We are a people who buy for the world. The Chinese, as a nation, are savers and makers, so their economy needs suckers, I mean consumers, to buy stuff: we fit the bill. Our purchased items stand in for us. Our cars, our houses, and our electronic devices all in some way represent who we are. Even my family’s choice not to have a TV says something about us. We’ve chosen to not-buy and therefore Nielsen has nothing to do with us.
Advertisements for SUVs are a perfect example of this. If you want to go camping, hiking or mountain biking, you sure as hell don’t need a bigger car first. I don’t really expect to see a hummer at a national park. Yet the entire advertising model relies on the idea that through purchases we can augment our personhood (of course the advertisements to the right of this column are different, please buy from them heavily).
Advertisers have been very successful and many of us believe that our cars represent who we are. Witness most men’s reaction to having to buy a mini-van; for many a mini-van is thought of as representing the final loss of your individual manliness. Yet spending 50 thousand dollars on an over-powered death trap because advertisements tell you it will make you cool isn’t emasculating. I tell myself this every time somebody in an oversized pick-up truck revs his engine as he passes my bicycle. Oh yeah, you’re a real man because you can press an accelerator.
We, and here I think you’ll have to understand that I am pluralizing the pronoun to force blame from myself, have a tendency to buy more things than we can really use. My personal failing is in the form of buying raw materials and tools to do projects that will ostensibly save money. Of course they only save money if you were going to have someone else do the job. They also don’t save money when they’re sitting in the garage.
This last weekend I saw some soil and it wasn’t frozen. Spring is not here, but I heard some new birds. Last week in my rambles in the woods with students I saw swelling buds on the trees, and just today I saw the first narcissus poking through the ground. Seed planting has chosen its time. In a moment of weakness I bought some soil and peat pots at the feed store. I knew I didn’t have time to actually do the job. So now, sitting in the garage is a project waiting to happen. It’s much easier to buy than to do, but if I spend the money and don’t do the job, I have really wasted money. We all do this with gardening to some extent. Luckily I have guilt.
I have a job to do and guilt. I am, as I have mentioned, a recovering Catholic, and I was trained well. I don’t believe anything the priests say, and I feel guilty. Is there really any feeling that wouldn’t be better with a little guilt?