27 November 2009

A long post about nothing

Yesterday, of course, was Thanksgiving in America, their national holiday that has something to do with giving small-pox infected blankets and syphilis to the indigenous peoples whose land they stole, while making them pay beads, shells and other wampum for the privilege of being conquered. In the pilgrims' defense, the indigenous folk almost certainly had weapons of mass destruction, oil, or just hated freedom (specifically, their own). In return the indigenous peoples gave the non-Native Americans High Fructose Corn Syrup and tobacco which between them kill almost 750,000 Americans each and every year. Slow and steady wins the race I say.

While living in the States the Very Understanding Girlfriend and I would host a Thanksgiving dinner each year, taking in the waifs and strays amongst our American friends who somehow didn't make it home to their folks for the holiday, along with a plethora of bemused Europeans who couldn't quite understand what candied yams were (I operate a strict 'don't ask/don't tell' policy about the presence of hoof-and-bone based confectionery in today's modern savoury dish). Being vegetarians the pièce de résistance of our festive spread was a yummy tofurky, which further added to the confusion amongst our fellow Europeans ("Mon Dieu, what is zis abomination?" they would surely have said in a comical Clouseau-esque accent had they been French) and pushed us dangerously close to Syria on the mental Axis of Evil recognition card our American friends constantly judged us against.

Alas since returning to the enlightened but ultimately irrelevant shores of Old Europe our celebration of this most festive of occasions has fallen by the wayside, though occasionally I try and recapture the Thanksgiving spirit by going home to my parents and having a massive argument. While the holiday itself is something uniquely American (and by unique I mean "also happens in Canada, though earlier, and almost certainly involves Death Panels"), the orgy of unfettered consumerism that immediately follows, known as "Black Friday" in memory of the great plague that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages, has spread Swine Flu-like to these noble shores via those dastardly internet tubes.

Apparently the biggest shopping day of the year in the US and the official start of the Festivus season, my inbox this morning is clogged with the flotspam and jetspam of a thousand merchants all exhorting me to buy, buy, buy because these are once in a life-time offers (presumably because either the world is going to end tomorrow, or I am; either way it is unlikely that anything I buy online today will be shipped to me before such an untimely demise so really this is not the most effective ad campaign I have seen, unless they were selling discounted indulgences, where shipping would not be so much of an issue).

This post-cranberry-and-turkey consumer Armageddon is, alas, not a new phenomena, and I read with some interest in BoingBoing (damn you all to hell Cory Doctorow) that Thanksgiving itself has been somewhat of a movable feast, subject to the unforgiving winds of capitalism. The holiday was held on the last Thursday of November every year until 1939 when the Retail Dry Goods Association petitioned President Roosevelt to move the holiday forward to give Christmas sales a boost by having a longer shopping period, which he did. There is nothing more sacred in America than the almighty dollar, everything else it seems is negotiable, even its foundation myths.

The converse to this story is also contained in a recent BoingBoing post (damn you all to hell Cory Doctorow), describing how even into the 1930's Thanksgiving was celebrated like the harvest festival it really was, wherein children would dress up in costumes and wander door-to-door begging for money. The fact that the country was in the grips of the worst depression it had ever experienced no doubt also contributed somewhat. The media of the day decried this custom and led a campaign to stamp out this tradition of poor people knocking on your door and embarrassing you into giving them money, and so by the 1940's the custom that had been part of Thanksgiving since the 18th century had died off.

Only to be replaced almost immediately by the stolen and warped Irish festival of Halloween wherein children would dress up in costumes and wander door-to-door begging for store-bought confectionery. See, the trouble with Thanksgiving Masking, as it was called, was that money passed directly from the householder to the begging child, with no intermediary in between, which is very un-American. To make it a real holiday some unassociated third-party needs to be able to make money on a private act of charity between two individuals, otherwise its socialism.

But despite this unfettered consumerism, or rather, because of this unfettered consumerism, some folks choose to take a stand on this most High Holy of Capitalism's Holy Days (of which there are quite a few). Introduced to a wider audience by the veteran Canadian anti-consumer magazine AdBusters, 'Buy Nothing Day' is celebrated today in the US and Canada, and tomorrow in the rest of the world. The premise is simple, for one day out of the entire year don't be a consumer. Don't feed the corporate pig. Don't add your 2 cents to the product-fueled ecological disaster that is engulfing us all.

Just buy nothing.

But more than that, don't be a passivist about it, be an activist. While its all very well and good for you to sit at home smug in the knowledge that you did your part today by not doing your part, its all the more effective if you let other people know what you are not doing, and why. Spread the word today, use those self-same tubes that are inundating you with offers of cheap Ronex watches and discounted Canadian Phiagra for good, rather than evil, and let your friends and family know why you are buying nothing today. If AdBusters is too US-centric for their tastes try buying Nothing(TM) from UK-based Green Thing, or better yet if you are in Galway tomorrow kayak along to Shop Street and join the Buy Nothing Day celebrations at 1pm.

If Unkie Dave, with his fatally low money-to-sense ratio and all-too-itchy internet-purchasing trigger-finger can wean himself away from the corporate teat of unnecessary white plastic and aluminium trinkets for this single day, surely you can too.

You'll be a better person for it.

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At 1:00 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

Your post made me laugh a lot. What a great history of thanksgiving!
And thanks for the tip, I bought several nothings from amazero

At 1:07 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

Yup, nothing is great, its what I'm planning on giving everyone for Christmas this year.


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