We Americans love our things. I’ll admit it. I spent this weekend running around frantically, on a mad mission to find the perfect gift for two special people on their birthdays. I drove across town several times as I searched for the perfect item. At one point during the day, I got so stressed by the process I bought myself a latte to relax. Walking out of the Coffee Bean, paper cup clutched in hand, I felt indulgent, satisfied. I had renewed energy to re-engage in the hunt, the hunt for the perfect gift. At the end of the day I decided it’s a strangely unfulfilling process. And I was pretty convinced about the ridiculousness of buying things to communicate affection.
But that’s what we do. We give, get, trade, throw away, and get more. We celebrate the stuff. It is us, and we are our stuff. We don’t buy things just because we need them. We buy things to show ourselves we deserve them. We buy things to stretch our power. We buy things so we can get home and sit down and look around us at our possessions and feel big. We buy because we have opinions, and we want to express those opinions through our purchasing choices. Discerning marketing has targeted this need to make our opinion known, flex our power. And they give us the consumer experience to fulfill that. A forum where you can thrash about, have a temper tantrum, cry, indulge, make your needs known. Because whatever it is, you are guaranteed a product to fill that need, be it an actual need or whim.
But what you are really buying isn’t the product. You are buying the experience. The item or service holds significance because of the feelings it makes us have about ourself. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about us. We are buying indulgence, prosperity, the feeling of wealth and security. We’re so attached and addicted to our things because of the experience created around them, not so much the item itself. But what happens when we move on to the next feeling, the next new thing, faster, better, bigger, our next plastic love? What happens to our old self-indulgences?
Artist and Photographer Chris Jordan‘s images struck me as graphic documentation of our one-sided, destructive relationship with things. Look at these images and tell me what you feel. I for one felt a strange, almost reverent awe. It was like I had created that sea myself, that sea of bottles.? Like a kid staring at all the shattered pieces of a lamp they just broke. All those pieces. All those parts. Like a string of bad decisions from your past lined up in front of you. In a sense, viewing our waste should be a spiritual experience, because it really is a part of us. It is us.?
The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits.
As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action.
Read more about Chris Jordan on stalkmarket here.