RSS

Tag Archives: consumer debt

Haul Out The Holly

The stash of Halloween candy has dwindled to the anemic lollipops and generic hard candies.  “Find gloves and scarves” is written on to-do-lists, and soups and root vegetables have been welcomed back into the home.  This can only mean one thing: it’s time to start the frenzy we politely call “the Holidays.”  Full disclaimer: I’m not sure who invented the colloquialism and I’m not entirely sure how encompassing it is.  I think it is the categorization of; Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year celebrations.  Like vegetarianism, the category seems pliable enough to fit the individual’s needs.  “Christmas” can be traded for “solstice” or “Chanukah” or “Kwanza.”  Which, as you can well imagine, does not help my confusion.  But no time for such concerns.  Veterans Day is almost upon us.  We must move and move fast.

Retail displays taunt us with their readiness as do television advertisements.  “You are already behind, you may never catch up!!!”  Even philanthropy (indisputably the very best product of the “season”) has jumped the gun.   The first New York Times Neediest Cases has appeared this week (originating 100 years ago on December 15th.)  I don’t think it’s anyone’s imagination that the frenzy starts earlier and earlier every year.  If only we treated our impending retirement needs in this manner!

I am no Grinch.  Really.  I love Thanksgiving; a holiday of food, family, friends, parade and pie.  I love how the world gets decorated for Christmas and everyone seems genuinely giddy.  I adore the classic movies of the “season.” My November and December would not be complete without visits from Natalie Wood (“I believe, I believe, it’s silly, but I believe”), Jimmy Stewart (“Attaboy Clarence”), the Heat Miser, Rudolph and yes, The Grinch.  I also love an excuse to dress a little fancy and feel grateful for invitations which allow me to do so.  I simply love the festivities, but not, definitely not, the frenzy.

The frenzy is responsible for people incurring consumer debt, often for gifts not needed or wanted.  At times, the consumer debt is so disproportionate to the household income, it takes almost a year to recover (and start all over again.)  Gift cards (their own evil web of exploitation) are purchased in huge amounts (evidently cash is offensive but an Old Navy gift card is not.)  Big box retailers are doing their part during these tough economic times and offering lay-away.  For a fee, you can have the retailer maintain possession of an item as you make regular payments (cement shoes are optional.)  The financial burden aside, the emotional toll this frenzy takes is absurd.  It is often the women in our culture who are lured into this vortex.  Decorating, baking, greeting cards, photos, shopping, wrapping, delivering, cooking, entertaining, usually (but not always) defaults to the woman in the household.  I am reminded of my friend’s mother-in-law, whom after hosting her very large family (yet again) one Christmas, plopped down on the couch with a large alcoholic beverage and proclaimed; ‘It’s Christmas for me too you know.”  Of course, she’s also the woman who gave my friend a Christmas theme sweater for her (summer) birthday explaining; “It’s for the holidays!”  Victim or perpetrator?  You decide.

So I will hold my head high as I resist the siren song of holiday frenzy.  I will affix my festively adorned blinders and grab all the joy of this season that is there for the taking.  I will walk past the shops, admiring their windows.  I will peruse the magazine layouts and shiny catalogs (because darn it, they’re pretty.)  I will pour sherry and pass chocolates at our family’s annual reading of David Sedaris’s Holidays On Ice as Johnny Mathis plays. And I will wish the same for you.  Happy Holidays!

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As Seen on T.V.

Today’s (primetime) television listing includes such small screen gems as; Fatal Honeymoons, Survivor: South Pacific (Bali Hai?), Dance Moms, Real Housewives (insert gated community), Sons of Guns: Oh my G-d a Canon, Confessions: Animal Hoarding, True Life: I Have Acne.  These are just a small sample of what is available to the discerning television viewing audience of our fair region.  But wait, do not rush to cancel cable, there is also a tiny Isis delivered glimmer of hope in today’s listing: Kate Plus 8: The Finale.

Cheekiness aside, I actually find this programming abomination somewhat comforting.  For one thing there is the utter truth in advertising that exists in these shows and ones like: The Dumbest Stuff.  No one is trying to pose as something they simply are not.  That is always deliciously refreshing.  Do I think Edward R Murrow would quit smoking if he knew that network news shows now cover; Celebrity Secrets: A Model Life, sure.  But I am also so bold as to suggest that Mr. Murrow would discover the joys of public broadcasting and the BBC.

Aside from the utter lack of pretense of inexpensively produced “reality” shows they provide a valuable litmus for our culture.  To my mind there is no difference between seizure inducing television, fast/junk food, and licensed designer products.  As a nation, we have a Big Gulp appetite for cheap crud.  Why is this (old news) encouraging?  Because if we can connect the dots, we can begin to make better choices about how to address social issues.

Consumer debt, like obesity, is spreading like the plague.  Some portion of our nation’s massive consumer debt is due to buying too much.  (Stunning economic analysis, I know.)  For decades, we have been on hyper-drive extolling the virtues of being Rich and Famous (oh what Robin Leach has wrought!)  We can not feign surprise that a celebrity obsessed culture now exists.  In the 1990s, we saw the ascent of television shows, songs, and magazines, whose general raison d’etre was to pitch (formerly obscure) brands as “must haves.”  Did anyone ever need to know what a Blahnik was, or be hypnotized into believing it had intrinsic value?  Not surprisingly, once the consumer appetite was created, the knock-offs could not be far behind.   I am actually a proponent of (legal) knock-offs (i.e., H&M,Topshop.)  Usually, not such a fan of disposable clothing, I find these shops help to quench a thirst for photo spread apparel.  There is a (more relevant) secondary function of these shops as well.  In theory, if faced with the mass-market ubiquity resulting from say, Missoni for Target, a consumer epiphany can not be far behind.  “Is the “famous” “designer” (insert item) actually better than another (insert item,)” the consumer then asks him/herself.  Make no mistake, there are huge disparities in craftsmanship, materials, styling in fashion, but there is no relationship between those factors and the size of the team of publicists hired by a designer. Once that realization occurs, the uber-marketed brand is simply not as desirable.  So the proliferation of cheap knock-offs, could in fact work to curb excessive consumer debt.  I suggest Public Service Announcements (PSA) which show who the people really are that are buying these items.  This would not be that different than the substitution of the burly Malboro Man, with the guy attached to the oxygen tank.

While we’re on the subject, how about the same PSA marketing campaign for junk/fast food?  Not unlike the restrictions put on liquor and cigarette advertising, how about rules of engagement for food-like products?  There are the easy black-out restrictions (i.e., no advertising sugar laced or processed food to children: ever.)  But then there are the more creative (and flat out enjoyable) approaches.  How about anyone shown serving, being served, or ingesting sugar laces/processed food, looked like they actually eat it?  Or for every advertisement for sugar laced/processed food, equal space (and resources) must be given to visually accurate depictions of people; on dialysis, oxygen dependent, or mobility impaired.  Severe?  Absolutely, but this is war.  We’ve spent decades convincing the public that cheap crud is appealing.  It’s time use the same approach and ingenuity for the good of society.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,