me a break. Is it cynical of me to say they wanted to tap into a market of 14 million unemployed persons? Of course it is. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Anyway, the whole idea of a line of sympathy cards for the newly jobless seems too bizarre to be believed. I cannot imagine under what circumstances I would send such a card to anyone. Because I don’t care how mushy the sentiment, greeting cards are impersonal.

You can check out some of the new line here.

(via Gawker)

21 Comments

Filed under consumerism, corporations, unemployment

>For Shame

>[UPDATE]:

Behold the power of Twitter. H&M says it will stop this practice, while WalMart said “oops.” But this is what gets me:

It’s hard to know why the employees of H&M and Walmart felt it their duty to destroy clothing in the first place, but my guess is it is a growing resentment against so-called freegans and other dumpster divers in the city. The New York Times itself has covered this phenomenon a few times, and it’s well-known that many employees of restaurants and grocery stores occasionally render food inedible so the freegans won’t come rummaging. There’s the sentiment among some that no one deserves a free ride (or a free pair of pants) — even if it’s in someone else’s trash.

Excuse me??!! You resent the freegans? Well fuck you. I resent that there are people without food and clothing in the world’s most prosperous nation. I resent that we’re the most wasteful nation on earth.

So take your resentment (and your boxcutter) and stuff it. Here’s a little tip: if you don’t want freegans rummaging through your trash, then don’t throw it away. Use it. Recycle it. Don’t buy it to begin with.

Things have got to change, America. We can’t be the world’s Hoovers, sucking up everything within our reach, and not expect to pay some kind of price for this profligacy.

———————————
I’ve known that big companies like Wal-Mart do this, but kudos to grad student Cynthia Magnus for spreading the word about this shameful practice:

This week the New York Times reported a disheartening story about two of the largest retail chains. You see, instead of taking unsold items to sample sales or donating them to people in need, H&M and Wal-Mart have been throwing them out in giant trash bags. And in the case that someone may stumble on these bags and try to keep or re-sell the items, these companies have gone ahead and slashed up garments, cut off the sleeves of coats, and sliced holes in shoes so they are unwearable.

This unsettling discovery was made by graduate student Cynthia Magnus outside the back entrance of H&M on 35th street in New York City. Just a few doors down, she also found hundreds of Wal-Mart tagged items with holes made in them that were dumped by a contractor. On December 7, she spotted 20 bags of clothing outside of H&M including, “gloves with the fingers cut off, warm socks, cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor, men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.”

You know, there’s so much human pain associated with modern American retail, from the overseas sweatshops which manufacture these items to the child labor used to pick the cotton to the feudal systems in third world countries which force farmers to grow cotton instead of food. All so we can have a $20 T-shirt that, when it’s not sold, will be torn to shreds to ensure no one can ever use it. It is then thrown in a New York landfill to be buried with the other garbage.

These are the sins of American life for which we will be judged. Not gays and abortion and failure to post the 10 Commandments in the courthouse. It’s this. When the wealth of the powerful and enfranchised is used to oppress the powerless and disenfranchised, that’s sin. The Bible is very clear on that. And someday, whether you’re religious or not, we’re all going to have to answer for that–indeed, we already are. It’s not just a Biblical law, it’s not just a religious law, it’s a universal law. It’s karma.

A couple years ago I wrote about how Wal-Mart padlocks its trash dumpsters to deter dumpster diving. I wrote:

One of the worst things I ever heard about Wal-Mart was that stores padlock their trash dumpsters. Former Wal-Mart employees have told me of the perfectly good food and merchandise that is thrown away on a daily basis, yet Wal-Mart locks people out of its trash. When your trash is so valuable that it requires padlocks, something is seriously wrong. Hey, Wal-Mart, if it’s that valuable, try donating this stuff to a shelter, OK?

This post sparked outrage among the free-market greed brigade (sadly, those comments got lost when I switched commenting formats.) No one could believe that I would be so anti-free market as to advocate “dumpster diving.” Now, I’m not a dumpster diver, but if something is trash, then why shouldn’t it be someone else’s treasure? It seems that the fear is that people won’t buy things if they can get it for free, but quite a lot of people can’t or won’t buy it anyway. And if the problem is that the “trash” still has value, then it’s not trash, is it? Donate it to an American charity, recycle it, mark it down, send it to an orphanage in India or Africa where the cycle of abuse started, quit overbuying to begin with.

Stop the sin cycle. Corporate America and American consumers alike need to come clean.

21 Comments

Filed under consumerism, Dumpster Diving, Wal-Mart

The Business of Dehumanization

Judging by the head-popping over at Kleinheider’s and in comments here, it seems I struck a nerve with my radical idea that capitalism is not, in fact, the answer to every problem.

How very un-American of me.

Mostly I was trying to point out that free insurance markets will create a whole new headache without actually reforming anything. Our problem isn’t lack of insurance. Our problem is a system that isn’t people-oriented but instead business-oriented.

Congress is asking how we can reform the business of healthcare to better serve people. That’s the wrong question. I’d rather ask how we can keep people healthy and get affordable healthcare to everyone at those inevitable times when we are not. Business may play a role in that but it shouldn’t be the overriding focus.

The business of healthcare should serve people. That it doesn’t is a failing of the modern capitalist religion, in which people are viewed as “consumers” first, human beings second (if at all). We’ve had this drilled into our psyche so thoroughly that we blithely accept such terms as “American consumers,” not recognizing the pejorative it so clearly is. Because when humans are reduced to mere “consumers,” their value is in their purchasing power. They are nothing more than wallets, checkbooks, bank accounts. Even, ominously, “credit scores.”

This leaves a whole bunch of people out of the equation (namely, the poor), and creates a social inequity in which the wealthy are deemed of greater value to society than the rest. Just look at the rhetoric from conservatives, who routinely disparage the poor as drains on society (Nashville’s own Phil Valentine recently referred to the poor as ”greedy grumblers” who are “sucking up the tax dollars of hard-working Americans by the trillions.”)

It’s dehumanizing, yes, but also entirely inevitable under a system that sees only wallets, not people.

It’s not just healthcare. I point readers to Mark Slouka’s riveting article in the September issue of Harper’s about education: “Dehumanized: When Math & Science Rule The School” (subscription required). Slouka highlights something I’ve long suspected but have been unable to articulate: our education system is one engineered to serve business interests at the expense of civic interests. The result, while good for capitalism, is bad for democracy.

Writes Slouka:

Like a single species taking over an ecosystem, like an elephant on a see-saw, the problem today is disequilibrium. Why is every Crisis in American Education cast as an economic threat and never a civic one? In part, because we don’t have the language for it. Our focus is on the usual economic indicators. There are no corresponding “civic indicators,” no generally agreed-upon warning signs of political vulnerability, even though the inability of more than two thirds of our college graduates to read a text and draw rational inferences could be seen as the political equivalent of runaway inflation or soaring unemployment.

I would argue we saw those “warning signs of political vulnerability” at this summer’s Tea Party gatherings, where a population unsure of anything except their anger and powerlessness followed the orders of their corporate overlords and gathered at public squares to protest … public squares?

There are plenty of other “civic indicators,” I might add: pathetically low voter turnout compared to other industrialized democracies; the focus on politics over substantive information on our national news; even the fact that we have a national business news anchor clueless about a program like Social Security. None of this bodes well for the Republic’s civic health.

Why are the arguments for investing in education always capitalistic ones? To “make us competitive on the world stage,” of course. As Slouka notes, that’s a great way to create worker bees, not such a good way to create citizens. And it’s implemented by emphasizing math and science education over those disciplines where it’s more difficult to assign a dollar sign:

The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be. Their method is confrontational, their domain unlimited, their “product” not truth but the reasoned search for truth, their “success” something very much like Frost’s momentary stay against confusion.

They are thus, inescapably, political. Why? Because they complicate our vision, pull our most cherished notions out by the roots, flay our pieties. Because they grow uncertainty. Because they expand the reach of our understanding (and therefore our compassion), even as they force us to draw and redraw the borders of tolerance.

Little wonder totalitarian regimes tend to keep tight control over things like art, music, literature, and history.

And finally:

Rein in the humanities effectively enough—whether through active repression, fiscal starvation, or linguistic marginalization—and you create a space, an opportunity. Dogma adores a vacuum.

Someone remind me, when did we stop teaching civics in public schools?

We’re out of balance as a society. We’ve accepted the idea that our value as human beings is in our purchasing power. That might serve IBM and Microsoft and Monsanto and Koch Industries well, but how well does it serve America?

Look around you. People, both right and left, are angry and disillusioned. Dehumanized. We look for solutions in electoral politics, and they are not there. We look for solutions in the marketplace–in boycotts–and they are not there.

Where is the solution?

2 Comments

Filed under consumerism, education, healthcare