The advent of the credit crisis and the evidence of what rampant consumerism has done to the environment have given us wordly reasons not to fall into the trap that religion has always warned against.
By Michelle Martin
Published March 27, 2009
I read an interesting article online in the April edition of Vanity Fair, called Rethinking the American Dream. In it, author David Kamp makes the point that there is nothing wrong with seeking to achieve a sustainable middle class existence (certainly Raise the Hammer has explored this) - the problem lies, as he writes, in it being allowed to degenerate "into the consumerist nightmare" it is now.
Indeed, Kamp makes reference to the use of credit cards in keeping up with and trumping (or should I say Trumping) the Joneses.
This is the paragraph that I really liked, perhaps because it speaks to my own temptations as a parent, a homeowner, and an occasional host:
Whatever your opinion of Rockwell (and I'm a fan), the resonance of the "Four Freedoms" paintings with wartime Americans offers tremendous insight into how U.S. citizens viewed their idealized selves. Freedom from Want, the most popular of all, is especially telling, for the scene it depicts is joyous but defiantly unostentatious.
There is a happily gathered family, there are plain white curtains, there is a large turkey, there are some celery stalks in a dish, and there is a bowl of fruit, but there is not a hint of overabundance, overindulgence, elaborate table settings, ambitious seasonal centerpieces, or any other conventions of modern-day shelter-mag porn.
"Shelter-mag porn." Well, now. That phrase certainly neatly summarizes the underlying link of self-preoccupation among the deadly sins (sorry, it's still Lent). And boy, those magazines sure encourage a lot of tempting fantasies at the supermarket check-out.
When my eyes fall upon the gorgeousness of table settings and room decor photographed from just the right angle in magazines that purport to encourage simple living, I start to suffer from simplicity envy and imagine a dining room that I've contrived to look uncontrived, everything carefully purchased and placed to give off the appearance of casual elegance.
My fantasy stops just short of me appearing perfectly coiffed in the most understated of hairdos and make-up, the palest of french manicures and an outfit that is stunning yet genteel: What, this old thing? It's just something I threw on...
But no - my fantasy doesn't get to that point because I start to total up the cost in dollars and valuable time needed to get that simple dining room look. And though there are magazines that will show a look that costs $10,000 and then show you how to achieve it for $5,000, I'm afraid that 5,000 is still out of my snack bracket.
Besides, it would mean getting rid of perfectly good furniture and accessories that may not be as trendy, but still serve the purpose.
Or it would mean updating a paint job that was in good repair to begin with, if five years out of date. And who says it's out of date anyway?
Here's a radical thought from the street - can't we just express our individuality to our company with good manners, a tidy home, decent food and good conversation?
Wait: a new table cloth from Zellers, a few tchotchkes from the Dollar Store, maybe I'd only have to spend fifty bucks - my Visa's maxed but they all take debit and I've got $500 worth of overdraft protection.... See? It's still an easy trap to fall into, even if you're broke.
Don't get me wrong - I know that artists, designers and paint makers need to make a living. I know that, for our psychological health, we should all be living in immediate surroundings that are pleasant and in good repair.
And sure, these photo spreads can give us ideas about what to purchase when things wear out or how to re-arrange what we've already got in a new way - we don't even have to buy anything (well, except the magazine) to be inspired by them.
But to let ourselves be ruled by them is surely a mistake. The advent of the credit crisis and the evidence of what rampant consumerism has done to the environment have given us wordly reasons not to fall into the trap that religion has always warned against.
If Hieronymous Bosch was here and re-painting his famous work for our edification, which magazine covers do you think might influence him?
You must be logged in to comment.
There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?