Despite my extremely jaded outlook, every year brings a new Christmas horror that manages to shock me.
This year's is “Santa Clausets.”
While driving down a side road, I passed a self storage unit and my usual thought flashed across my forebrain: that most people can only stand their lives by putting their selves in cold storage.
This place had a twist, though: a marquee sign that read, “Santa Clausets now available!”
Okay, the clever pun made me laugh, and then, as I worked it through, the frisson of horror was such that I had to slow down and concentrate on the road for a moment. These “clausets” are for people who have bought so much Christmas crap so far in advance that they can't store it at home. Never mind the collateral absurdities about having to hide all this crap so that Junior doesn't creep into MommyDaddy's closet and find it in advance. The reason for renting a crap room is to hold crap that they don't have room for... but will have to have crammed in after the glorious holiday anyway.
Far from a clever pun and a mild moment of good-cheer humor, so rare for Renegades these days, things like “Santa Clausets” are another symptom of the deep sickness that consumer mania has brought to the peak fever of Christmas.
Christmas and Halloween have more in common each year — H'ween gets more crap and Xmas gets scarier.
Inequality is the natural state of humanity.
Equality is the goal of heroes.
Be a hero.
So it's here again - Black Friday and all its kittens. O Joy.
I had sincere hopes that the economic woes of the last few years would inspire people to rethink their role in the whirlwind of consumer greed and destruction. Alas, besides a few passing op-eds and a passel of posturing poltroons (I'm looking at you, Occupiers), the notion that just maybe we bought, bought, bought and spent, spent, spent ourselves into that horrific crash-landing seems to have evaporated. We are once again heeding the clarion call of those whose “solution” for us all is get back to pouring gasoline on the fires of consumption. “Only by going out and spending,” they wail, “can we return to prosperity and economic health!”
Well, bullfeathers, to put it politely. What they suggest is that we re-acquire the disease that nearly killed us as individuals, families, communities, nations and a planet... and pretend that this time there will be no consequences for living our lives to work and earn and spend and acquire and consume without limit.
There are consequences. We've seen them; many of us are still living them.
But in an era where “Black Friday” has become an institution and now joined by “Cyber Monday” (this year dedicated to the passing of the messiah, St. Jobs - and read "jobs" in either context, there) and the shiny-new “Small Business Saturday,” it's becoming clear that the backslide from sanity is now a full-scale retreat... or rout.
Only the Sunday after Thanksgiving, that wonderfully un-commercializable holiday, remains unmarked by a getcher-greed-on monicker and special efforts to sell crap... but wait til next year. “Spend the Rest Sunday” perhaps? “Slow Suckers Sunday”? “Crap We Couldn't Move on Friday Sunday”? I dunno.
Far be it from me to crowd in and co-opt the weekly day of rest and football. So I suggest that Renegades claim the Tuesday after T'giving as ours. Call it “Wake Up (a) Little Tuesday” and we've already got the tune for a holiday song.
Or just maybe, a few more people will wake up from their turkey, ham, tofurkey and turducken-induced hibernation on Friday morning, yawn, and go back to sleep knowing that extending the best holiday of the year into a second day is much more precious.
And, of course, Friday is always “Buy Nothing Day” as well. Thou shalt remember it and keep it, wholly.
Join me in the Renegade's Mantra: “I don't buy it any more!” Now go eat.
I once thought the case of the genuine artist who did nothing except for what maximum amount they could extract from their work was a fairly modern thing. Hollywood seems to have a lock on the model these days, and perhaps always has. There are any number of high-profile creative types around who, in another era or had their brains not fused to their wallets, might be doing lesser-paying but infinitely more rewarding work.
But even that “in another era” gets slippery, I find. I am reading Norman Rockwell's autobiography, the 1988 update of the 1960 original My Adventures as an Illustrator. All I will say in the manner of a review is that Rockwell appears to be every admirable thing you'd imagine of him, while managing to be more interesting and complex than most might have ever guessed. Recommended reading.
There is a long passage that talks about his admiration for the noted illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, who dominated commercial illustration in the early part of the 20th century. He was sufficiently older than Rockwell for art-student Norman to have admired his work and aspired to someday be on the same level (which, arguably, he surpassed). By a series of quirks, the men met after Rockwell was established but still rising, and remained friends for some 25 years.
Although Rockwell's admiration for Leyendecker shines through, years after the older man's death, he spares no feelings in describing his predecessor's work ethic:
But he was [...] living splendidly—the mansion, servants, an automobile. Joe believed that an artist should live just a little bit beyond his means so that there would always be a challenge. “Buy more than you can afford,” he used to say, “and you’ll never stop working or fret so over a picture that it never gets done. If every day you have to save yourself from ruin, every day you’ll work. And work hard.” But this is a bad credo for an artist to have. If he adheres to it, his work suffers, for finishing the picture, rather than the picture itself, becomes the primary consideration. And he takes on too much work, not more than he can do but more than he can do well. Joe took on advertising jobs—a lot of them, all he could get. And magazine covers. And illustrations. And posters. As a result, when someone offered him a job which was badly paid but artistically challenging, something which would raise his stature as an artist, he had to refuse it. He was asked to do the ceilings in the New York Public Library once. But he turned it down. Too busy. Couldn’t let up on his commercial jobs; he needed the money. (p.167)
Boggle. Here's an artist as acclaimed as any in his day or in the history of his field, and he deliberately set himself up to be a whore, whipping out his brush only when paid enough to do so... and self-bound to whipping it out for a check whether he wanted to or not. Leyendecker was successful enough that he could have lived well while calling his own artistic shots, but he chose to deliberately exceed his financial limits to force himself to grind out commercial work to support that cycle. Instead of accepting the commission to paint the NYCPL ceiling, a job that would reward millions over the years and enshrine his name in common art history, he turned out now-forgotten advertising and book illustrations.
Why would anyone with talent, even the most minor talent, choose to prostitute it only to foster the life of a whore? Furthermore, why would anyone choose to live the life of a whore, doing hated work or working far beyond needed limits, just to support the life of a crap junkie?
I find it whorrifying. And can only strengthen my resolve to break the back of a cycle that convinces people that whoring themselves in job and career paths only taken and sustained to support endless see-want-buy is normal and desirable. Or even reasonable. “Twenty bucks, same as in town,” folks.
A new user pointed me to a site that used a great phrase that's somehow escaped my notice until now: Brandalism. It's defined as "the defacement of public buildings and spaces by corporate ads, logos, and other forms of branding (brand + vandalism)."
I suppose all advertising could be lumped into this concept, but it mostly means the branding of buildings, events and places with corporate or product names... such as damned near every sports venue in the US. Such purchase (and abuse) of "naming rights" forms completely spurious associations in the consumer mind and pollutes every event associated with them... and let's not even follow that into corporate-branded centers of research and education.
The ultimate form of brandalism might be the visually painful, landscape-wrecking use of cartoonitecture - those immense, oversized, toy-like, cartoonish buildings used in highway-side malls, designed to attract our flickering attention the way waving puppies attracts small children. Bad enough we have to look at temples of shopping lust as we drive... worse that it all looks like the place Mickey Mouse buys his suspenders.
Renegades need to work against both trends. They're one of the more corrosive and belittling aspects of consumerist culture, and they need to go.
Ah, yes, Super Bowl Sunday, the day even the most sensible American consumers take leave of their senses. More so, in many ways, than on Christmas.
It's just a freakin' football game, people. It's not the Second (or XXXII) Coming. If you're a football fan, it's a great day. If you're a (genuine) fan of either team, it's better. For everyone else... it should be something to ask the fans about on Monday. But no, it's the single biggest hype-day on the media calendar. People who don't know squat about advertising (except for being bitch-slapped around by it 24/7/365) know how high the rate is for 30-second ads. People who don't follow football become wise men about the starting quarterbacks and their lives. People who don't know football from foot fungus watch it — heaven help us — for the ads. There is almost as much hype, before, during and after the game, for the ads themselves and How Wonderful They Were.
Who cares. Seriously. Who the frack cares?
- Renegades who aren't football fans the rest of the blessedly short season don't watch the Super Bowl.
- Renegades don't buy a new and bigger TV the week before the game.
- Renegades mute the commercials and pay attention to something else until the next fragment of real game play.
- Renegades make a note to boycott any product advertised during the game — just ’cuz.
- Renegades don't spend more money on a game party than they did for Christmas or their last ends-in-zero anniversary weekend.
Real Renegades will read this before the game is over, because they haven't been sitting in front of the TV getting slammed by endless ads wrapped around pre-pre-pre-game coverage since 9:00 a.m.
The truly outstanding Renegade will have responded “The Super Bowl is today?” to today's lede.
If there's a short list of things I don't buy any more, the entire Super Bowl sell is on it.
A little-noticed movement with roots primarily in France, Spain and other parts of Europe may be one of the Renegade Consumer movement's strongest allies in the years to come.
The movement, which originated nearly a century ago and came into prominence in the 1970s, is known as La Décroissance − French that translates as “degrowth.” It represents a school of thought that, put simply, believes that world economies should de-grow − shrink − to create a more sane and sustainable future for all.*
The core of the décroissance movement is the magazine of that name — Journal La Décroissance — which can be found at the website www.laDecroissance.com. Unfortunately, the magazine and web site (and nearly all of the supporting and other links) are exclusively in French. AltaVista will do a decent job of translation, if you're used to reading things in Babelfishian (and/or have several years of rusty high-school French, as I do), but it looks as if one group or another is going to have to cross the linguistic barrier to move ahead. At the risk of seeming Francophobic (which I am not) and USAcentric (which I strive not to be) I'll point out that the magazine and movement have been around quite a while and are almost unknown outside of France and southern Europe. Maybe it's time to give the English-speaking world an easier entrée à la bagarre, eh, copains?
An arm of the movement, or perhaps an ally, is the Casseurs de [la] Pub — which translates as “breakers of advertising” or, I assume... AdBusters. There does not seem to be any formal linkage between the US AdBusters organization and this splinter of the décroissance movement, but there is undoubtedly some infoleakage one direction or the other. Interesting.
The reigning pundit of décroissance, Serge LaTouche, is an emeritus professor who more or less coined the term at a 2001 UNESCO conference but now partially disavows it, saying his intent was closer to “a-growth” in the sense of apolitical, atheist etc. — “not growth” or halting growth rather than de-growth. In any case, this notion is congruent with the distant Renegade aim of a slowed national and global economy, and is thus worth exploring.
Having only fumbled around the edges of décroissance writings, I am hesitant to say that it is truly a companion movement. I suspect it gets more deeply into specific politics than we do, and advocates strongly for egalitarian use of resources — something we are in tune with but which lies outside our apolitical and dogma-free stance.
A more general web site with material in several languages (primarily French, English and the southern Spanish dialect Catalan) can be found at www.degrowth.net. I invite all Renegades to look into the décroissance movement and its publications. Those of you who are more fluent in French and the other core languages are invited to post abstracts and summaries of articles and any commentary you see as useful to the Renegade movement, or a potential alliance.
In any case, it's worth keeping this movement on the Renegade radar.
* Being a word with an accented character in it, the site software won't permit it to be used for a title or index. Merde. If you don't wish to look like a barbarian, you can enter the accented e using Alt+0233 on Windows numeric keypads.
One of the things that strikes me about many “alternative” systems is how much they are based on scrounging the leavings of another system — often the primary system that the rebels profess to loathe. While often well-intentioned, these efforts are ultimately futile and counterproductive.
One such movement is the biodiesel fuel effort, which modifies vehicles and processes leftover restaurant fat to fuel them. It's an interesting effort, and those who drive around with POWERED BY BIODIESEL bumperstickers (I live near a famous ag university, and see such things more frequently than some) are to be applauded... but not necessarily admired. After all, there are only so many McDonald's waste fat bins to mine for this fuel, and besides, used fryer oil is recycled and thus not directly a waste commodity in the first place. So biodiesel is an “alternative” that can only function in a limited way, and only as long as the parent system supports it!
Another example has been the private spaceflight industry. I regard the success of nongovernmental spaceflight as nearly on a par of importance with the destruction of consumerism, so it's a topic I've paid attention to over the years. I have been mostly disappointed and in gatherings of fellow spaceheads, I am often the sour wet blanket poking holes in their glossy scenarios. The problem with nearly all private efforts until the most recent few years is that the technology was scavenged from the US and Soviet space efforts — engines, fuel systems, control equipment and sometimes entire rockets were picked up in salvage yards. Great, wonderful, cool and all that... but it's no more a basis for a viable private spaceflight endeavor than trying to start an alternative car manufacturer by pillaging junkyards for used Pinto engines. Not until the recent success of SpaceX's Falcon rocket powered by an engine of SpaceX's own design and construction has private spaceflight had a potentially sustainable future.
In rummaging the web for fellow travelers to the Renegade movement, I've uncovered quite a few sites and small groups waving the anti-consumerist banner, but doing so over a patchwork of ideas and praxis that don't represent any real, sustainable whole. Some “anticonsumerism” sites miss the point by a wide margin, thinking they are serving that goal by promoting artful and clever ways to get discounts and use coupons. While the Renegade movement is ultimately about reducing individual and family spending, that reduction is a result of learning not to buy entire classes of crap, not by finding ways to save money buying crap!
Then there are the sites that put even more mislabeled efforts under the banner. One example, which I'll refrain from naming, is a general anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalism rant info site that uses “anticonsumerism” as a hook on which to hang a variety of activities. A number of these activities are openly illegal (see the pages on why it's okay to steal from corporations, for example) but the vast amount are simply scrounging — how to get things without paying for them by the equivalents of dumpster-diving. Were this a site dedicated to survival on minimal income, it would be (mostly) laudable... but nothing in it is sustainable as an alternative social, economic or consumer system. In the end, it has nothing to do with anticonsumerism except that the proprietors have chosen to interpret “consumerism” as buying life's necessities, and it does nothing “anticonsumerist” except tell people how to get/do things for free by scavenging them from the current system.
“But Jake,” I am importuned, “isn't any effort that bypasses consumer spending and reduces waste a good thing?” Sure it is. You'll never hear me decry alternative energy or recycle-reuse-repurpose efforts. They are, however, patchwork and often parasitical, requiring a host-body system to sustain them. They are nearly impossible to make beneficial beyond an individual or small-group level, and rarely on an indefinite basis. They are thus not solutions in any long-term sense, and I will cry bogus on anyone who tries to promote them as such.
I am leery of many so-called alternative systems - operating systems, economic systems, dietary systems - because to be successful any system needs to be sustainable. Systems which feed off of a parent system and cannot ever replace that parent system in their own right are not sustainable and thus not worthy of consideration by anyone seeking real change. If you drive a car for two years on scavenged biofuel, or launch two test rockets using old NASA engines, or put together a groovy bookcase from dumpster discards, you're individually ahead of the game... but are nowhere towards contributing to or fostering a real alternative for others, or for the long term.
Scrounging, scavenging and improvising can all be good, useful things. But they aren't solutions. Likewise, promoting free-living and money-saving techniques can be useful to many. But they aren't anti-consumerism. The Renegade movement is about real change — changing the mindset and habit of a large enough population that the consumerism spiral collapses of its own accord, leaving behind real economic security and freedom.
There was always hope in the Renegade ranks that the Great Recession would produce a permanent reordering of consumer priorities − that people subjected to the economic unpleasantness of the last few years would wake up and realize that they were being scammed. Sadly, the trend is otherwise, and retailers are celebrating a substantial upturn in Xmas takings.
There is even a trope in much advertising that resembles the immediate post-war ads of the late 1940s - “you've been deprived, now indulge!” I can see this setting off an explosion of consumer gluttony and the two-pronged horror of a false “recovery” (leading to more rounds of poor decision making by families and nations) and another round of individual and family financial disaster when the castles in the air crash. Again.
It's to my great regret that the Renegade movement did not have more traction before the Recession and thus have a better platform from which to shout while people might have been more receptive. However, we can't look back now; we have only the future.
Happy 2011 to all, and to all a good fight.