’Tis the season for conspicuous consumption

Inspired protest got people thinking

  • An act of political protest at the Polo Park mall. – Matt Austman

Last Christmas, I witnessed a random but inspiring political protest at the Polo Park mall. It happened on Dec. 23, the busiest shopping day of the year.

I was buying a book when my friend pointed out to me what was in the middle of the mall, overlooking the Santa station. Hanging there was a huge drawing of Jesus on a crucifix. In his hands there were two shopping bags and underneath read an altered quote from the Bible: “For God so loved corporate America, he gave his one and only son.”

I didn’t know what to think about it at first. On one hand, it made a powerful statement about how obsessed North America has become with consumption.  However, on the other hand, people don’t like to be guilt-tripped about shopping at Christmas, especially by some arrogant Marxist asshole.

But whoever dropped the banner probably realized that. Although they obviously didn’t support the consumerism-based Christmas of today, I doubt they were out to ruin peoples’ holidays.

Now, consumerism is not inherently evil, nor does it singularly lead to the destruction of the earth. It is a complicated process and it’s necessary for the welfare of every nation on the planet. It allows business to boom, goods to be traded, information to be shared and it plays a part in the joy to be had during the holiday season.

Nevertheless, the negative impacts which are unleashed upon the planet by blind consumerism are not equally considered by most people during Christmas, despite the major increases in transportation usage and greenhouse gas emissions that the holiday entails. The small things about Christmas add up too.

For example, buying $30 worth of confectioneries adds up to the consumption of roughly 20 kilograms of materials, 940 litres of water and the emission of 16 kilograms of greenhouse gases.

Moreover, the strategies which corporations use to brand the holiday is beyond shameful. Gifts are marketed to make us believe that they correlate with happiness. Corporate branding is successful in making people believe that we will be happier or that we will make somebody’s Christmas better if we buy a product.

I believe the holiday was started for very different reasons. Still, I will yield to this consumer-based, corporatized holiday when I go shopping for my family and friends. Many others will too.

So considering this depressing socialist liberal arts student rant, regardless of what those protesters’ goals were, they succeeded at least in drawing attention to the corporatism of Christmas on a busy shopping day.

My friend and I took some pictures of the event, and shoppers were pointing, conversing and taking pictures with their cellphones. These reactions made us hopeful that people went home that day and talked about it. Even if they mocked the cause, conversations were being sparked, debate was happening and individuals had to justify themselves if they argued for or against it.

The protest I witnessed last Dec. 23 was inspiring. It showed that people out there do care about the vapid consumerism which now drives Christmas. Seeing the banner was a lot like getting a high-five from a like-minded soul, without slapping their hand.

Matt Austman wishes you a happy holiday season.

Published in Volume 64, Number 14 of The Uniter (December 3, 2009)

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