Saturday, November 26, 2005

What is wrong with these people?
Ask yourself some questions about this picture: What sort of person gets up before 5 a.m. and lines up outside a Wal-mart in the blistering cold? What sort of company manipulates people in such a way? Isn't it in many ways sad that consumerism is perhaps the greatest aspiration of American culture?

I don't care if they were offering $1,000 plasma televisions for a twenty-spot. One of the things you have to fight for in this world is your own dignity. And that dignity is not well-served by lining up like schoolchildren before dawn in the teeth-chattering deep freeze, only to rush through the doors like it's the Wonka chocolate factory. Ultimately, you are catering to the whims of billion-dollar corporate entities who want you to buy items that they are deliberately selling at a loss to inflate sales figures. There is a very short list of reasons for which I will rise at 4 o'clock in the morning, and cut-rate DVD players and Mp3 players are not among the bullet points.

I do not shop on Black Friday because there is no particular reason for me to do so. Everything that is for sale that day will be on sale the following day, for maybe a few more bucks. I also find it distasteful to have to shoulder my way through rabid crowds of shoppers because someone tells me that this is what I should be doing. Or worse, because it has been deemed patriotic to spend myself into debt. That is why I find the Internet such a liberating medium; I buy almost nothing at Christmas in actual stores anymore, not because I have it out for most retailers, but just because I have always found the commercial aspects of the holidays to be most disagreeable. I realize that everyone needs clothes and music and appliances; I just don't believe that we should have to do our shopping at times and days that are approved by the great minds of American capitalism.

26 years ago George Romero released a horror film that spoofs this sort of behavior. Fleeing a zombie holocaust, two reporters and a cop steal a helicopter and take refuge in a Mall. Inexplicably, the zombies have already started to congregate there, banging on the doors, wandering around aimlessly and shuffling from one store to the next, a look of glassy-eyed blankness permanently plastered on their rotting faces. Francine, one of the protagonists, asks, "What are they doing? Why do they come here?" Her friend replies, "Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives." The trio lives at the mall for weeks, and they have unfettered access to all the goodies of modern consumerism -- food, wine, clothes, toys, you name it. They have found the Garden of Eden of capitalism, and yet they are all miserable, closed off from what remains of human society and besieged by hungry zombies on the outside.

In 1978 this movie struck a chord with audiences, despite its over-the-top gore and wooden acting. Astoundingly, it raked in $40 million, back when that figure still meant something. Can you imagine a movie with such a message resonating with mainstream audiences today? Last year's tepid remake was technically impressive and much better acted, but it utterly lacked the social criticism that Romero intended in the original script. But it was a perfect expression of its time, when the dictates of commercial enterprise have become so hegemonic that it is weird even to question them in polite company. You mean we weren't put on this Earth to hunt endlessly for bargains?

Clearly my fellow Americans disagree.


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