Synopsis : We are now pressured to consume manufactured goods daily through the advertisements in the media 24 hours a day . The result is the shameful materialism that makes people live beyond their means in order to accumulate things they usually do not need but clutter their lives. Simple living becomes just a wishful thinking. The blog discusses the consequence of such materialism.
I met an American fellow once who had just bought a cheap Dodge car for the first time in his life and was so proud of it that he could not stop bragging about it and its salient points. He then invited me to show off his new record player and offered to play a record so he put on gloves and gingerly picked up a record to place it on the player. I was amused at his immense proprietary behavior and dismissed it to his youth and his eagerness to show off and promptly forgot his name and the incident.
Years later the memory of this incident switched on in my brain and prompted me to write this blog about what is materialism that the world is so consumed about these days. The above example is perhaps an extreme of how much some people value material things above anything else in life that seriously affects their behavior toward their fellow human beings but the media promote the materialism to an eager consumerist society day in and day out relentlessly.
We are bombarded with TV ads that try to impress you with their products and how it can make your life better if you just run out to buy them. Some even have 24 hour channels that do nothing but advertise useless things that come in six easy payments that always fold under your bed for easy storage and will give you a special discount if you call within the next ten seconds etc.
They say that there is a sucker born every second so they target these suckers. When you are on the road, you see giant bill boards of scantily clad women selling cars, cosmetics, shoes and food and numerous other products although I still can’t understand why they have to be near nude to do so.
Perhaps we are wired to pay attention whenever we see the pictures of nude women so the ad makers take advantage of this fact and use it to their advantage. Just post a nude photo of a woman in the google plus and see how many people click on it instantly but ignore a wonderful article right next to it.
You open up any news paper and see nothing but ads of things people are trying to sell to you always with the caveat that you must hurry before the offer expires although I don’t blame the newspapers because it is a source of income for them and you don’t have to pay any attention to these ads.
So we are taught to appreciate new gadgets, new toys, new clothes, new cars, new anything from out childhood not only by the parents who keep on piling up your rooms with more and more expensive toys and gadgets but there is peer pressure as well. If your classmates in high school have new I phones or new laptops then you must have it due to peer pressure.
Women are particularly vulnerable to this pressure and will pester their parents to buy them these things for their next birthday or prom day or their first date so that puts pressure on the poor parents to come up with the money as well.
In the western society people use materialism as a substitute for the love and attention of parental care so to a child a toy no matter how expensive remains meaningless in the absence of attention of parents who are too busy with their jobs and social engagements. They show in the movies how a child destroys his toys if he is left alone with a room full of it because what he really wants is someone to cuddle him and tell him bed time stories.
The movies promote this sort of behavior by showing how scores of brand new cars are destroyed in a police chase or just to show some action because that is how the movies make money so they don’t care how many cars or houses or things are destroyed to make a scene. It is all part of the cost of making a movie which then rakes in millions. There was one director I forget his name who destroyed 50 new Mac trucks just to film one scene but people soon forget such movies and move on.
Sometimes I think the incessant materialism makes people immune to feelings. It is like watching pornography where you are soon bored with it and complain if there is too much of it. A child who has a room full of toys is not enamored by it and can rip them apart just to see what ticks inside and does not care how much it costs.
There was a movement in the 60s called the hippies when kids fed up with materialism opted out and lived as primitive a life as possible and formed their communes in the desert or in isolated places to be with the nature, grow their own food and smoke pot. May be smoking pot was more enjoyable than growing food not to mention wild sex. They couldn’t grow any food worth a damn anyway so they did things they were good at like smoking pot. They grew their hairs long, shredded their blue jeans, destroyed their bras and wore rings in all sorts of places like nose, ears, eyebrows and navel. They lived an artificial life chanting Hare Krishna because that was the fad and felt a sort of happiness that came from denouncing what everyone else valued. They were the true rebels but soon the pressure to conform and need to earn made them change them into blue collar or white collar workers. They cut their hair, removed their rings and bought office clothes to show up for job interviews because being a hippie could not get them hired by anyone.
I was once in El Golea near Santa Barabara when an American couple invited me to their home during the Christmas. It was a lovely home with a heated swimming pool and they were very gracious hosts but the lady was in tears when the subject of her son came up. He was a hippie who would not visit them and on rare occasions when he did would cook his own vegetarian food in the garden on three rocks and smoke pot there as well. Now this was a rich family that offered all the material comforts one could imagine but the kid was not impressed.
So it is the material fatigue that made kids denounce it and look for an alternate lifestyle that brought them temporary happiness. It however, had one unintended consequence. It brought awareness among the young people that war was evil and they must protest nationwide so the protests spread through every city and college campus that brought pressure to end the Vietnam war. May be the Vietnamese could have won the war earlier if they had gotten into exporting marijuana to all the college campuses in the US.
Now let us look at the growth of material culture elsewhere in the world and see how it has changed the way people live and behave toward each other.
I will first write about India where I grew up as a child and went to college later. In those days there were no malls, no TVs and no bill boards with women in skimpy clothes selling things. None of my playmates had any toy worth bragging about so we made our own cricket bats and played in the park with a rubber ball. We played marbles or with tamarind seed or a simple game of gulli danda that only needed a stick and a piece of wood pointed on both sides. We played with nasty hornets by tying a thread in the middle and let them fly. Such were our joys of childhood. We never pestered our parents for toys or anything and wore simple clothes and Keds.
This has changed dramatically now. People in India have taken to consumerism like duck to water with vengeance. Now the middle class person has a small car or wants one so badly that he can’t sleep just thinking about it. Now they must have cell phones, console games and all kinds of gadgets so the kids do not go out and play with other kids as much. It is not unusual to see a whole bunch of them sitting together each peering into his or her cell phone to see who is on facebook and what they are commenting on.
This demand for cars and gadgets has put enormous pressure of people to get them at the expense of living a peaceful and joyful life like we had as children. Now the kids are morose and unsocial because they are addicted to their gadgets. The parents buy them more and more such things because they feel that they were deprived as children so they should make up for their kids.
New malls are coming up everywhere where people go for shopping and eat because everyone they know does it so they too should do it. Women do not like to cook at home as much and have limited culinary knowledge so they just get by with their humdrum life that is not very exciting. The novelty of flat screen TV wears off because the shows are so bad.
The older generation was very rich in their knowledge about how to make pickles, mix spices for a new recipe, new ways to make sweets, jam or jelly at home, new designs for the sweaters they knit during the winter months or learning to decorate their homes with embroidered cushions or with crochet bedspread of fantastic designs that took years to make. Now the women do not have such skills so they buy the things they need. They also do not have the patience or the energy needed to do the things their grandmothers did.
The constant TV ads on consumer products have its intended effect on everyone so people have become very materialistic. They are like the young crow that has learned to eat crap and can’t have enough of it.
I always admire the Japanese for their spartan but artistic way of living. You just have to step into a Japanese home to know how beautiful a home can look just with a tatami floor with a polished table in it and nothing else. They squat around the low table and serve food in their polished lacquer painted bowls and plates that redefines the word elegant. If you want to learn how to unclutter your life, just go to Japan and spend some time learning how they do it. It is more praiseworthy because Japan makes a mind boggling array of consumer products and constantly promotes it but the Japanese are not impressed and value their traditional living.
The consequences of consumerism:
We now live in the age of electronics and computers. Every year more gadgets are being invented rendering the old ones obsolete so where these obsolete gadgets end up? In the trash pile of course. There are immense trash piles in many countries where the electronic trash is piled up sky high. The poor people sift through the pile to see what they can find to recycle but doing so exposes them to harmful chemicals and minerals. Burning such trash creates harmful toxic gas that further degrades the air we breathe.
Now some countries are trying to dump the harmful trash in other countries by bribing the corrupt politicians or simply dumping them in the seas where the trash floats forever endangering the marine life and polluting the oceans on a massive scale. This on top of the illegal dumping of waste oil that ships regularly throw away while no one monitors them.
You only have to visit any dump site in America to see the massive pile up of the household waste seventy percent of which is paper or paper products and plastic. People throw away anything that is too costly to repair. Most of the newer gadgets are so complicated that no one knows how to repair them so they are thrown away. In Japan they just put their TVs and VCRs or other things on the sidewalk so that poor people can take them away.
But the real consequence of materialism and nonstop consumerism has created a more apathetic generation that cares for nothing and more importantly for no one. A young girl proudly polishing her father’s new Mercedes asked if my wife went shopping and how often. She was surprised that we did not go shopping and bought only what we needed with cash. This is the generation now growing up that has taken materialism to a new height and does not realize what it has given up in order to do so.
May be we all need to live like hippies for a while or better still learn something from the Japanese?
Note : My blogs and biography are also published in the links given below.