Sunday, November 29, 2009

Consumerism puts the E in Evil

I’ve recently begun to shed a lot of my possessions and scale back on ‘upgrading’ technology or indulging in new toys like I used to. Hell, a few of the hobbies I picked up last year (i.e photography) is on the fence of being scrapped as I look to the trusty point and shoot picking up dust in the corner more frequently these days.

Something that brought this to mind is a look at one of my favorite movies, Sideways. It gives a snapshot of the life of a depressed, failed author who indulges in expensive wines and food while maintaining a day job as an 8th grade teacher. As the movie unfolds, it looks at the life of Miles, focusing on his shortcomings as a husband, son, friend and author. Back to that in a flash.

We can’t escape marketing and its intended end product, consumerism. It keeps our economic engine running and for some people, our souls. I will say ‘our’ to prevent isolating myself as an exception since I acknowledge a degree of indulgence as well. My pitfall, for example, is bicycles. I imagine passion is deeply rooted in some of our indulgences to splurge because we truly get enjoyment out of an activity, but upgrading our bicycles for new ones every year, adding $2500 rims, owning 8 bikes and having a custom-built bike for $12,000.. seriously? (These are all true stories BTW of people I know).

Back to the movie. The reason it came up was the beginning of the movie where Miles is sampling the cakes his cheating friend and wife are trying to decide between for their wedding. I’ve asked some people how much wedding cakes typically run and was shocked to hear $600 as ballpark price ($543 according to The Bridal Association of America). This is another WTF thing that makes me shudder. Guests at your wedding will likely not remember the flavor or color of your cake the next day onward, so why the fuss? It’s this type of consumerism and worry over a petty thing as a cake (which doesn’t last) that I fail to understand. Okay if I give the benefit of the doubt maybe the bride and groom are super passionate about cakes and it will be THE cherry on top of the wedding and the fate of the marriage hinges on the difference between chocolate vs vanilla, but let’s be real. When stress is produced over something so small, it’s the epitome of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics in motion, perpetuated by more nonsense.

I like watching movies which present things at face value like Sideways because the fondness you develop for some TV/movie characters would never manifest in real life if the person existed. Think Dwight Shrute. Miles is this type of character in the movie. His passion for wine does make small cameos, making his character more appealing, but who wants to befriend a depressing, schizophrenic wine snob?

So what's constant? What passions, indulgences, consumerism can be defended as a justifiable purchase? All of them because passions are rooted differently in everyone. When I get off my bike or sip on my favorite beer, am I being a sucker just like the wedding cake example? I'd like to say no - I can get back on my bike and use it for 20+ years or buy beer at a fraction of the cost and know what I'll get in return. In the end, all of it can still be taken from me, so the wedding cake lady may be shaking her head at my $1200 bike purchase as well.

Consumerism will always triumph in a society with too much money and a disproportionate spread of wealth.