Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is Mass Consumerism Our True Religion?

When I was a small child my parents took me to church because it was the 'right thing to do'. I'm not sure who was 'advising' them. My misspent mornings on the pew didn't last for more than a few months before I was complaining that church was boring, which it most certainly was. The music was atrocious, far worse than even rap. The singing, mostly from the tone deaf elderly, was comical at times but not to the point that I ever craved more. The wooden pews were punishingly unpleasant and stale.

Church's only redeeming quality was that it was held on Sunday mornings. Had church been scheduled for Saturday morning, my one day a week to enjoy cartoons, then my parents would have had to have extricated me from the television room by gunpoint. I'm not joking. In the late 1960s, cartoons were my true religion. All the talk of god was just fantasy and pie in the sky dreaming. Cartoons were real.

Cartoons were legally sentenced to Saturday mornings in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Eventually the Flintstones and a few others managed to break into prime-time, the supper hour. By the late 1980s the Simpsons, a cartoon, no less, were dominating our evenings, and the Nielsen and Varty ratings. The Cartoon Network was born in 1992, offering cartoons 24/7. This made Saturday mornings less important, so Friday night drinking became my new religion.

What's your religion today, Ian?

It's hard to answer that question, but I fully believe that the new religion of western society is shopping. When I say 'fully believe' you must understand that I have a half smile/half grimace on my face. I have no doubt that Sunday shopping gives church a swift kick in the ass.

I've been thinking about shopping a lot in the past few weeks. My trip to New York City, Frenchy's and Value Village were just tune-ups for yesterday's adventure in shopping. Yesterday, I was in Costco, tagging along with a friend. It's pretty interesting to visit Costco when your shopping list has no writing on it.

Costco, to me, looks like the kind of place that attracts two types of shoppers:

1) those who know exactly what they want, and don't mind buying it in larger sizes.

2) those who troll the aisles looking to buy some unknown product that will make their lives happier.

The first group know that they want a hundred kilogram box of Cheerios. They know what aisle they'll find them in and they know that they can always find another shopper who will help them dead lift the box into their over sized cart. Then they move to the produce aisle and buy a bag containing forty heads of romaine lettuce.

What's for supper, mom? Caesar salad again! That's thirteen nights in a row, can't we have something different for a change?

How about some Cheerios?

Because I entered the hallowed halls of Costco without a mission, I acted like like second group of shoppers. I went looking for things to buy, things I didn't really need. I was most fascinated by the stacks of clothing. I briefly considered buying a pair of lined pants for $24. I don't need lined pants, but because they were there, I considered buying them in all three shades. Of course they didn't have my size. Not many tall people shop at Costco, I noticed, while towering above the trolls.

Costco is the kind of place where you can enter the building looking to buy a thirty-pack of AA Duracell batteries, because they're a good deal at $19.99, and leave with a $400 Foosball table. Hey! It was on sale!! So was the 90 inch plasmatronic LCD liquid toaster television. I bought two, one for the living room, one for the bedroom.

I'd love to know more about the psychology of shopping and merchandising. It looks to me like Costco has it all figured out, because the shopping carts are filled to the brim. Their customers seems genuinely excited by the deals that they're getting. They pay $50 to $100 per year for the privilege. Costco seems to warm their hearts, and everything below their belts too. Those lined pants were being briskly snapped up.

I wonder if lined pants make sitting on church pews more comfortable? I suppose I'll never know, for at least two reasons.

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