Imagine if, the day after Thanksgiving, the mall was deserted, the only sight a plastic bag drifting across the tiled floor. The emptiness is difficult to picture; when are malls not stuffed to capacity, least of all on the infamous “Black Friday”?
Yet some organizations support anti-consumerism, especially during this time of year when consumption skyrockets. One of these organizations, Adbusters Media Foundation, created Buy Nothing Day, which takes place the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Traditionally, that day is the biggest shopping event of the year, with stampedes of shoppers rushing to take advantage of sales.
The name “Black Friday” should not be confused with “Black Tuesday” which is a reference to the 1929 stock market crash. But, particularly in light of the current economy which is looking more like “Black Tuesday” with each new bailout plan proposed, people are seeking alternatives to intensive consumerism.
“Consumer spending appears likely to fall next year for the first time since 1980 and perhaps by the largest amount since 1942,” David Leonhardt reported in a recent New York Times article.
That's where Buy Nothing Day comes in. In America it is the day after Thanksgiving, but is also recognized internationally the day after America's Buy Nothing Day. Instead of flocking to the malls to make purchases, people are encouraged to seek other forms of gift-giving.
“As the planet starts heating up, maybe it's time to finally go cold turkey,” the Adbusters Web site says. “Take the personal challenge by locking up your debit card, your credit cards, your money clip, and see what it feels like to opt out of consumer
culture completely, even if only for 24 hours.”
During the week of Nov. 24, the AS Environmental Center, along with the Recycle Center, the Office of Sustainability and other volunteers will be tabling on Vendors Row. Prior to this event, ResRAPs have been collecting T-shirt donations in the dorms. These shirts will be available at the Vendors Row for people to stencil “BND” on them. According to Kayla Henson,co-coordinator of the Environmental Center, the shirts will spread awareness and serve as a visual reminder of Buy Nothing Day.
“Our idea is to give students something they can do on campus,” Henson said. “[We're] trying to get people to think outside the box with their gift-giving.”
The Environmental Center will also have copies of the movie “What Would Jesus Buy?” available to rent from the Environmental Center and Residence Halls.
Produced by Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me” fame, the movie tags along Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir as they embark on a cross-country journey to spread the message of ending overconsumption and materialism, reminding people what the holiday season is all about.
“We're encouraging people to have showings of it at their house[s],” Henson said.
Additionally, the Environmental Center will be hosting “Tis the Season to be Crafty” at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3 in Viking Union 565. The event will provide craft materials and gift ideas contributed by the AS Outback Farm, AS Recycle Center, Herb Crafter's club and others.
“All [the projects] include making things out of
recycled materials for gifts,” Henson said. “[We're]
promoting buying sustainable, local products instead of going to malls.”
Buy Nothing Day epitomizes the spirit of standing up to consumer culture, Henson said. The pressure to focus on getting as many material items as possible is the wrong way to look at the holiday, she said.
“There's a lot of pressure on everyone to buy things,” Henson said. “Word of mouth and discussions create change.”
Henson encouraged spreading the message of reducing consumerism and creating new holiday traditions, such as a family hike and handmade gifts.
Heather Maillet and E. Harris, both post-baccalaureate students, plan on making presents for family and friends instead of hitting the malls.
“I'll make presents for people; I'm not much of a mall person,” Harris said. “I would rather make gifts for my family and friends than go to malls.”
“I'll probably knit most of my gifts anyway. I'm not much of a mall frequenter [either],” Maillet said.
Buy Nothing Day targets advertising as one of the
factors of consumerism, as well as pressure from family and friends to “get in the spirit” of the season,” Henson said. That is why dialogue about consumerism and different ways to celebrate the holiday season are important, Henson said.
On the other side of the consumerism debate are those who maintain that advertising has little to do with actual consumerism. In his article “Natural Urges: It Isn't Advertising That Makes Us Want to Buy”, published online at utne.com, Michael Schudson argues that consumerism is a natural urge and that it is the products, not the ads that make us want to buy things.
“If the things we buy did not satisfy or seduce, the images conjured up by advertising would ordinarily fade,” he writes. “But is consuming so unpleasant? Is wanting to be fashionable so unheard of that a multi-billion-dollar enterprise is required to coax us into it? Is desire for possessions so rare? Is pleasure in goods so unusual a joy?”
Schudson's argument follows that advertising provides us with more choices instead of limiting them, and is part of the democratic process.
“It [advertising] unifies us around a belief in difference, variety, abundance, pluralism, choice, democracy,” he writes. “Consumer culture and advertising, along with elections, are the most important institutions that promote the American ideology of choice.”
Henson acknowledged that consumerism is major
factor in our society, but one of the purposes of Buy Nothing Day is to return the focus of the season to the relationships that we have with family and friends that fulfill our lives better than materials can. She explained how people are often working so hard to buy things that they do not have time to spend with the important people in their lives.
“Doing activities together can be a lot more rewarding,” Henson said.