Tehee: Buy Nothing Day gives consumers something to think about

FresnoNovember 20, 2013 

We are a nation of consumers who love our "stuff."

If you need proof, read Kalle Lasn's social critique, "Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America." Published in 2000, the book is fully critical of our consumer culture. It is a thought-provoking read.

You could also see for yourself next week by joining the throngs of shoppers eagerly rushing down aisles at any Black Friday sale.

The sales actually begin on Thursday at many stores this year, and there is a sad irony in the fact that the one day we set aside to give thanks for the stuff in our lives (which shouldn't include plasma televisions or the new PS4) has been hijacked.

As an alternative, there is Buy Nothing Day (aka Occupy Christmas).

Started in 1992, and quickly taken up by the activist magazine Adbusters (with Lasn as its publisher), Buy Nothing Day is an international day of protest against the consumerism from which Black Friday (and its new Thursday counterpart) was born.

The most simple of these protests, obviously, is to buy nothing. Maybe you go for a nature hike or host a community sit-in instead.

Citizens are urged to do more subversive, active protests as well. Here are a few, as suggested on the Adbusters website (www.adbusters.org/campaigns/bnd):

Credit Card Cut Up: Stand in a shopping mall with a pair of scissors and a sign offering a simple service: To put an end to extortionate interest rates and mounting debt with one considerate cut.

Zombie Walk: The cheerful dead wander around malls, marveling at the blank, comatose expressions on the faces of shoppers. The zombies are happy to be among their own kind, but slightly contemptuous of those who have not yet begun to rot.

Whirl-Mart: You and nine of your closest friends silently drive your shopping carts around in a long, inexplicable conga line without ever actually buying anything.

The idea here is to upturn the apple cart, to create a new society of shoppers who value community and craftsmanship over blind consumerism or a great deal on the latest brand products.

If the idea seems radical (and why should it?), we're seeing off-shoots of this type of thinking already on social media sites such as Pinterest, craft-seller sites like Etsy and in aspects of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter.

Even the buy-local campaigns that have popped up in the last few years give the impression that there is a way toward better, more sustainable consumption.

Make no mistake, the radical punk-rock, anarchist teen in me loves Buy Nothing Day. As a society, we are consumed by consumption. Maybe a bit of theatrics will wake us up.

I also like my "stuff." I take pleasure in buying things — a new pair of Levis or those cool shoes no one else has. I pine for material objects, like that shiny new bicycle (even though I already own two bikes that function perfectly).

I struggle. I cannot ask others to observe Buy Nothing Day without being a hypocrite. But I can pass along the information and hope the idea catches at least one person. Maybe by talking about the things we buy, and the reasons we feel compelled to buy them, we can start honestly assessing the effects — cultural, social, economic — of our consumer culture, even if just for a day.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com.

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