Tag Archives: consumerism

thanksgiving hopping

Thanksgiving is approaching and my entire school is buzzing with the formation of plans. Some students are going home; some are planning small, swanky soirees; others are hosting giant potlucks. Of course, with so many plans happening on one day, there are many students who are invited to many Thanksgivings. Some say ‘yes’ to the first invitation that comes their way, or to the one with their closest friends. Others agonize over where to spend the day. But there’s another category: Thanksgiving hoppers.

I imagine the habit of Thanksgiving hopping started—painfully, gruelingly—with divorce situations. For many of my friends, it’s considered a fun way to spend the holiday. Often it means getting in as many Thanksgivings as possible; other times it means planning to be with one group for lunch and another for dinner, splitting the day between friends.

I find the practice infuriating. As a hostess and a friend, yes, of course, but even more so as a spiritually conscientious person. Because Thanksgiving hopping is the opposite of giving thanks. A proper Thanksgiving means being right where you are with deep gratitude, about savoring the rich quality of food and drink and relationship, about being in a moment of eternity because there is nowhere else to be. Thanksgiving hopping is about gluttony, sacrificing quality for quantity, and watching the clock to get to wherever you promised to be next.

By attempting to be with everyone, you’re really being with no one. You’re with the pain in your gut from too many side dishes, you’re with the clock on your phone trying to gauge how long you can stay without offending the host of the next event. You don’t stay put long enough to allow the slow build of relationship and relaxation to culminate in the quiet joy of deep contentment. You’re missing out on what’s right in front of you, and worse, you’re depriving your friends of the gift that is you and your full presence.

We spend every other day of the year rushing from one place to the next. Take this one day to slow down and really be where you are. Give us this day to give thanks with you. Give us this day to give thanks for you.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

the commodification of charity

TOMS became popular because it represented a humanitarian cause. You didn’t just buy yourself shoes, you bought someone else shoes, too. The distinctive style and little flag on the heel became a sign-exchange value, telling people not only the “look how cool I am” of the Nike swoosh, but also “look how generous I am.”

So it’s no surprise that knock-offs started popping up everywhere. The same distinctive cloth-wrapped style, although sans the blue-striped flag and the “One for One” mission statement. I’ve actually heard women brag that they would never buy real TOMS, they’re so expensive, but found ones just like them for only half the price! What a steal!

I know I’m supposed to do the woman-bonding thing and congratulate her on her stealthy hunting shopping skills, but what I want to say is this:

Well, of course you found ones at half the price, because you’re only buying shoes for yourself. You want the sign-exchange value of “look how generous I am” without actually having to give anything. You want it on the cheap. You want to look giving but without it actually costing you anything.

This is especially true of Toms, given the company’s philanthropic nature, but it’s USAmerican consumerism all over the place. We want it to look real, but we want it made less expensive, regardless of how many people we hurt. Forget the second-pair-of-shoes cost of charity; we don’t even care about labor conditions for the people making our items or if the materials are durable, much less sustainably grown. If you aren’t going to do the research on that, the absolute least you can do is think about why it is you want that new piece, what you’re hoping that purse or those shoes will say about your person—and then make it true.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby (2013)

The opening of a story sets the lens through which the rest of the story will be understood. When we read “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Dickens is grooming us to look for parallels to compare and contrast with one another. When Austen announces that  ” It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” the reader is prepared that this is a work about social status–money and marriage.

So when Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby changed the opening lines, changed the wisdom Nick Carraway recounts from his father, they aren’t merely changing a line. They’re changing our lens to a new focus–a softer one.

The movie begins with Nick stating that his father told him to “look for the best in everyone.” As a result, the story becomes a narrative about compassion, empathy, kindness. The audience is asking themselves: What features make Gatsby great, despite his shortcomings? Can we see them despite his criminal behavior and emotional immaturity, as Nick so obviously does? Can we forgive Tom and Daisy for their carelessness and see the best in them?

The novel gives us a much stronger lens, both poignant and relevant, especially in the wake of the Occupy movement:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

And with holding that advice intact, the narrative becomes something entirely beyond empathy. It becomes a criticism of the American Dream, a portrayal of rugged individualism turned sour, a critique of the wealth that enables and encourages carelessness. We see Gatsby as a victim of a system that lied to him about wealth and equality–he could never make the jump from being new money to being old money, can never bridge the gap between West Egg and East Egg. We stop pitying George for his poverty and see it as the direct result of Tom’s manipulation. We see the way that Daisy, an eternal soul, becomes a display of wealth just as much as the cut and quality of a suit.

We see that hope and perseverance just aren’t enough in a system as broken as ours.

kind

What happens when the narrative lens is “seeing the best in everyone.”

...but they shouldn't, because Gatsby's narrative exposes everything that's broken with the system.

…but they shouldn’t, because Gatsby’s narrative exposes everything that’s broken with the system.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,