While Christmas ought to be a time of great joy, it can also be a season where a nascent gnosticism shows up in our pulpits and Sunday school classes. Consumerism bad. Spending evil. After all, how could Aunt Thelma buy me that Christmas sweater when Gela is starving in Mozambique? What a hell cat. (Thelma, that is).
Here are (extended) quotes from three sources that I think help provide a saner view of the holidays. Please excuse some of the language.
1) Andrew Potter on what the critique of consumerism really is:
Whenever you look at the list of consumer goods that (according to the critic) people don’t really need, what you invariably see is a list of consumer goods that middle aged intellectuals don’t need. Budweiser bad, single-malt Scotch good; Hollywood movies bad, performance art good; Chryslers bad, Volvos good; hamburgers bad, risotto good and so on… Consumerism, in other words, always seems to be a critique of what other people buy. This makes it difficult to avoid the impression that the so-called critique of consumerism is just thinly veiled snobbery, or worse, Puritanism.
2) Andrew Sullivan links to a critique of Adbusters and its promotion of “Buy Nothing Day”
I don’t know if Kalle (the Adbusters founder) realizes it, but a lot of people spend most of the year not buying anything. That’s partially why they do go out shopping on days like Black Friday: They’re preparing for a special occasion during which they buy things to give to the people they love. They spend every other day of their lives not buying shit, having Buy Nothing Days in practice because they either: a) don’t have any money; b) don’t have any time; c) aren’t pathological shoppers as Kalle appears to be.
Are hoards of Americans lining up at 4 A.M. outside of Best Buy or fighting for the last copy of Halo 7 in GameStop on Black Friday clues that our society is too preoccupied with material things? Yeah. But it’s still a lot better than a bunch of yuppies giving themselves congratulatory handjobs because they postponed their Christmas shopping.
3) And of course, we can’t forget Doug Wilson:
Now, to the cash registers. What is seen? Every year we are shown footage of the malls, crowds and lines, crowds and more lines, and lots of money changing hands, cash registers just a-going. Oh, the commericialism! But through the whole history of the whole world markets have always been like this. Money changes hands, and you can always take pictures of the places where that happens.
Sometimes we are treated to footage of landfills and bulldozers, so we can see the pathetic aftermath of all this consumerism. But this is like showing us a picture of a cow, which is where the steak comes from, and then a picture of a sewage treatment plant, which is where it is all going, without showing us a picture of the candlelit anniversary dinner, with the filet mignon done to perfection. In other words, what we are shown may represent the seen in a way that misrepresents and forgets the whole point.
We are shown this kind of cash register footage, because it is seeable, and seen, and can be videotaped. We are also constantly hectored about our consumerism, and how we are forgetting the whole point. But it is the nay-sayers taking these pictures, and issuing these warnings. They are the ones who are forgetting the whole point. All those shoppers are heading home to give presents to people they love.
You are shown pictures of harried shoppers standing in line, but you are not shown all the child-like delight that occurs when the presents are opened. Picture a family celebrating Christmas like they ought to, and exchanging gifts with true love and real thoughtfulness. Every one of those presents went by a cash register somewhere, and there was a little electronic beep to prove it.