I'm reading "Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole," by Benjamin Barber. It is simultaneously blowing my mind and echoing back what I think. I'm not going to quote the author, but I'm not even 100 pages in and it's already stirring up some pretty good questions, new ways to think about how we "all are."
When did adults start wanting toys? The deeper you get into this stuff, the weirder it gets. I first wanted to say it was the advent of the PC. No, it was video games (but weren't those first for kids? I don't think I knew many adults who played video games when I was a kid). No, it was muscle cars, points out my husband. No, maybe it was even before that. I go back to my life's source material, Little House on the Prairie, and I remember Pa whittling checkers and playing Laura, and then playing the men in town. Were all those men guilty of infantilism? Or is a game not a toy? I would hardly have thought the men who played checkers during the Long Winter were playing with children's toys, but does it fit under the definition?
When did marketers -- merchants -- ANYONE lose their souls enough to consider children "the prime target"? And can you protect a child, your own child, from this without raising them in the woods? We don't seriously consider having children, as I've mentioned here before, but if we did, I would push hard for homeschooling -- not to keep my kid safe from other kids or whatever they may have to deal with socially at school, or even to give them a better education than I think they could get at a public or private school. I would homeschool to avoid the Coke sponsorships in the hallways, to avoid Channel One and its Nike advertising, to avoid the story questions about "If Chris has four Oreos and Melissa has eight Oreos ..." with an Oreo coupon on the paper book cover.
I will paraphrase Barber here. He says: We may think we have a choice -- the choice not to participate in the consumption machine. But our only choice is really HOW we will participate, not if.
That is something I just don't buy, excuse the expression. I'm just not there yet. I don't think buying veggies at a farmer's market counts as participation in the consumption machine. I don't think making your own sweaters does -- even if you buy the yarn. I don't think making your bread does, even though you have to get the flour from somewhere. You could take it further back and say, like Father did in Farmer Boy: On a farm, a man is free and independent. You grow what you wear (they raised sheep), you grow what you eat, and you cut your shelter from your own timber. But Father bought the first pair of sheep from someone; they didn't rise from the ground like tree stumps. He bought seed potatoes and seed carrots. He bought the loom that Mother spun the yarn on. He bought the woodstove she cooked on. He bought the saw he cut the trees down with. You get the idea.
So that's where Father drew the line on participation in the machine. Buying the raw materials is OK; buying the finished product is not. For me, I draw it a little further down the line than that -- and hopefully it's not just because this is what I do. To me, it's about the where, and the who grows what you buy question. So tomatoes from Safeway are part of the machine; tomatoes from the farmer's market or the CSA are not. Bread you make yourself isn't, bread you buy is. A pair of jeans bought second hand is not. A pair of new jeans is. These are all my lines in the sand, and I'm drawing new ones every day.
My husband said, "I know you're just walking over this ground for the first time," with regards to consumerism dominating my reading, writing and most conversation. That's the truth. I just wish it hadn't even taken me this long to get here.
(Postscript: When I was in high school, I wouldn't buy anything unless it came from a thrift store. Six years later it was all Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret and Old Navy, all the time. So it seems I have been here before, in a sense.)