Welcome Back to Consumer America

One of my favorite things about Jubilee was that I could avoid consumer America almost entirely. I didn’t spend money. I didn’t make money. No grocery shopping. No advertising. No impulse purchases. Every Friday at lunch we received our $15/week living allowance. After lunch, I proceeded to put it in a pile on my desk in my room, where it wasn’t touched until we made an outing to Athens, most likely for some of the local brew. Each week I repeated the same Friday routine and rejoiced each time I placed the money on my desk, realizing how little value I placed on those slips of paper.

Needless to say, when I walked into Wal-Mart last Wednesday for the first time since being at Jubilee, I felt a little short of breath. It was bright, crowded, loud, and full of crap. I paused at the door as my grandma put her sunglasses away in her purse, did a 180-degree scan of the scene before me, and said to myself, “Oh, yes, I remember. Welcome back.”  TV screens all around different shelves advertised the newest products, and speakers from the ceiling aimed at the aisles pulsated with worthless information about the most recently discounted items. The 30 check-out lanes were practically filled with a tunnel of little last minute grab items and were plastered with magazine covers full of gossip and “beautiful” people. “I DO NOT CARE!” is what I want to yell to the editors of every one of those magazines, “AND YOU SHOULDN’T CARE EITHER!” to everyone actually looking at them in the aisles. Did I really just see Jennifer and Brad on a cover again?

Well done, Wal-Mart. Well done. You’ve managed to make retail a corporate art as you daily ruin the souls of millions of Americans.

Too harsh? Let me know. I’m happy to entertain any argument to the contrary. (Just as a side-note I recognize that it was popular to openly bash Wal-Mart about five years ago, and I’m really not (entirely) saying it’s horrible. I’m just using it as a perfect example of American consumer culture. It lends itself to the task. )

And I can’t even begin to comment on the parenting, or lack of, I witnessed there. As I walked in the door, I literally passed a mother dragging her son out the door by the wrist, yelling at him, “I can’t trust you anywhere! I can’t believe you just tried to steal in front of me! GET IN THE CAR! GET IN THE CAR!” I’ll let that speak for itself, and I’m going to take the “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” approach to that topic.

I never went to Wal-Mart growing up and to this day, the only times I ever go are in Missouri when I am helping my grandparents with errands. My grandma and I have perfected this system over the last several years of my visits here, and I come very well knowing what our first day together will entail.

Each person shopping seemed to be buying more and more to comfort himself. Maybe it was the  2 24-packs of Dr. Pepper in one man’s cart, the piles of new clothes being paid for at the next check-out stand, or the big screen TV being loaded into the back of a new SUV that brought a sadness to the whole scene as more and more and more was being consumed, valued, loved, NEEDED by everyone around.

While looking up and down all the aisles (all I wanted was a damn roll of packaging tape), I was reminded of when I talked to Father Dominique, the priest we worked with in Zambia, during his visit to Gonzaga this spring. I, of course, wasn’t there to join in on all the fun they had with him since I was in Georgia, but I was privileged enough to have a 10 minute conversation with him on the phone. The day before our conversation, the Gonzaga crew that showed him around had taken him to Costco. When I asked him what he thought of such a huge store, he told me how sad the store had made him saying that it was difficult to see so much “excess” when he knew many of his own people in Zambezi didn’t have enough.

And so I look at the list I made a week before I left Jubilee and I wonder how possible are all those idea(l)s? Stop spending money? Well . . . ok, I’ve spent some. Buying clothes? The cute halter top was 50% off! And I said clothes… not shoes. Fast food? My grandma wanted a fish sandwich from McDonald’s today, so, if I got one, too, does that really count? Starbucks? Ha, I’m posting this blog entry from a Starbucks. Where else was I supposed to get Wifi?

So, I anticipated the transition away from Jubilee to be a bit jolting, but I guess I look at this, think about it now and say, uh . . . so where do I go from here?

5 thoughts on “Welcome Back to Consumer America”

  1. I hope Walmart is ALways a jolt for you. The last time I went was because I needed a hammer at 11PM in Grant’s Pass, OR! Loved this post – and you. Yes, the challenge is how to live in this world (Walmart and all) and not let it become our belief system. I hesitate (a little) to possibly embarrass you, but I do remember you, at 12, trying to explain to me why it was important to have clothes with a visible designer label. Ain’t it good to grow up? 🙂

  2. Awesome post, in many ways it makes me envious of what you’re doing. I don’t have cable TV at home. When I go to my parents house, I sometimes will turn on the TV…just to see what’s on (big mistake) and I’m instantly inundated with commercials for things I do not need and do not want, yet people saying I do.

    It’s a sad state to live in.

    As for where to go…well, Alaska seems like a good place. Did you ever watch Northern Exposure? I thought they always had it pretty nice there.

  3. Where do you go from here? To Alaska of course! But stick to your guns, girl, and don’t let anyone tell you that you NEED a fish sandwich, unless it’s one freshly caught from the boat in Sitka.

    Miss you, Lizzy Haas. (am i allowed to say that outside of Jubilee?)

    k blob

  4. YESTERDAY I WENT INTO WAL-MART TOO!! and i had nearly the same experience.
    zow, telephone tele ele ele phone… (did you hear the song in that? im going to call you)

    and yeah, where to go from here? alaska, yes. JVC, yes. community community community! its a pretty good place to start wondering

    loveyouloveyoulizziehaas
    poopie

  5. I really appreciate reading your thoughts on this! You are just one step ahead of me as I’m preparing to come back into the US. I must say…a decaf soy raspberry mocha is high on my list. How do we make our regular, everyday lives not so regular like they were before? Sounds like you’re on the right track with a heightened sense of awareness – don’t lose that!

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