Sunday, February 10, 2008

Our Patriotic Duty

I started to read Judith Levine's Not Buying It this weekend. I didn't expect I'd like it that much. I assumed Levine was younger than she is, and I kind of figured that she would be more of a cheerleader for the non-consumerist movement, trying to "convert" people to the fold. Since I'm already a non-consumer, I didn't think I had much to gain from reading the book, but I wanted a book for this month's challenge, and this seemed to fit the bill.

And now I am so glad I decided to read the book. Because while Not Buying It is a personal account of Levine's year off from shopping, but it's more than that. It's about the societal, moral, and philosophical implications of non-consumerism as well.

For example, Levine reminds us that after September 11th, Americans were exhorted to do our patriotic duty and shop. What does that mean? What did it mean?

Honda and I moved to Los Angeles three days before September 11th. On the morning of the eleventh, I was sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor when a friend called with the news. Still half asleep, I didn't understand the gravity of the situation. "But everyone's all right, right?" I asked.

"No, Arduous, two PLANES hit the World Trade Center. A lot of people just died."


I woke up Honda and we wandered around our half-furnished apartment wondering what to do with ourselves. Our cable wasn't installed yet, so we couldn't watch CNN. Finally, we decided that we should go to the Red Cross and donate blood.

I am completely and totally terrified of needles, so I don't like to give blood. But that day, that was all I wanted to do. It was all I could think to do to help my country. So we drove out to the Red Cross. Where they were no longer taking donations for blood. Droves of people had been donating blood non-stop all day. "Make an appointment to come back in a few weeks," they told us.

We never did.

Instead we watched the president as he called on us to go forth and shop. So we hit the stores. On the late afternoon of September 11th, Honda and I bought our fridge. We bought mini-flags to attach to our car antennaes. And later that week we went to the mall, and I remember feeling pride, as I carried my multiple shopping bags with me. I felt proud to be an American and proud that I was "doing my bit" by going shopping. Oh, the shopping was with a sense of irony, no doubt. I was self-aware enough to realize that being told to shop after such a calamity was at the very least, a little odd. But I never REALLY unpacked why exactly shopping in the face of tragedy was so bizarre. I never really thought about how I desperately wanted to help my country, and how sad it was, that the only opportunity I was given to provide such help was ... to shop.


Mad Hatter said...

I remember thinking at the time that asking people to shop was odd. I don't think I ever realized how much the American economy is driven by shopping until this past year, when news articles about the impending recession kept highlighting the effects of decreased consumer spending. Sadly, the current president would probably consider non-consumerism to be unpatriotic.

Unknown said...

I was working on a consulting assignment in Asia around 9/11, and watched the tragedy on TV. It felt very distant given that it was treated as one of the world events (albeit a huge one) amongst other conflicts and tragedies. Naturally I also missed the "shopping" calling. Looking back, what a strange thing to call for. I am glad I missed it.

When the Compact group was written about in the media, it got many letters telling them that they were unpatriotic. When did shopping become patriotism?!

Anonymous said...

Hmm at that time I was in High School... four blocks north of the WTC. At least 50% of the people I saw on the subway every morning died. And we were close enough to tell the difference between jumpers and debris. My neighborhood was littered with missing people posters for months. I remember being 16 and thinking that "go shopping" advice was the stupidest thing I had ever heard in my entire life.