An uncontrollable pressure relief valve for the questionably sane.

Posts Tagged ‘consumerism

The Hustle

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“By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising……kill yourself….Seriously, if you are, do.   No, really, there is no rationalization for what you do.  There’s no joke coming. You are the ruiner of all things good.  Seriously.  You are Satan’s spawn filling the world with vile garbage, you are fucked and you’re fucking us, kill yourself, it’s the only way to save your soul, please.  There’s still no joke coming.”        

  -The late, great, Bill Hicks. 

When summer ends I get anxious about the impending holiday season.  I don’t know exactly when I started hating the holidays–maybe when I realized so much in my modern life is contrived.  Christmas is the Super Bowl of Hustles. “The Holidays” as we call them now,  are sterilized ideals co-opted by money-making schemes to bolster revenues.  The capitalism I’m all for, hooray for fourth quarter blockbuster earnings–but don’t expect me to buy it.  And I don’t just mean “buy it” literally.  I won’t buy the hollow promise of your message or idea either.  Quit hustlin’ me.  Do you know who the biggest hustler of all is?  Santa.

I love the good parts of the holiday season, the real parts:  Celebration, vacation, family, giving thanks, communing with loved ones.  But these are the times the advertisers really ramp up the game.  Somewhere along the line our priorities were skewed and we started to think we had to buy stuff to make these sacred times worthwhile.   And I, unfortunately, am not an exception.  Despite having had my consumerism-epiphany, I still find myself trudging around a mall on December 22 or so, stuffing bags full of products that I pray will be well received by my family and friends.

The Hustle has been around me my whole life–it’s around everyone all the time.  It’s constant.  Moments are clarity are a rare;  if you’re born into a society where everyone’s getting hustled all the time, it seems normal.   Be it a panhandler or a fading advertisement peeling off concrete, just about everything you see and hear while walking down the street in a modern city is a hustle.  And it feels so good to swipe your debit card and believe that you’re “working” to make your life better.  Until you realize you just spent your hard-earned currency on worthless junk.  The smartest hustles don’t even let on that they’re hustling you, the sophistication has come so far that we’ll spend our money because we think we need something that’s being suggested to us.  Key word, suggestion.  You don’t need that shit, it was just a suggestion!  But even then we’ll buy whatever is being sold, and we’ll congratulate ourselves for fulfilling a need, like we’d gone out and hunted and killed an animal for food, dragging back whatever “necessity” we’ve just bought for our family.  The huge irony is, of course, that whomever buys the product, regardless of need, is actually the prey, not the predator.  The consumer always gets hooked and reeled in by the scheme.

Now, let me reiterate, I’m not bagging on capitalism,  I’m a firm believer in “bottom-up” economic policy.  But I’m under no illusions, there are problems inherent in all systems, and lately the problems seem to be more flagrant than usual.  Maybe it seems flagrant because there are more people on the planet these days….it’s easier to be observant of your fellow man when your crushed up against him.  Alexis de Toqueville saw all this coming:  the inherent problems of a society dominated by popular opinion (if you haven’t read Toqueville, you should, some of the smartest writing on problems the United States and other democracies inherently face).  You can’t take a quiet shit these days without a populist uprising about the kind of toilet paper you’re using.  But then again, I’m a father of a two-year-old, quiet shits are a vague memory at best, maybe I’m being cynical.  Popularity doesn’t equal “right.”  And you can debate morality all day long, but you’ll never come to a philosophic conclusion where majority rule substantiates any moral decision (although it happens all the time).

Which brings me to the groundbreaking television drama Mad Men.  I watch more TV than I should, but only rarely does a show come along that I find edifying (NatGeo documentaries typically notwithstanding).   The entire series takes place during the early 1960s, or as I like to call it “When Shit got Weird in America.”  Things were different in the early 1960s–apparently you could drink and smoke all day at work and tell your secretary (not your Administrative Assistant, mind you) that you overdid it at lunch and to hold your calls because you’ll be taking a nap until 4 p.m.   World War 2 and The Korean War were fresh memories, and the country was enjoying its peacetime, Vietnam wasn’t even on the news yet.  There were only a couple channels on TV, and people still read newspapers every morning.  Suburbia was a fresh, welcomed idea.  The show makes it seem, and I suspect it’s true, that advertisers on Madison Avenue are some of the most powerful, savvy people on the planet.  They don’t actually produce anything, nothing tangible or empirical, but they’re more influential  than the Ministry of Propaganda from 1984.  This was a time in our country’s history that was ripe for the exploitation of our citizens’ new wealth, the infantile stage of what we now call “consumer culture.”   We weren’t in an economic depression, we had disposable income, and no one was being shipped off to war.  Spend plebeians, spend.

Modern advertising has shaped American culture with a reckoning force greater than politics.  Strangely, whether they realized it or not, politicians and advertisers were working hand-in-hand to change the psychological landscape of the American frontier.  In a country that favors capitalism and free markets instead of authoritarian rule, The Ministry of Propaganda becomes Sterling-Cooper.  Advertisers have convinced us that money can buy love, happiness, freedom, control, adventure, or security.  None of these things can be purchased with fiat currency, only products can.    For some reason we keep going back to the store subliminally expecting to buy happiness, and all the shelves are full, we just can’t seem to find where they stock all the happiness and love.  And when we get home and look at the receipt, after we’ve opened our shiny new product and we’re wondering what to do with all the packaging, we wonder why we feel so dissatisfied.  This product was supposed to make me feel better, right?  That’s what we were lead to believe, but it turns out we bought into and idea instead of the product itself.  Now we’re the proud owners of something with very little actual function, but might earn us the slightest piece of status in the world of contrivance (again, created by the advertiser).   If you’ve ever felt this way, you got hustled, baby.

So where can you buy some happiness around here?  Is it expensive?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo    ….some Bill Hicks for your viewing pleasure.


This Mortal Spaceship

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I used to dream of piloting  a spaceship.  I still do.  Wait, that’s not entirely correct–I dream of captaining a spaceship.  The pilot just drives, I want to be in charge.  I used to think it was only a childish dream,  but I realized I already own a spaceship.  I have a vessel, christened with a name, that carries me around this universe as well as it’s able.  And I don’t really own it either,  I didn’t even have to sign a lease, it was a gift, but I will have to give it back.  It doesn’t move as quickly as a spaceship does, but it’s locomotive just the same.   The best part is I don’t have to learn many new controls, I have the operations manual pretty well memorized, although there is still room for improvisation and new tricks.  Its preferred fuel is spicy chicken burritos with extra guacamole, which can sometimes be hard to find, but it can burn pretty much anything just like my backpacking stove.  In a way I have what I always wanted.

Our thinking surrounding travel and exploration hasn’t changed much since we first settled The Crescent, (by “Our” I mean us dirty humans).  We’ve continually branched out in multiple directions, spiraling from our homelands, settling again and creating a new epicenters  for a new set of spirals and settlements.  It’s an instinctual drive that keeps me on the search for new space vessels.  If I never get one I’ll be fine with the limitations of this model, but the drive to explore, to see farther and discover something yet unseen, keeps me in the market for bigger, faster, more impressive models.  And I don’t particularly understand the drive.  I don’t see why I shouldn’t have a drive to “nest” or be satisfied with a little inertia.  Alas nature has decreed otherwise.  I am human, and until I become something different entirely, I will always have the drive to explore just as I have a drive to eat.   But it’s not exactly like feeding oneself with food, is it?  The drive to explore has come in pretty handy, but it is not necessary.  In terms of tangible existence, I could eat, stay put, and survive until death.  Exploration doesn’t sustain me physically.  Not to say living in a hole and feeding myself until death is a viable option, but theoretically it’s possible.  A life without exploration of one’s surroundings and beyond won’t lead to death.  Not eating will kill you.  So, in this modern life how do we discern the difference between “drive” and “indulgence?”

But why the hell am I worrying about indulging myself?  Who cares?  I am not a selfish man.  And I can’t help but compare myself to the quaking masses of over-indulgers surrounding me; they’re quaffing from the font of life with wild abandon and I’m just trying to find a comfortable space.

I’ve never known exactly what to do with my life, and I don’t believe I’ll ever figure it out.  I believe everyone else feels the same way– some catch a wave, others eternally wait for the perfect set…which never comes.  I would rather catch a million less-than-perfect waves and have spent my life surfing, than to wait a lifetime in order to catch one perfect wave.  Or is it a zero-sum equation?  Does catching the perfect wave soften the pain of waiting all that time?  I personally find all the waiting painful, but I know it doesn’t have to be.   There are no perfect waves, just as there are no perfect people.  Much better to ride every wave you can while you have time, rather than watch them peel by as you sit and spectate.  I’m not advocating riding every person you meet, but take it as you will.   This personal philosophy is why I’ve never had much time for televised sports.  Not that I’m constantly out playing sports myself, but when I’m watching a game on TV I feel a little bit like I do when I’m on a beach watching the waves break and peel back into the surf, wanting to rush into them and make something happen.  All the spectating makes me anxious.

I haven’t stopped obsessing about the rat race, which is why I’m given to surfing analogies.  To me surfing represents personal freedom and unity with the power of the universe.  Bank accounts and advanced degrees become meaningless while riding a wave.  I’m losing my desire for material things.   I still have desires, but my desires center a bit more around experience these days than actual physical “wants.”  I don’t want a Ferrari like I used to.  I’d still love to drive a Ferrari, but I don’t covet luxury goods the way I did much earlier in my life.  I’m more interested in moments of peace, enjoyment, quiet contentment, sunshine, time with loved ones, all that sap.  It’s mostly because I’m tired.  I don’t think I have the energy to truly enjoy a Ferrari  anymore.  Not that I can’t get the energy back, but I feel like I need a space very different from the one I currently occupy, inner space and perspective notwithstanding.   I would prefer a life lived outside, with a cozy little space, no mortgage or car payment, no utility bills or credit cards.  Just dirt, sun, fresh air, and time to enjoy all three.  A natural life is hard to come by in the suburbs, no matter how often you cut the grass.

Eckhart Tolle labels a person like me a contemplative (many Hyperchristians consider Tolle a heretic and usurper of Christian dogma, but he’s alright by me).  He said there are a good handful of these types in the world, often they seek out alternative living situations or start small businesses in order to afford themselves a degree of independence from the stresses of our modern world.  I am definitely one of these people, but I’ve found myself living a life that feels incongruous with my spirit.  And I still don’t know how to match them up.  I don’t want to be overly wistful, or worse, corny, but I can’t escape the feelings and the only way to figure it out is to get it written down.

My current spaceship has a few years and many miles on it now, we’ve had a good run–with a little maintenance it should be good for countless voyages.  I just have to make sure the captain stays sane.

HoneyBaked Salt Pork–

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Food, the original product

I must have eaten six pounds of HoneyBaked Ham over the Easter weekend, and I am sincerely regretting it. Naturally I’m familiar with the enemies of pork products, yet I pay them no heed.  They say pigs are filthy animals, you shouldn’t consume too much of it, the fat will clog your arteries, it gives you body odor, it makes you go to hell, blah blah blah.  I don’t eat as much as I used to because of this damnable arthritis, so my overall intake isn’t my worry.  And in case you didn’t pick up my hyperbole, I didn’t actually eat six pounds of ham, it was probably more like a half pound, a reasonable yet man-sized serving.   But truth be told I can feel whatever garbage they pump into that hyper-processed meat.  The sodium level has to be off the charts, I haven’t been able to get my wedding ring off in over 24 hours (the official and highly accurate Wedding-Ring- Sodium test).  And who knows what other crap is in there?  Salt is the least of my worries.  I’m sure it’s listed somewhere, and one of these nap times I’ll undertake the effort of actually finding out specifics, but I know they used more than smoke, water, and honey to make that damn ham.  My unquenchable thirst at 2:30 a.m.  is another testament to the crazy amount of salt in there, many desperate single-handed slurps from the sink awoke my 23-month-old son, but that’s not the salt’s fault, I should have closed the bathroom door.

That it has additives in it isn’t what bothers me.  It’s the bigger picture: the fact that there’s a lot of less-than-healthy additives and we’re either being duped or under-informed about it.  To take it a step further, I think the illustrious HoneyBaked Ham company shouldn’t change anything about their recipe, it’s beloved by millions.  Nor do I think they should be regulated and forced to stamp “Full of Fucking Sodium” on their company’s beautiful pig asses.  I’m more upset that we’ve arrived at a point in time where something as simple as meat is harming our health and we’re too stupid to realize it.  Nothin’ wrong with pork, I worship at the temple of pig, just like every other fucking hipster Food Network groupie in Western Civilization.  However, so much of our food supply is optimized for our convenient consumption while maximizing said food supply’s corporate profit margin.  Sounds great, right? Everybody gets convenient amounts of affordable food and someone makes a buck off it.  Perfect.  Except that our beloved HoneyBaked Hams probably don’t fall into the “good for you” category the way a less monkeyed-with ham would.  The marketing is such that we think we’re buying a delicious ham encrusted with that desirable, crunchy, honey glaze.  We think it’s just a simple piece of nutritious meat, while it’s actually a factory-raised, genetically modified piece of pork product laden with countless corporate-engineered additives of dubious nutritional value.  It’s not “meat,” it’s a “product” that’s been analyzed and modified, probably patented, and has more relevance as a line item on a profit-and-loss statement than as sustenance.

Like I said, the problem isn’t actually the ham, not its grotesque existence per se, it’s the fact that we got to a point where we can’t distinguish the difference between an unprocessed piece of meat and one that looks like a Christmas decoration.   There is a frightening gap between the reality we perceive and the actual reality of life (all metaphysics aside, please, for the sake of argument).  Look, I get it, it’s great to have so much convenience that it breeds naiveté, it’s one of the benefits of civilized society.  We can have our hydrogenated-oil-laden cake and eat it too.  Being fat used to signify someone with status; poor people used to be skinny. We can afford to be stupid because the superstructure is in place; all of us standing on the shoulders of giants.  And finally, finally, there seems to be a sincere contingent of people who are starting to wonder what happens when the giant dies.  I used to think I was alone, but now I see it everywhere.

Although I’m technically alone with most of these thoughts, I know there are others out there like me because of the suggestions Netflix gives me. I know, I know, the conspiracy theorists among you feel more comfortable with the idea that there’s a man behind the curtain intentionally homogenizing and streamlining our tastes for the sake of driving an oligarchical society fueled by corporate profit, but I don’t buy it when it comes to Netflix.  They are, however, somehow linked to my brain, allowing them to (benevolently, I pray) suggest spot-on videos for my particular tastes (Ok, maybe not spot-on, more like decent enough). Like most middle-class American bourgeois, it’s easy to figure out my personality type by visiting my Netflix queue.  Meyers-Briggs ain’t got shit on the Netflix personality test.  Talk about peeking behind the curtain! If you really want to understand someone, take five minutes and review their past six months of Netflix activity.  Mine, if it isn’t already obvious, is littered with conspiracy and food documentaries.  I know how it looks, but you’ve got to believe me when I say I’m not a total nutjob.  I’ve kept my mouth shut for so long because I have fear of being judged as a whacko, someone who doesn’t deserve to live in our wonderful land because I don’t “appreciate” it.  But at the end of the day I’m just a man observing the world around me and I can’t help seeing what I see.  Sure, my perspective is a subjective one, but aren’t they all?  I think my point is that even the nutcases are going mainstream, and we’re all watching the same stuff.  Then we post our self-indulgent reviews online so we can recruit more nutcases.  So, I wonder when is the dam going to break?  When will we all wonder if we’re the nutcases, are they the nutcases, or are all of us fucking crazy?

Soon, I fear, we will have incrementally convinced ourselves that the rotten tripe we’ve been propagandized  (i.e. advertised) to buy is not only delicious, but necessary for our health and survival.  The giant only has to decide what they want to print on the label to convince us of its legitimacy. Now I know some of you are going the Soylent Green route of thinking, but just hold on for a sec (For all you little kids out there that haven’t seen the movie, it’s a terrible film with a decent idea, like many, many Charlton Heston projects.  The plot takes place in a dystopian future and they don’t have any food.  The the powers-that-be install a program of euthanizing the elderly and processing their carcasses for resale back to the public as little green squares of crunchy “nutritious” food called Soylent Green) .  Cannibalism is grody and generally frowned upon in our modern society, but it’s not the human ingredient in Soylent Green that disgusts me, it’s the processing of a piece of living flesh into a perfectly symmetrical green wafer.  I hope I never have to eat one of my fellow humans, mostly because we’re disgusting, foul beasts ourselves and I’d have an impossible time not wondering if they had any weird hygiene hang-ups like me.  But if I ever do, I hope it’s around a campfire–I hope I get to put a juicy athletic calf on a spit myself, braise it for a few hours, let it rest, and chomp into it with a greasy grin, because if I’m starving and someone hands me a flaky green wafer, I’ll only eat it after trying to hold off as long as I can.  Might as well go out with some verve.

Do yourself a favor next time you’re eating something from the interior aisles of your local grocery megaplex, try to read between the lines on the label.  Because it’s only a matter of time until the giant learns how to make turds taste delicious, and we all know turds are loaded with fiber.

Written by billlobe

June 6, 2011 at 8:30 pm