Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mark Morford - Retail Therapy Saves America

Retail therapy saves America
It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel ... like buying a new iPod and a boat
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist

I have perhaps greatly misunderestimated the Bush administration.

It's true. I have, lo these past 7.3 miserable and karmically bitch-slapped years, perhaps not clearly appreciated their ruthless and demeaning but perhaps rather insanely effective (well, sort of) economic plan for America. Or rather, 'Murka.

Because it's clearly a stroke of nefarious genius, a wickedly underhanded economic strategy to induce such levels of pain and depression and misery across the nation, to load us up on war and bogus fear and divisive hate and overlay it all with the sad, phlegmy truism that our own callous and cretinous government doesn't give a rat's tail about you, your children, the planet or humanity's place in the grand scheme of the universe, to such a degree that a gross malaise kicks in and you feel as though your heart is being slowly ripped through your throat by a pair of rusty fireplace tongs, and you finally throw up your hands and say f- it and amble right out and willingly pay too much for a new couch and a car and some beer.

And lo, the economy flourishes. At least, a little. Until the nasty recession kicks in. But hey, then you're out of office and it's someone else's problem, right?

See how that works? Is it not a genius approach to running/ruining a nation? After all, they say retail therapy, the urge to buy more crap in order to offset feelings of despair and loss, is a genuine phenomenon, that people actually do respond to heartache and death and Dick Cheney by rather thoughtlessly spending more money on stuff they probably don't really need but which makes them feel better for a few minutes before the Xanax and the Two Buck Chuck kick in and they slump on the couch in front of the new 50-inch plasma to watch 127 hours of ESPN2 and slowly die.

Yes, you already knew about retail therapy. And yes, nevertheless, someone had to conduct an actual study to try and prove it exists, and that it's even (somewhat, temporarily) effective. Naturally the study was a bit inane, obvious, delightful in its simplistic view of the human animal. But hey, we gotta know, right?

It worked something like this: Researchers found reasonably normal, non-miserable consumers and showed one group some videos of happy pretty flowers, while the other group got to see mauled kittens and bloody limbless babies wailing at bombed-out orphanages (I'm guessing) and sure enough, when the groups were given the chance to buy a simple item (sports bottle!), the latter group was willing to pay a lot more for it because, well, they were doubtlessly shot through with feelings of "who the hell cares" with a big side helping of "life is futile and death is everywhere and money means nothing so sure, I'll pay 50 bucks for a sports bottle. Will someone kill me now?"

Not exactly a revelation, I realize. After all, who can't relate to that feeling? Personally, I think the last time I endured an emotional trauma/major breakup I sighed heavily for about 27 days straight and went through four bottles of Zaya rum and too many bottles of expensive sake to count and did so much sweaty detox yoga I almost broke my chakras.

And then I also did the thing I sometimes like to do, which is go straight to Amazon and iTunes and Beatport and maybe a fave design store and load up on a bunch of the wonderful but not exactly mandatory goods that had been accumulating in my shopping cart because, you know, what the hell, right? Books and clothes and music and Aino Aalto tumblers and a nice new watch? Bring it on. Life's too short to not be surrounded by beautiful, well-made things you love, right? And psychologically speaking, bringing in the new and the fresh and the shiny can maybe help counteract those lingering, poisonous memories and defeat the old and stagnant and the past. Right?

Well, sort of. After all, it takes no simpleminded study to know that such "therapy" is, as you already know, almost entirely devoid of substance, of lasting spiritual or emotional nourishment, as it serves merely to distract you from the real issues at hand — like how to best balance a martini glass on the edge of the bathtub, or if now's a good time to get that huge Shiva back tattoo, or whether or not you can survive for 10 days without your iPod and/or vibrator on a silent meditation retreat in Marin.

But then again, maybe shopping can help after all. Because if you're lucky, if you're at all mindful of what you're going through, once you realize the overall futility of buying more external crap to fill what's essentially an internal void, you can move through shopping's hollow pleasures and perhaps come out the other end, where you discover something even easier and more delightful and powerfully liberating than retail therapy could ever be.

In short, you discover the joys of retail therapy's exact opposite: purge therapy.

Oh my yes. This is, perhaps, the best external therapy of all, involving as it does the thoughtful and yet also utterly ruthless elimination of excess effluvia, of the enormous piles of stuff that have accumulated in the nooks and crannies of your world. It is going through drawers and closets and old photos, bedrooms and underwear drawers and sex-toy boxes as you vow, at the end of it all, to actually remain lighter and acquire less and cling to fewer egotistical/material tethers from here on out.

Does that not sound nice? Is this not the best way? And broadly speaking, could you not argue that this is exactly the current experience of our Bush-bloodied nation, right now? Confused and miserable after Sept. 11, were we not force-fed the idea that if we just spent a couple trillion dollars on a useless and hideous war, we'd feel better, happier, safer? Of course we were. And of course, our grand dose of collective shopping therapy failed. Brutally. Spectacularly. What a surprise.

And now, as token bullet to the skull of the nation, a final, ridiculous "stimulus package," a last-ditch BushCo effort to get everyone to dump a few hundred more on a new digital camera and some MP3-enabled garden shears from Brookstone. There now. Ignore the looming recession, forget all about the staggering damage that will require three generations to fix. Don't you feel better?

As if. Haven't we, at least for now, come to realize the magnificent senselessness of it all? Haven't we tasted the utter poison of our grand shopping mistake? And shouldn't we now enter into full-on purge mode, garbage bags at the ready, eager to shove Dubya and the past years to the curb and let the vultures of history pick his thin little bones as we reach, a bit desperately, for something new?

If so, then in a warped and roundabout way, retail therapy would save the day again. Almost makes me want to go out and buy something nice, just to celebrate.

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