April 8, 2009

End of the World, Chapter LXXIV

A Facebook friend links to this article and sez "As another person who spent a few years abroad (and having lived in less than stable housing during the early years) I think this is an observation well worth sharing. Thanks for putting it out there Mer :)"

Just a grim reminder that somebody wrote this, somebody published it (well, on a website) and somebody thought enough of it to share with her Facebook friends. Merciful Frikken' Frozen Zeus on a Stick! "Letting the Joneses Win:"

First, find an empty glass bottle and a stick. Next, place the bottle on an empty stretch of dirt—if you can find one wedged in between all the concrete. Invite the group to roll the bottle around with the stick, pass it with their feet or run around with it for a few minutes. Then observe their responses.

Will they invent new games with their bottle and stick? Smile with delight? Giggle with glee?

I predict not.

But in parts of the Third World with few resources and even less income, I have watched boys play with Coca-Cola bottles for an entire hour. And they didn't feel at all deprived. Resourceful to the core, they could have fun and be creative with lots of things we wouldn't even consider in the West.

Why? Possibly because American advertising had never told them that a bottle is boring.

Words fail.

From the other side Posted by John Kranz at April 8, 2009 7:52 PM

Hmm. I will admit that I am having trouble understanding your disgust with this article. I trust that you are not confusing criticism of a specific culture's advertising norms (or perhaps more accurately, what a specific culture defines as living the good life) with criticism of advertising, living a good life, or capitalism as a whole. So what is the problem? Why would you see that American children don't play with bottles? How come you never see children playing "kick the can" anymore? Why is there such a need to have so much junk we really don't use?

This author has given their hypothesis; let us hear yours.

Posted by: T. Greer at April 8, 2009 9:47 PM

The real fun begins when they discover that it's more fun to spin it than kick it.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at April 8, 2009 11:45 PM

Told'ja the world was ending -- they've got tg!

My trouble is that the article is opposed to modernity and individual choice. Children today choose the Wii over a stick and a Coke bottle because they can. No advertiser that I know of ever spent a lot of money telling kids that a bottle is boring. They may have suggested that an X-Box 360 is exciting.

Ms. Whitmore is upset that her sensibilities are not honored but seems unwilling to offer reciprocal understanding. We have an affluent society based on our freedom. Whitmore, and my work friend who linked, and a large portion of the population of Boulder, are apologetic for our success and I am not.

When a society becomes affluent, many will choose to spend money on their personal appearance. I wouldn't spend ten cents or ten minutes on a tanning bed or elective cosmetic surgery. And, when nobody is looking, I question the values of those that do. But I do not seek to take away their choice or belittle their decision as slavery to advertising. That is important to other people; no doubt they'd be uncomfortable at the price tag on some of my guitars.

Any "disgust" flows from my inference that she wants to take us back to the caves. I should give her props that she actually plans to live in the cave herself -- most of her ideological companions want to live in a VP-Gore-sized mansion and have the rest of us strike up a relationship with flint.

But in the end, she wants the American child to embrace the stick and Coke bottle; I want to get the African child iPods and laptops.

Posted by: jk at April 9, 2009 11:43 AM

I've been really busy and haven't had time to get involved in comments, but I'll take the time here.

"But I do not seek to take away their choice or belittle their decision as slavery to advertising."

Exactly right. People are (mostly) free to spend money on what they want, so it's hardly a gilded cage with advertisers as our masters. Isn't it wonderful that we're wealthy enough to waste things like we do? This is what Meredith will never understand. No doubt she agrees with Drew Barrymore that it's "awesome" to defecate in the woods like a wild animal. Americans have worked too hard, innovated for too long, to let ignoramuses like her bring us back 250 years. And I've personally come too far to let my future children have to "make do" with bottles and sticks.

To give you an idea, my mother's family grew up so poor that she had to live with relatives, for whom she drew and heated bathwater every morning. And only one generation later, I have vastly more wealth than all my mother's cousins ever had, combined. None had the ability to fly across the Philippines in an hour or so, let alone listen to any of thousands of songs upon command. How much more will my children have?

On the flip side, what if we started redistributing our wealth by giving iPods to Third World children? Like the efforts to give out laptops, the devices would often be more useful as doorstops or as something to sell for cold cash. So these things must come not as sudden gifts, but because these poor countries grow wealthier and can later choose to buy what they want. Again, a liberal like Meredith won't understand this. Wealth by itself is not and should never be the end goal. In the end, it's freedom that is the only target, because only through freedom can people achieve true wealth. But liberals reverse cause and effect, pursuing (redistributing) wealth in a perverted idea that it makes people "free."

"You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government." - Patrick Henry

One of the most humbling events of my life was watching a man on the streets of Cebu City for a few moments as our taxi waited at a traffic light. As he collected scrap cardboard from a compost heap, tying them up with a plastic cord he probably similarly salvaged, his little girl entertained herself by jumping around on the sidewalk. What if some American stranger had bought her a doll, or given her candy? That would help, but what about the more pressing need of making sure she has enough to eat? Think of the "MASH" episode where Charles initially got angry with the orphanage director, who'd sold Charles' Christmas gift of chocolate on the black market. Instead of one night of pleasure, it meant one month of food.

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at April 9, 2009 2:12 PM

We're on the same page, Perry. Let me clarify: I don't want to donate iPods and laptops to Africa, I want to bring honest government, freedom, and trade to Africa so that they can buy these items for themselves.

My grandmother was born into a Willa Cather-esque existence in 19th Century South Dakota. Her daughter married my Dad who was a penniless jazz musician but ended up with an Ad Agency and 40 people working for him. I have always chuckled that I, as a middle class schlub, live a lifestyle that he would have envied. I couldn't afford the house I grew up in, but my parents rarely ate out or traveled for pleasure. They never went to Europe, while their grandchildren all went before graduating high school.

Posted by: jk at April 9, 2009 3:33 PM | What do you think? [5]