On Friday, it seemed as if the country was split into three groups. Those that shunned Black Friday with scorn, those that tentatively and quietly searched out bargains in the hope of making their Christmas a little cheaper…and those that threw themselves into the ‘biggest shopping day of the year’ which resulted in queues, chaos and arrests in shops all around the country. I am still slightly puzzled by the latter category.
I cannot comprehend being so consumed with the desire to grab a good deal that I would push someone smaller than myself out of the way or physically get involved in an altercation over buying what amounts to no more than stuff. And probably stuff that is non essential, disposable and in the long run won’t increase my levels of happiness or quality of life. But it seems that big business and our consumerist culture is slowly tightening it’s grip on our wallets, our purchases and our actions. As I pondered the events with Dan over the weekend he pointed out that advertising is all pervasive and incredibly powerful and I realised that he was right. I had seen adverts for black friday and received emails about deals from various companies for probably a fortnight before the event. I’d even paused on an amazon order in case the items were further reduced during the sales (for the record, they weren’t). So it seems that without me even realising, their advertising had worked. And I’m guessing there aren’t many steps between waiting to complete an online order and queuing at your local supermarket at midnight to save yourself £20, £50 or even more. We often want to (or think we want to) spend more than we earn and anything that facilitates that is welcomed with open arms. And big business and retailers know that and can manipulate our spending to suit their profits through adverts about how we need the new version of a product and how it much more convenient to replace a faulty item rather than repair it or make do without.
And of course, the problem isn’t just about the extent of their control over how we spend our money (though of course that is pretty scary in itself) but about the wider implications of our disposable, consumerist culture on the world itself. Everything is linked. For example, we enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous morning outside yesterday and everyone remarked how incredibly warm it was for the end of November. But whereas I would previously have enjoyed it without a second thought, my enjoyment was tinged by the thought that this is a result of global warming, a process that we are directly contributing to the acceleration of at an alarming pace.
It is easy (and I’m massively guilty of it myself) to be careless and hasty when it comes to our purchases. Not only should we be considering where it was made and how far it had to travel once made but we should be thinking about how it was made, the origin and ethical soundness of it’s component parts, the chemicals used to grow or preserve the food we buy. And it’s bloody hard. No two ways about that. Even if you remain fairly ethically rigorous on your bigger or more permanent purchases, buying our day to day groceries in an ethical but affordable manner is tough. We shop at Aldi because the price suits our budget. But I am aware that a lot of their produce isn’t organic, it is over packaged and probably has travelled a fair distant to reach us. I don’t have the answer though, we try to recycle as much as possible and now we can’t compost and don’t have the chickens to feed our scraps I want to get a wormery to reduce food waste. We can buy fruit, vegetables and eggs at a price that we can afford at local market. But everything else still comes from the supermarket. We live in an area and an age where that is the most affordable option for most families. So we are supporting this inconsiderate process without even wanting to. How can we change this?
A friend of mine is trying to reduce her families waste and avoid plastic and recommended the film Trashed which admittedly I haven’t watched yet but apparently is a great place to start in realising the implications of our waste on the planet. To be honest, part of the reason I haven’t watched it yet is because I suspect I’ll find it quite upsetting and also come away feeling pretty guilty about the role our family plays in contributing to this global waste problem. Here’s the trailer though if you’re interested.
But I digress; let’s get back to black friday and gift buying. Two years ago at Christmas I quoted an article by George Monbiot called The Gift of Death in which he, much more eloquently than I, explains the problem behind thoughtless gift buying and the role of the media and businesses in our spending decisions. I won’t re-quote him but I would urge you to go and have a read if you haven’t before. It says a lot for handmade gifts and for the importance of presence over presents.
So I say let’s rebel against big business and consumerism this Christmas. Let’s try and not fall prey to their clever and insidious advertising. Let’s try and give this festive season some deeper, more important meaning. We read the Grinch this evening as our box of Christmas books has come out and I’ll leave you with his closing realisations about Christmas to remember that long after the presents have been opened, the packaging chucked, the gifts played with and discarded or (often) broken, the environmental impact of the decisions we made will still linger on. And perhaps, just perhaps, they weren’t what will be remembered from Christmas 2014 anyway.
‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes and bags!’
And he puzzled three hours, til his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
‘Maybe Christmas’, he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’