Friday, May 03, 2013

Our addiction to not turning everyday consumption into a research project

A great many books and articles are now appearing on the subject of why Americans consume junk (food, clothes), and how to fix it. Almost inevitably, we hear about our "addiction" to whatever it is - potato chips, trendy clothing, soda, cosmetics, and so forth. The problem, in this interpretation, is that Americans are greedy, enthusiastic consumers, too enthralled with junky stuff, and too lacking in taste - sorry, ethics - to know better. It's that Americans - at the behest of corporations - have fallen passionately in love with horrible products, and if only this addiction were broken, we'd see the light and all be eating kale and owning exactly one Prada potato-sack, but a well-made one, rest assured. Quality over quantity.

And it's catchy, because it's the tobacco-industry-critique model. It's something we can understand, this addiction. The idea that corporations are taking that which had some but limited appeal otherwise and artificially creating mountains of demand through marketing and product manipulation. So - according to this framework - it's not that we-humans like fried-and-readily-available foods, or cheap-and-shiny clothes. It's that we've become addicted. And, freed of this addiction, we'd discover that we actually prefer shredded kale salads and sensible, well-made tweed suits that will last for years. 

And there will always be, somewhere, a neuroscientist prepared to explain that what goes on in the brain when we calm our nerves with a stroll through Zara is exactly the same as how it goes with heroin. And, I mean, I've never used heroin, but I have walked through Zara for calming purposes, so, could be.* 

But there's another interpretation. What if it's not that Americans can't get enough of junk, but that we can't be bothered to seek out non-junk? What if it's that we feel we have better uses for our time than painstakingly sourcing ingredients or sewing our own clothes? What if it's not our enthusiasm for Wendy's and Old Navy (Dos Toros and Uniqlo, if we're looking for a more literal "our"...) that keeps us going to those mainstays, but rather our lack of interest in turning what we eat-and-wear into a production? This would be a less sensational explanation, but plausible, no?

*Of course, I'd make a useless example, because while I find browsing to be calming, or pinning on Pinterest, actually buying stuff makes me anxious, because it involves spending money, and I'd rather not. Plus I'm living in an apartment designed with enough closet space for exactly one male scientist, so there'd be nowhere to even put the stuff I'd theoretically buy in excess. "We" may own too much. I, on the contrary, do not.

No comments: