Dec 232005

Tom is on a roll; another interesting These Days on KPBS. The topic for this segment is consumerism and the holidays. His guests were Kalle Lasn of Adbusters, the always entertaining Rev Billy Talen of the Church of Stop Shopping, and Philip Gay, professor and chairman of the sociology department at San Diego State University.

It is an interesting topic to me, as I have been trying to reduce my consumption over the past few years. It went as expected, with Rev Billy giving his always entertaining sermon, and Tom not knowing what the hell to do with him. The good Rev rambles a bit (mostly anti-chain), but always makes me laugh.

Kalle talked a bit about the start of Adbusters, then focused on manufactured culture and the over-consumption that it promotes. Philip Gay seemed to be there mostly as an apologist for consumer culture – insisting buying crap in stores was a perfectly legitimate and even spiritual response to the holiday. A plastic whatever from China has the same value as spending time with family or a handmade gift. Everyone go back to the mall and buy, Buy, BUY! I found this statement from him at the end of the program particularity depressing:

“Most people get through the holidays because they will be doing it next year. The same thing, buying the same kind of presents for the same people and shopping at the same malls. And they are doing it because they like to do it. Because they get some satisfaction and fulfillment out of doing it or they wouldn’t continuously do it. Plus, Christmas is the season that you buy gifts and consume… And sorry, but its not all spiritual. This is the time you save money and buy gifts for people.”

Uh, I’m going to guess he is in the “Receiving Gifts” Love Languages camp. I kid. Sort of. The statement above seems particularly naive coming from a sociology professor. He seems to be saying enjoyment or pleasure are the only reasons that people do things? I guess things like implied obligation, family tradition, marketing, and (manufactured) culture don’t affect people at all. I know a few people who would rather not do the gift part of the holiday, guess they are freaks.

The panel was asked about how to navigate a commercial Christmas. Other guests had called in previously to talk about mall-gift alternatives – pooling money for a vacation from one caller, and homemade gifts from another. Kalle seemed quite realistic about it, guessing that it would take five years or so before you change a family’s culture towards a new outlook. Philip on the other hand said don’t bother trying to change. Dual incomes means no time, just shop your way to happiness.

When it comes to gifts, I am typically on the “I don’t need anything” end of the spectrum. One of the best gifts I’ve received in the last few years was a jar of home-made highbush cranberry jam, from my sister. Anna swings towards the other end, and is one of those people that loves to buy gifts for people. For our wedding, however, neither of us saw the need for gifts, so our invites initially said just that. That didn’t go over well. People were almost insulted at the request, and it seemed as if we were going to get gifts anyway. So we broke down and put up a wish list. But, we also included links to a number of different charities. Many people donated, but more chose to give something physical. The safe bet I guess.

This Christmas I told people that they could always donate rather than send a gift. It will be interesting to see how many people take me up on it. I’m tempted to have an all donations Christmas next year, but it might be tough to pull off. Christmas seems a little less pliable to others than to me for some reason. I suspect my experience of growing up during a some lean Christmas’ gave me a different perspective on the season. Or, I could just be a leftist puritan grinch. Careful, I might steal your tree.

  5 Responses to “I’m a leftist puritan grinch or, buy your way to a merry Christmas”

  1. As the old B-day is just days away at this point, how does one go about finding a gift for a leftist puritan grinch?

  2. Thanks Gustavo, I hope you had a nice Christmas.

    Jimmy – I hope you don’t mean me, that would mean some time in march someone will be wondering why the hell you are giving gifts and singing. Hah.

    Looking for a gift guide to the average leftist puritan grinch? I’ll give it a go. I think it all boils down to minimal waste with maximum usability.

    1) Something they are actually going to use is great – I do a lot of cooking, so great gifts for me this year were a Santoku knife and a really nice pepper grinder. This generally makes use of wish lists, and subtracts some surprise, but it doesn’t matter to me. YMMV.

    2) A minimal impact consumable you know they like. Anna bought me a great ginger ale and root beer sampler pack as a gift for Christmas. Mmmm.. hot Blenhein.

    3) Send a gift to someone that needs it: Red Cross, Heifer Project, etc.

  3. Another suggestion (to encourage your family or friends’ creative proclivities) is to ask them to write you a short work of fiction or song.

  4. Right you are, good Dr.

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