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Retail Therapy = Apathy

Did you participate in Buy Nothing Day this year? It’s not too late if you didn’t, as it is the season to spend nothing! That’s right – Christmas is being used by Christians and non-Christians alike as an excuse to participate in all those good values it represents, such as greed and gluttony – but you can get away from it all and just simply buy nothing. Pretty cool, huh? It’s the best thing ever created by Kalle Lasn.

This is a time when people are guilt-tripped by advertising into feeling as though they are not good friends or family members if they don’t buy all the latest “stuff” for their own friends and family. People, even as we sit here, are working overtime and then procuring those crisp monies to go and queue for hours in street stores or malls where they’re sheltered from the rain and cold, in order to buy things not even wanted or necessarily even needed – for their loved ones (and, for that matter, unloved ones…like the relatives we forget we even had until they appear at this time of year.)

But it doesn’t end here. We then have the greatest punch-line of all straight afterwards with the January Sales, which makes us realize that, had we just simply waited, we’d have got things a lot cheaper, not to mention more appropriate. Instead we buy gifts for people all at once, at one time of year, when we can actually least afford it, instead of buying something for those we care about when we feel like it, and when we’re flushed with cash (if ever).

And yet it doesn’t end there, either! Oh, no. It’s ultimately a year-round affair. Our entire culture – particularly via the TV set and the Hiltons, the Beckhams, “reality” programming, and What Not To Wear – all makes us feel like crap by comparison. We feel so bad that we go shopping in a feeble attempt to make ourselves feel better about our unglamorous lives. It’s true! We’ve all done it, to some extent, at one time or another. But ultimately, when we get home, unwrap the stuff we bought, and look at it, we too often realize that it doesn’t actually improve our lives at all. And when we look at our bank balance we become even more depressed.

In the town of Rotherham, where I do most of my day-to-day work with disadvantaged people in communities decimated by Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s, it’s easy to see: People in poverty – limping, obese, unhealthy, miserable – affording to buy only the worst groceries and meals, or, even worse, fast food from multinational chains that further damage our local economy and make the chances of success even slimmer (unlike our waistlines). They then go home and consume the television equivalent of fast food – “reality” shows which don’t require us to think for one single solitary second. Occasionally there is escapism, looking at Brangelina, TomKat and all those celebrity couples, but ultimately they feel worse. And the most depressing part of the lifestyle? The long lines on Lotto day. Yep, life is damned, damned to hell, unless you win the lottery, you piece of crap! So we’re told. Wow, how bleak.

But that is what people are told, isn’t it? They’re told it’s true: life does suck. And it can’t get any better, unless we buy a ticket, hopefully a golden ticket, because we, the people, have no power to change anything ourselves. The unlucky ones are given anti-depressants, the so-called lucky ones get therapy. And why? Is there really anything wrong with the individual? Because to me, since I was quite young, I always thought that psychology was often used as a weapon of the fascists; “it’s your fault, not society’s.” Well, sociology tells us different. Our society does have a lot to answer for – for the way it makes us feel. It does, indeed, make us feel powerless. But we are not. History has taught us that much. We are not powerless. Unfortunately some media is used to make us feel that way.

My upcoming film, Escape from Doncatraz, will likely be called post-modern, but isn’t it post-modernism that denies us any real truth? And if we believe there’s no truth, then why bother, right? Another reason to be apathetic, and seek our therapy – retail or otherwise.

The TV show Big Brother is, as a friend quoted Billy Connelly as saying “People sitting in a house…watching people sitting in a house!” Very post-modern, dah-ling. Post-modern filmmakers create a career from borrowing from another. These days everything is a copy of a copy, and any truth is lost by the end, meaning postmodernism itself loses track of that truth through its very own existence and application. Just as Andy Warhol copied images of Elvis Presley to make his point, today we see images of Che on a plethora of T-shirts on marching fashionable consumers who don’t even know who he was, meaning duplication truly does effectively strip things of their meaning. It’s evident in our daily lives, where familiarity breeds contempt, and we all aim to simply run away from the mess our country’s in and head for the isle of Mallorca. Bloody immigrants!

This is at a time when we have to stop thinking there’s something wrong with us and realize that it’s society’s system that’s really screwed up, but we can change it. There is nothing ever more rewarding than joining a cause and working towards change, making contacts, building networks, and having something far more to look forward to than the next Lotto ticket. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

In recent years, Buy Nothing Day activities have been restricted and removed from shopping malls, which are private property. How symbolic that these shrines to consumerism have – coincidentally or otherwise – prevented us from breaking the vicious cycle that is Work > Buy > Consume > Die. We can still break it, and break the back of the system.

Get active. Make it your New Year’s resolution to realize the meaning of revolution.

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