Thursday, August 28, 2008
Hey lady, do you really need that Mr. Sticky?
"Our enormously productive economy...demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption...We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate."
-Victor Lebow. The Journal of Retailing, Spring 1955.
Shopping. This is what happens when you've been suffering from insomnia for about 10 days - It's late in the evening, you're at Zellers, sluggishly pushing around a shopping cart, gathering goods for a birthday party you're hosting the next day.
A woman's voice is heard through the store speakers, "Attention shoppers, in 2 minutes, we will be giving away FREE special gifts that are part of a unique promotion. These products are not found in the store, but are only available FREE in 2 minutes where you see the laser lights. Don't miss this RARE opportunity to receive FREE products!"
And you think, "hey! FREE... FREE stuff! what can be bad about that? maybe they're giving away samples of face cream and hair conditioner, that would be good, because I'm almost out. Oooo, I see the coloured lights on the ceiling.... preeeeetty. I....must...go...there" And so you do, you and five other people. When you arrive, the smart part of your brain wakes up just a little, just enough to make you realize you will have to listen to some stupid, live infomercial, and why the hell are you there, because this is soooo not you, but then most of your brain goes back to sleep and you go on to fantasize about the amazing, free products you'll receive.
A pretty, young woman arrives and stands behind a little temporary counter. She whispers to the tiny audience, telling everyone to gather around real close, because you are special, you are now the chosen ones, the ones who have heeded the call, and only you get the free stuff, no one else is allowed into your special club. And your sleepy brain looks around to the middle aged couple, the two senior women, the college guy with the tattoos (?!) and you think, "yes, these strangers are my family now, thanks pretty infomercial lady for helping us bond"
Pretty infomercial lady (or PIL, as I like to call her) hands out the first free gift, a tiny cloth for cleaning the lenses of your glasses or computer screen. PIL says you can't buy the cloth in stores and it's made in Sweden. Your sleepy brain says, "ooooo.... Europe, that's C-L-A-S-S-Y". PIL then tells you, in her hypnotizing whisper, that you must hold onto the cloth, keep it visible, because that will be your ticket to get the truly special free products. Only your exclusive, elite, new Zellers family holding these cloths are allowed this privilege. You hold the cloth close to your heart, waiting attentively for the moment when you will wave it in exchange for fabulous goods.
PIL then introduces you to Mr. Sticky, a lint roller, unlike any lint roller you've ever seen. You watch as Mr. Sticky's sticky rubber core effortlessly picks up lint and hair and even pepper from a black velvet cloth. You're sleepy brain believes Mr. Sticky could even pick up a 200 lb sleeping St. Bernard off your carpet. Mr. Sticky is impressive, and lucky you is about to get your very own Mr. Sticky. But NO! PIL says she can't give Mr. Sticky away for free, and you can feel her heart-sick regret, because if it was up to her, she'd give you Mr. Sticky. But don't despair, because there's travel Mr. Sticky and you brighten and think, "oh, I can then carry Mr. Sticky in my purse!" But you don't get that either! but wait....there's... BIG MR. STICKY and PIL pulls out a broom size Mr. Sticky and you gasp and think, "NO WAY! we REALLY get to have BIG MR. STICKY! OMG!" and you tighten you're grip on your precious cloth ticket." Just then, PIL's enchanting powers fade as she says, "little Mr. Sticky and big Mr. Sticky are free when you purchase regular Mr. Sticky for $29.95, just bring your 'ticket' to the cashier to claim your package."
At that moment, the smart part of your brain, the one that's been tossing and turning throughout PIL's performance, abruptly awakes and says, "Don't be an idiot, what did you expect?!"
The two seniors were visibly excited and bought Mr. Sticky. At $30 bucks, it's not even a deal for some sticky rubber and plastic. Just more useless junk to fill our houses.
I first heard the quote (on the top of this post) from a great little film, The Story of Stuff which you can watch online. It's eye opening and worth a watch. I'm finding the more time I spend reading and thinking about the connections and consequences of our consumer culture, it becomes harder and harder to turn off that knowledge. The suburban wasteland, with it's houses jammed with stuff and a Walmart always close by, is the great model of consumerism.
PIL's performance is a blue pill, contained, simple, superficial, never having to go beyond the wonder of a lint free house. Reality is the red pill.
As Morpheous said to Neo in The Matrix, "This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
(p.s - I don't have insomnia anymore thank god.)