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.)

19 comments:

andrea said...

Holy guacamole. I just realized that I've been doing the online equivalent of your Zellers experience for the past hour. Thanks for snapping me out of it. I need to go to bed.

Caroline said...

Sounds like the kind of spiel market traders use - though I tend not to even hang around and listen to those since discovering that they are also often a favourite place for pick-pockets - whilst in that lovely daze you've described so well... if the patter doesn't get you the pick-pocket will!

BlueJude said...

Thank you...I needed a good laugh. Toooo funny!

dinahmow said...

"But wait! There's more!" I suppose there's some primal instinct driving this need to have stuff, but why can't it be stuff that I want!Like free wine.Ripe Camembaert.Tuscan villas.Useful stuff.

Melody said...

Fabulous post Ellen! Loved the reference to the Matrix which is one of my most favourite movies ever. I'll take the red pill thank you very much!

Ellen said...

Andrea: any chance surfing for that SLR camera? I wonder is shopping for stuff on the internet is better or worse. On one hand you're not tempted with having the stuff in front of you, on the other, it's just an easy click of a few buttons.

Caroline: That would make sense. Pick pockets are unheard of her in the Canadian suburbs, everyone is too reserved, a little suspicious and need a lot of personal space around them, it would be a hopeless profession here.

Darcy: good to see you back, thanks for stopping by!

Dinah:Tuscan villa? YES! or a laptop. NERD ALERT: I'm about to talk corvid, but...just finished ready about a raven, who stole a 14k gold bracelet from someone at a gold course and hid it 2K away. Crows and ravens both have their caches of shiny, useless, pretty objects that they have been seen carefully rearranging and admiring for no apparent use. Primal indeed!

Melody: that is such an original movie, blew me away when I first saw it. Swallowing the blue pill today as I have to go back to the mall. (and my 9 yr old really wants to go 'Garage' today, which I've never ever heard of, but am all apprehensive after reading your comment on your post.)

Ellen said...

I'd like to correct all my vast typos but that would take TOO long. (Oi! it's like I haven't slept or something.) but Dinah: that would be 'reading' about a raven at a 'golf' not gold course. sheesh!
Adios my friends.

katie jane said...

This is so true, and so well told. I experience this phenomenon every day on my mail route. This addiction affects the very same people daily. They shop QVC and HSN religously. I always wonder what is in those packages, and who can find that much stuff to buy (and money to pay for it) every single day?

Remember when advertisers used subliminal messages in their commercials? Well, I think QVC and HSN do the same thing, and these people are so mesmerized they can't even turn off the stupid TV!

Good post!

dinahmow said...

That's OK...the corvidial part of my right hemisphere picked it up with no problem. In fact, I was thinking "The Jackdaw of Rheims" poem by ?? (brain is asleep-use Google!) as I read.
Now, time for my granny-nap, as the aft-lunch snooze is known here...

patricia said...

o.mi.god. You've brought back the most wretched memories from my teenage years! The first part-time job I ever had was working at ZELLERS!! Remember? At the Appleby Mall. Oy. I was bitterly shy back then, and one of my jobs was to sometimes get on that stupid speaker phone in the office and say, "Attention Shoppers, in our shoe aisle right now we are having a sale on girl's pink sneakers!" and crap like that. How I hated that part of the job. I always spoke too fast, and then the boss would always make me do it over again. Sounds like Zellers has become much more sophisticated in their sales techniques, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Thanks for the reminder re: that stuff documentary online – I still haven't taken the time to watch it. It will no doubt depress me.

Oh and by the way...am I the only one here with a dirty mind who thought the phrase 'BIG MR STICKY' was, um...kinda naughty? Heh.

Ellen said...

Katie: Thanks for your comment, so sad really. I just had an experience talking to an elderly family member who wanted to go back to the store and buy a vegetable chopper and carpet cleaner she saw being demoed last week. I knew she absolutely didn't need these things and talked her out of it. She doesn't have an addiction, but I'm sure for many it's all about filling a life that feels empty.

Dinah: My brain was a little sleepy reading your comment because I read aft-lunch BOOZE (hence the need for a nap.) And I thought,'my, life is sooo relaxed in the land down under.'

Patricia: HA! wondering if someone was going to pick up on that! Why else be excited about getting a Big Mr.Sticky (oops, family blog, family blog...). As for your job, I probably heard you as I was having french fries with my mom at The Skillet!

my croft said...

Hi Ellen,

Sorry not to have responded to your comments over at the croft -- August was packed with too many attention-sucking diversions.

I think I'm back now. Looking forward to seeing your work IRL in the book exchange, which I think may be soon...

all best,
melanie

Ellen said...

Melanie: no need to apologize, responding to comments is really so optional. I'm never offended if people don't. (looking forward to part 2 of your adventure).

Michelle said...

I finally 'got' the Matrix....but I still think I would have gotten it years ago if it had been placed in Austens' England....
Cool Blog.

Ellen said...

Michelle: thanks for stopping by! The matrix and Jane Austen's time combined somehow? That would be something to see.

GEM said...

I had to laugh about this post on mr. Sticky. A friend who teaches in a Fraser Valley High School dragged me to the maple Ridge Home Show several years ago. We watched, mesmerized, as a fellow demonstrated Mr. Sticky slick as you can, with the accompanying "you Gotta get this" banter. My friend just had to buy a Mr Sticky, even though I was trying to shame her into sensibly saying no to the opportunity for this purchase - to no avail.
To this day, my husband and I tease her mercilessly about Mr. Sticky, who only works until 'he'is full of lint and then has to be washed and dried off between applications. She used hers once and then promplty buried it in her tomb of useless gadgets. G

Ellen said...

gem: yes!someone with another Mr. Sticky story! Sometimes it is one's duty to shame another into resistance, but that formula for selling Mr.Sticky is particularly refined. It was like it was developed with an elite group of Harvard social psychologists. I'm sure they get a few buyers after every demo.

Hmmm...now if only us artists could do that for ourselves...

paola said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sandy said...

I have to admit that I fell for this yesterday in Kmart. Everything you wrote from the announcement to us being the "chosen Ones" was exactly the same except they sold the product for $24.99.
I consider myself a somewhat intelligent person but I did along with 3 other ladies purchase this item. The only consolation is that I do like it. I proceeded to clean my whole house at 1am in the morning to my husbands discust, (he was trying to sleep at the time) as I Mr Stickyied under his bed. So yes I was had but this time it worked out!!
Thoroughly enjoyed your post.