Friday, July 14, 2006

The Anchoress Discusses Commercialism & Individualization

Also known as consumerism--where there are so many choices to make us feel special that we are overwhelmed and blend into the masses. The Anchoress is frustrated over too many toothpaste choices. My solution is to use the same Crest as I did as a kid--except with the tartar control. I do like controlling my tartar. She quotes this piece The Dark Side of Stuff by CBS editorial director Dick Meyer. He laments:

It is painfully obvious that Real Simple simplifies nothing. It complicates everything it touches. It does so gluttonously.

No magazine that contains 129 separate ads, as the April edition does, can simplify anything. And this is not to mention that most of the articles are simply disguised ads that recommend specific products in the context of how-to journalism.

The June cover story was "34 delicious grilling ideas." Please: 34! The article is so chock full of tips and pretty pictures, you could easily never grill again out of pure despair. Here's a real simple way to make grilling easier, and it's a brief article: steaks, chicken, ribs and chops are good on the grill but don't burn them. Does a magazine devoted to "life made easier" really need more than that?
Yes, I agree. Real Simple is really silly. We have simplified our lives by complicating them with simplifying procedures. For example, it was perfectly acceptable, at one time, to have a vaguely disordered garage, or to have junk under the stairs, or to have a messy attic. Not anymore. We must organize our stuff. All our stuff. I have fallen prey. I dislike disorder. So, I harrangued my brother-in-law into helping me organize the garage for my husband. I like finding tape measures. But, and here is the insidious part, I love to look at neat-as-a-pin, designer floored, tricked out garages that you see in magazine pictures like this GarageTek one here. See? Where does my behavior get driven by my personal needs or by being brainwashed by the know-better garage neat-freak consumer guild? (Psssst, go to the site. They have a multiple-choice, "What garage type are you?" questionnaire. Don't you love finding out what "type" you are?)

But this is just what Meyer and The Anchoress fear: mavens of everything perfectly define what stuff smart, hip, sensible people should (if they know what is good for them) own. Ultimately, we end up becoming just like the "choosers". Our choice is an illusion. We are as suckered as everyone else. Meyers continues:

We have been brainwashed into believing or acting as if the most minute consumer decisions should be both optimal and expressions of our individuality and taste. Marketers have infiltrated status, brand worship and lust for "the best" into the most trivial corners our lives. There is a Real Simple for almost everything you can imagine: computers, home entertainment technology, clothes, shoes, gardening, sports equipment, travel and, absurdly, even storage.

There is a lot wrong with identity-building through consumerism. Real Simple does this especially surreptitiously, in the name of simplicity and escape. It is a brand of false hope self-help that is really just gross materialism that further insinuates the market in to the soul. That, of course, is the great and secret ultimate conspiracy of capitalism.
Here is the thing though: while I agree that a lot of my life is complicated by seemingly "simplifying" trendiness, more of my life is better with technology and other "must haves". Before the iPod, for example, I had disc changers and disc holders and stereo components and gadgets and gizmos. I could never find the CD I liked, nevermind the song. My solution was to not listen to music, listen to Talk Radio or NPR (except Howard Shore, Oy!) or suffer with fifteen songs I didn't like to listen to one to find the one song I did like. Now, this is not a personal crisis of any sort of magnitude, I'll grant you that. But to say that the iPod hasn't simplified my life (yes, it's trendy, yes, everyone who's anyone owns one, yes, I was consumerized) would be crazy. I have one little rectangle that has my favorite songs. I plop it into a stereo deck thingy-ma-bobby and I have more sound pleasure than I ever did before. One plug. Two speakers. One I-Pod. Simple. Better.

As far as cleaners goes, it is just feeble-minded to follow the masses. Bleach, ammonia, Comet, vinegar, dish-washing soap--Bah!-buy what Grandma did. Doesn't matter. Anyone who feels brow-beaten by Martha has far too much time on his hands. I put Martha Stewart Living and Oprah's "O" and Real Simple into the junk food for the mind catagory. They are the National Enquirer of home life. Rather than being stalked by the Paparazzi, they are the paparazzi. They come into your home, illuminate it at all its worst angles and then show what it could look like--if only.

That's why I don't get those magazines. I don't read fashion magazines for that reason, either. And we don't have cable. In fact, I try to minimize my exposure to anything at all. Low expectations equals happiness. (That's why communists are so happy and so many people are moving to get to those countries.) You can never be disappointed if you don't know that white teeth, clean counters, infinity-edge pools, and the perfect mop exist. And forget driving the hottest car or living in the chi-chi neighborhood. Might as well continue living the dim, disordered, unglam life. It's less complicated. It's simpler. Oh, and as a bonus, it's morally superior.

All this kvetching reminds me of a scene from the movie As Good As It Gets:
Carol: OK, we all have these terrible stories to get over, and you-...
Melvin Udall: It's not true. Some have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that's their story. Good times, noodle salad. What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you're that pissed that so many others had it good.
The problem in America is not choice or commercialism or as every progressive leftist journalist believes, capitalism. The problem in America is that other people can make these choices which makes the people who can't make these choices feel bad. The solution then, is to limit choices. That way, everyone is happy.

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