Friday, December 21, 2007
Despite recent reports of sightings in South America, news reports and pictures out of Bentonville, Arkansas today confirm our worst fear. Santa is dead. Sources close to the jolly old fellow say he died of a broken heart having layed off the last of his elves due to the crushing competition from the Chinese toy market, coupled with increasing flood damage to his largest North Pole toy manufacturing facility.
As evident from the photo, kids are taking it pretty hard; however, grief counselors have been called in to assist and will be available to meet with youngsters at Wal Mart Stores nationwide throughout the holiday season.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
So how did this role model thing become so damn important in pop culture and what the hell does it really mean? Well, back in the 1950’s (before human sexuality was invented), a noted Sociologist named Robert Merton came up with the notion that people aspired to a certain level of society because of the social groups they associated themselves with. He coined the term, “reference groups” as being a major factor in determining how a person would behave. That’s hardly arguable. If a person identifies with say, upper middle class society, he/she probably won’t be caught dead selling crack on the corner of third and Jefferson Streets. Instead, they will tailor their illicit activities to the acceptable norm of their “reference group”. This was a nice little paradigm. It could hardly be classified as earth shattering insight, but it wasn’t a controversial or provocative theory either; rather, just a nice little piece of sociological mumbo-jumbo to fill the textbooks. Now, fast forward to the 1970s when individuals began to define roles for themselves as agents for social and political change for other to emulate. The term “role model” came into vogue and it has since morphed into the soul and collective conscience of the Nu-Speak Generation.
But what the hell is a role and why does it need to be modeled? A role is a) a character or part played by an actor, b) a social behavior of an individual, or c) a function or a position. It’s easy to see that everyone has a role in their social or professional life, but not as easy to see why it’s mandatory for society to demand the role that an individual assumes. If a person wants to reach a certain goal, he/she may choose to assume a certain role to get there but, again, that’s up to the individual. If a person’s role is of their own choosing, then why on earth should we expect Ellie Mae and Ellie Mite, er, Britney and Jamie Lynn to live up to our expectations anymore than that crack dealer on the corner. Nowhere in their entertainment contracts is the clause requiring them to raise our fucking kids. If we don’t like or respect their behavior, then we ignore them and they slither back to Mudslide Louisiana or wherever the hell they’re from. Obviously, since that hasn’t happened, people like the role they have assumed. But, are they models that others somehow blindly emulate because of some subliminal, Svengali like hold they have on our impressionable psyches? And, is it their obligation as public figures to give a shit? No and no.
The term, role model, is about as meaningless as the importance attached to it. It gives parents something to bitch about and famous people something to capitalize on in their pursuit of fame and money. We as people assume our roles based on our own wit, guile, and goals (or lack thereof) and whether we had a model to help us makes little difference. Think about it. Did you ever once regret something you did, and blamed doing it on an actor, musician, athlete, politician, or Paris Hilton? If the answer to that question is yes, then you should go get a role model.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
It's that time of year again. The bells are jingling and the registers are ring-ting-tingling, too. Black Friday has come and gone, and Cyber Monday orders are in the mail. Now we're wasting time in parking-lot traffic jams and long checkout lines, all the while trying to maintain our holiday cheer.
The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend $474.5 billion this holiday season. That's up 4 percent from last year's whopping $456.2 billion spent on clothes, video games, and hot tech toys.
Do we really need to repeat history? Recent tradition, supported by plenty of well-crafted holiday advertisements, says "Yes."
Our current state of consumer mania -- our manufactured wants, must-haves and can't-live-withouts -- was born during the post-World War II era, when our country was trying to rebuild its economy. The best strategy, according to retail analyst Victor Lebow, was to make consumption a way of life. And boy, have we ever!
What began as a strategy to improve the American economy, however, has become an American way of life. Our stuff demonstrates our self-worth, and shopping makes us feel good -- or so we think. We have to keep shopping to keep up with the trends or to replace our outdated stuff. From the limited life cycle of personal computers to rotating wardrobe styles, the products we buy are designed to break quickly or to go out of fashion, requiring speedy replacement either way.
This notion of planned and perceived obsolescence drives the machine of American consumerism year-round. Research shows that up to 80 percent of products in the U.S. are used once and then trashed. All of this shopping is taking its toll.
The cycle of buying stuff, tossing it, and buying new stuff at such a rapid pace is depleting the planet's natural resources, putting our health at risk, and harming communities around the globe. The cycle is also draining us of our time and the energy we need to enjoy the things we really value, like family, friends, and free time. Ironically, we're participating in a system focused on stuff that is designed to make us feel good, but we're not even happy. In fact, as a country, our happiness is actually declining.
Still, watching TV and shopping top our leisure-time activity list. We watch more TV now than ever before, and we shop at double the rate we did 50 years ago. It is an insidious cycle. We watch TV, and advertisements tell us what we need to buy. Then we go out and buy it. And by the time we get home, the TV is telling us that there is still more stuff we need to buy, especially during the holiday season.
It is time we found another way -- a more sustainable and healthy way -- to celebrate the holidays. Maybe we can spend more time together instead of spending so much money on more stuff to give each other. That would be a good start, but there is only so much we can do as individual consumers. To really make change, we need to challenge this system that encourages endless consumption and ask others to challenge it, too.
We need to work together to transform today's throwaway economy into one that prioritizes environmental sustainability and social justice over stuff. Creating that kind of change would really be something to celebrate.
So before you make your holiday shopping list, consider the consumer cycle we're stuck in. Consider the $474.5 billion that retailers and advertisers want us to spend this holiday season on stuff we really don't need. Consider giving a new gift: the gift of change.
Monday, December 17, 2007
From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.
They aren’t lying. Annie Leonard’s (the writer) ability to encapsulate so much into such a brief and totally understandable presentation is quite unique. It can be understood by children and adults and may even be understandable to politicians.
Give it a look and send it to your friends. It may make a difference.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Then there is the dreaded racial inequality rant. There are those that would dare to suggest that Michael Vick's ethnicity has bearing on the sentence he received. They might attribute the harshness of the sentence to those dumb asses of the caucasion persuasion, who concern themselves with such trivialities as sanctity of life, cruelty to the helpless, telling the truth under oath, interstate transport involving illegal activity, gambling, and ill gotten funds. Those misguided cornballs are somehow out of touch and naturally biased against an innocent brother trying to have some harmless fun. "There just dogs!! He wasn't selling crack!!"
To all this, I would humbly offer the opinion that selling a small yacht's worth of crack would be preferable to the actions of brother Michael and his band of merry men. And no, I am not a card carrying member of PETA either. However, I am thankful that all their (and other organization's) efforts to elevate the value of life in the eyes of the public. I am thankful that they have contributed to a reduction in those that would trivialize the value of a dog's life as well as the cruelty of persons that would exploit them.
Ultimately, however, it was not the cruelty against animals that led to the severity of Vick's sentence. It was his blatant disregard for, and violation of Federal law coupled with the failure to take responsibility for his actions (until indicted) that did him in. He's being shipped down the proverbial river for his crime rather than his cruelty. If the cruelty was to be adequately considered, he may have received more punishment. But many times, that's not up to the courts to punish. That's society's job and I hope the responsibility is not shirked. Especially, when one considers he didn't do what he did for the money. He just enjoyed the thrill of the kill. Nice guy huh?
Just dogs my ass.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Having been a major proponent for environmental responsibility for years now, I have often said that the “movement” wouldn’t take off until corporations could figure out a way to make a buck off of it. Well, lo and behold, Madison Avenue has found that ticket in the biggest buzz word of the new millennium: "green". Yep, just like the color of money. How appropriate that is. Not since the advent of the term "lite" , has one little word spawned such a wild eyed media scramble to attack well intentioned citizens who can’t figure out that environmentalism and consumerism aren’t one and the same.
I fear that today’s impressionable consumer will be lulled into thinking that everything will be ok as long as they buy “green”. Think about how the “lite” food and beverage craze averted a whole generation from obesity…. oh right, it didn’t. Today, we are the fattest society in the history of mankind. We are a society of piranhas trained to flock and attack whatever is hot, be it a hybrid SUV or or a free range chicken. Word people: we can’t buy our way into an environmentally responsible society. Just like anything else, accomplishments are earned through effort. Consumerism without conscience got us into this mess but it will take more than a dash of “green” awareness to get us out of it! It is up to us to demand a change be made. How do we do this? We do it by actions that promote change everyday, be they large or small. Here are some suggestions:
Buy Locally – Support local businesses whenever possible and never, ever enter a Wal-Mart store again. Wal-Mart should be everyone’s public enemy number 1 for numerous reasons ranging from human exploitation to CO2 emissions in both the US and China. But if those aren't good enough for you, suffice it to say, you will sleep better for the rest of your life never having to hear another battered child screaming in the toy strewn aisles of that hell hole of a store. I dream for the day we run those bastards out of business.
Move Closer to Your Work – If you long for the country life so be it. More power to you. Just find a way to work there too. We as a society can no longer afford the luxury of commuting 20+ miles each way to work everyday. Urban sprawl and the energy demands that result are killing us all and we have the power to stop it. Be a part of the solution rather than the problem. Live near your work.
Buy Environmentally Responsible Products – Hey, I didn’t say buying “green” was bad. It’s just a part of the solution. Take the time to know what companies and what products promote energy conservation and environmentalism and make it a point to support them.
Rattle Cages – Demand accountability on environmental issues from your elected officials. We all have them and they are there for us to torment. We owe it to them to make their life miserable. The more time politicians spend answering to us, the less time they will have to get into trouble. Citizens of Idaho, take heed to this.
Re-evaluate Transportation Needs – Walk, bike, scooter, fuel efficient vehicle…… what do all these things have in common? They are all better than that 4 ton gas guzzling behemoth you are putting $100 a week into!!!!
Be Willing to Sacrifice Some Conveniences - For the sake of a cleaner world give up something. Be it plastic bags, chemicals for your lawn, the Hummer (the vehicle, not the uhh....nevermind), pick something, anything……
OK, I feel better now.