Hyper-commercialism represents a frightening perversion of core human values
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — A few years ago, when I worked for the local print newspaper, there was a lot of resistance to the idea of reporting on the international Buy Nothing Day movement, which touts itself as an antidote to the unhealthy mass consumerism and materialism that has come to mark the holiday shopping season.
It wasn’t surprising; as a free product completely dependent on advertising revenue, the paper had long been known for its pro-business slant and its unwillingness to run stories that might offend any of it existing or potential future advertisers. But the issue reinforced how far the corporate influence has penetrated into nearly every aspect of American life.
I’ve started to refer to our current system as a form of corporate totalitarianism, in which Big Business, rather than the government, seeks to exert control over society, controlling whatever aspects of public and private life wherever it considers necessary to expand its reach. The ultimate manifestation of that is the idea that shopping constitutes some bizarre form of economic patriotism — that buying stuff helps pump up the economy.
The negative effects are countless, starting with the incredible degradation of our environment caused by over-exploitation of natural resources, to a disintegration of deeper cultural and spiritual values that once were the glue that held our society together.
Corporate totalitarianism is pervasive 365 days a year, but it becomes especially apparent on Black Friday and the few weeks leading up to Christmas, when there’s a cultural expectation that you should go out and buy stuff, even if you don’t really want it or need it, and when mainstream media outlets breathlessly report on the latest consumer spending numbers.
It’s a sorry day if we have to rely on consumers buying two-bit pieces of junk to keep our economy humming, and it’s certainly not a business model that’s sustainable in the long run. Shopping and rampant consumerism have become and end unto themselves, an ideology, philosophy and quasi-religion all rolled into one, a frightening perversion of the deepest values that make us human.
It’s important to remember that the Buy Nothing Day campaign, organized by AdBusters, isn’t about never buying anything at all. It’s more about a targeted protest against the unhealthy hyper-commercialism has evolved around the pre-Christmas shopping season.
Even though the movement has grown and spread to numerous countries around the world, you won’t read much about it in the mainstream press, even though Buy Nothing Day features some colorful events and protests, including the ever-popular credit card cut-up.
Newer activities include Zombie Walks, when the “cheerful dead wander around malls, marveling at the blank, comatose expressions on the faces of shoppers. The zombies are happy to be among their own kind, but slightly contemptuous of those who have not yet begun to rot.”
My personal favorite for this year is the Whirl-Mart, when you join up with a gang of your friends and drive a line of shopping carts around your nearest mega-store in an inexplicable conga line without ever actually buying anything.
Over the years, the Buy Nothing Day movement has also added some positive elements, including advice on buying non-traditional, non-materialistic gifts. The Buy Nothing Day Facebook page is a good place to start, and a western Colorado-based blog, From Western Colorado, has compiled a list of alternative activities aimed at helping you reclaim your humanity.
So even if you do go to check out some of the Black Friday “deals” today, perhaps spend a little time thinking about what you’re buying, whether you really need it or will use it and whether the person who makes it a sells it earns a decent living wage.
Happy Buy Nothing Day!