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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

ho ho no: anticonsumer movies for your holiday pleasure

A day after a man was trampled to death at a Long Island Wal-Mart — not by starving hoards rushing for the last can of Spam but by holiday shoppers desperate to save ten bucks on a cheap-ass made-in-China DVD player — Entertainment Weekly posted a DVD roundup called “Shop ‘Til You Drop: 20 Movies for Big Spenders” — it’s a celebration of America’s obsession not merely with buying shit we don’t need, but with buying shit we don’t need as a recreational pastime that also serves to indicate our rank in the social pecking order. So — to name three disgusting movies EW chose to highlight — Jingle All the Way is about showing your children you love them by rampaging all over town on Christmas Eve so your kid can have the hot toy of the season in order to look good in front of all the other kids; Pretty Woman is about purchasing both a woman and the bling that keeps the bitch’s mouth shut about being treated like a piece of property; and Sex and the City: The Movie is about a woman who shops for a husband the same way she shops for shoes.
That’s all way uglier than the desperation of retailers at the moment, who are hoping you’re going to suddenly crash the malls over the next few days with, I dunno, some cash you suddenly discovered under the mattress or something.

Don’t do it. Stay home and watch some movies that remind us that mindless consumerism is not the path to happiness.

Dawn of the Dead [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Zombies at the mall? And this is satire how?

THX 1138 [Region 1] [Region 2]: Robert Duvall’s distopian drone buys a box of white, only to drop it in the recycling bin on the way home. It’s not that he needs the box of white, it’s that if he didn’t buy it, all the box-of-white manufacturers would go out of business. Sound familiar?

Idiocracy [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: “Welcome to Costco, I love you.” This is what happens when mindless consumerism turns into religion.

Wall-E [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Or maybe this is what happens: a planet buried under our castoff crap.

They Live [Region 1] [Region 2]: If only it really were aliens brainwashing us into keeping up with the Joneses. Cuz then Roddy Piper could just kick their asses and everything would get better.

Fight Club [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: You are not your fucking khakis.

American Beauty [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Remember how Annette Bening didn’t want to get it on with Kevin Spacey on the sofa because it was covered with Italian silk or something? That’s just sad. Yeah, he dealt with his midlife crisis by buying something — that classic car — but I bet he would have been happy to use the backseat for its traditional secondary use.

The Matrix [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: If only it really were The Machines brainwashing us into sleepwalking through life. Cuz then Keanu Reeves could just kick their asses and everything would get better.

What Would Jesus Buy? [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Not so much, probably. Maybe some new sandals. Not that you’d know that from the commericalized nightmare Christmas is today, as this snarky-but-serious documentary highlights.

You Can’t Take It With You [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Ah, now this is the movie to watch for a reminder that it’s not the stuff in your life but the life in your life that makes it fun, rewarding, and worth living. In this 1938 classic from Frank Capra (which is way better than that other Capra movie everyone else but me loves at this time of year, Lionel Barrymore is the patriarch of a family that’s dropped out of the rat race to follow their dreams.

(And yes, I get the irony of promoting anticonsumerist DVDs with shopping links. I’m not suggesting — and neither are these movies — that all shopping is bad, just mindless shopping driven not by need or even true desire for things that give us real pleasure but by unhappiness, peer pressure, or a perceived need to conform when we’d really rather not. Or the kind that gets people killed.)



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  • Shadowen

    The scene with the couch was a little hypocritical. It started with, “The car I always wanted, and now I have it. I rule!”, and ended with “IT. IS. A. COUCH!”

    But then, it’s not like Lester was meant to be entirely admired in that film.

  • lanchid

    Merry Christmas, MaryAnn. And I mean that in the “peace on Earth, goodwill towards humanity” sense, rather than the commercialism sense.

    I spent almost 15 years working in various retail stores, and I got to the point where I had the Christmas spirit for about 15 minutes on Christmas Day when I was with my family. Otherwise, I was ready to go postal most of the time at work or watching the commercials. I actually got physically ill when I thought of “having” to buy presents for people during this time of year.

    Six years out of retail (I love my office job!), and I have finally recovered. Of course, I did most of my gift buying online in November and early December and I stopped watching TV back in July (iTunes season subscriptions are a gods-send! And the savings from not paying cable!) so I have eliminated the forced commercialism from my life. But it is sad that you have to take extreme measures to regain your humanity for this time of year.

  • Jason

    I am not a big fan of rampant consumerism myself, I only buy what I need, and I buy what I want within reason. I do want a flat panel tv, but it will not happen until my trusty conventional tv dies. I have a mortgage to pay for. And food to eat. I do not own an Ipod because I like actual quality music, not compressed garbage mp3 files. My cell phone, a Motorola Razr was purchased in early 06, and shock of shock, it STILL WORKS FINE. My truck was built in 95, my car was built in 99, they are paid for, and they still work fine. In fact, the only thing that I have that is new is the satellite dish I am receiving the internet on.

    All that being said, it is true that our world functions of trade and commerce, it always has, and it always will. We are just witnessing the end of the Cheap Chinese Crap Spasm that our country has suffered from for the last several years. I do go to Wal-Mart but it is because the food section is cheaper than our local supermarkets. I have a bottom line, and I see no need to pay twice as much for my Dr Pepper at a local supermarket. It makes no sense to me.

    While at Wal-Mart I do cringe at the endless isles of crappy toys and other BS. I bypass it all, only buying what I need. Yes, people are losing jobs because people are not spending as much, but those people losing the jobs just so happen to live in China. I am fine with it, because that means China will pour less pollutants into the atmosphere because there will be less crap factories, and less people buying big cars and using too much energy.

    The world is not in financial crisis. The world is resetting back to what it should be. The only crisis is for those deluded people that think a 5000 square foot house, flat panel tv in every room, and two Hummers and a Suburban is practical transportation.

    If I didn’t watch the news or talk to other people, I would have no idea the economy is in crisis. In my little world, I just bought a modest house for a reasonable, non-inflated price of $120,000, and life is actually cheaper for me now. I was paying more for rent. Heck, I am paying 1.49 a gallon for gas. I doing better than I have in years.

  • Chris-E

    Great list! Especially THX-1138 and They Live!

  • MaryAnn

    it is true that our world functions of trade and commerce, it always has, and it always will.

    But it has not always operated the way it does today, when corporate bottom lines are subsidized by middle-class taxpayers, as by the fact that many corps in the U.S. pay little or no taxes at all, leaving the burden to be picked up by consumers.

    I do go to Wal-Mart but it is because the food section is cheaper than our local supermarkets. I have a bottom line, and I see no need to pay twice as much for my Dr Pepper at a local supermarket. It makes no sense to me.

    But there’s a reason why stuff at Wal-Mart is cheaper, and it has to do with how our entire economy has been transformed in recent decades to one that does not take the full cost of everything into account. If Wal-Mart hadn’t killed off local retailers and better-paying jobs, for one quick instance, than everyone now dealing with deflated wages could have afforded to pay a little more to a local grocer. Wal-Mart has deliberately created an economy in which more people — and civic life on the whole — are poorer. It didn’t need to be that way… except our so-called leaders care more about catering to the needs of a corporation than they do about catering to the needs of the populace.

    If the prices in Wal-Mart reflected the real price of what they cost — in lost wages, destroyed Main Streets, degradation to the environment that comes from shipping crap halfway around the world, employees with no benefits who must rely on taxpayer-funnded municipalities for health care or food stamps, and so on — you wouldn’t think they’re so cheap. But of course, we will pay for the subsidizing of those low prices, one way or another.

  • Jason

    Well, it’s a problem isn’t it? I guess it will always be a problem until we somehow manage to eliminate greed and the basic need of most people to be better than their fellow man. Since we don’t get to club each other over the head, the only way to be better is to buy better stuff than the neighbor, and it spirals from there…

  • bitchen frizzy

    MaryAnn, did you ever actually live in a small town before the advent of the large chain stores, and chain pharmacies?

    If you have, then you must understand how those stores became so popular, especially in the rural South where Wal-Mart started. You write as though you have a romanticized notion of Olde Towne Main Street and the mom-and-pop drugstore that you got from black-and-white movies, not actual experience.

    I’m not defending Wal-Mart’s wage-slavery, but there are reasons why Wal-Mart grew so large so fast.

    My parents went drove miles to go to the chain grocery stores because one of the local grocers sold spoiled food and didn’t care, and the other had rats running in the aisles in plain sight of the customers and didn’t care, because they had no competition and no corporate standards or inspectors. The mom-and-pop pharmacy prices were outrageous and their shelves were poorly stocked and lacked uncommon meds, in part because they couldn’t afford economy of scale. When someone needs Drug X and it’s readily available at Walgreen’s but not at the mom-and-pop, what do you expect them to do – die on principle?

  • Jason

    I have to tell you, our Wal-Mart pays better than any of the local stores, and has better benefits. Like Bitchin Frizzy said, Wal-Mart has a better selection. And you know what, the local stores are still in business, no one is hurting. Maybe Wal-Mart is The Enemy, but in our town they provide a considerable amount of jobs for people who would otherwise probably be living off of my taxes in the form of welfare.

    Yeah, small town living is not like the movies. The politics and good ol’ boy crap is insane. We got a Home Depot a few years back, and that was very surprising….

  • MaryAnn

    there are reasons why Wal-Mart grew so large so fast.

    Sure there are. And they have as much to do with unfair practices as they do with the need for competition.

    they had no competition and no corporate standards or inspectors.

    And you think the only solution to this problem was for one mega-opoly to replace smaller stores? There was room before for competitors to come in and give those poorer stores a run for their money. But now Wal-Mart has no competition, and there’s no room for competition.

    When someone needs Drug X and it’s readily available at Walgreen’s but not at the mom-and-pop, what do you expect them to do – die on principle?

    Oh, come on! Of course not. I would like to expect our culture not to put the needs of giant corps like Wal-Mart ahead of the needs of citizens. But clearly, this is too much to expect, particularly when the citizens don’t even realize what a mess companies like Wal-Mart have made of things.

    And of course, the situation is far more likely, these days, to be the reverse: you need Drug X and there’s only a Wal-Mart around for 100 miles that supplies drugs, and the pharmicist at Wal-Mart refuses to fill your prescription because birth control pills are against his religion.

    Maybe Wal-Mart is The Enemy, but in our town they provide a considerable amount of jobs for people who would otherwise probably be living off of my taxes in the form of welfare.

    But don’t you see: Wal-Mart killed off the competition that might have been employing those people! Of course when there’s no other option, people are going to work there and shop there. Wal-Mart has made it its business to ensure that there are no other options!

    And it’s a fair bet that some of those Wal-Mart employees are still living off your taxes in the form of some sort of government assistance, because they aren’t getting health insurance at their jobs, because Wal-Mart games the system so that they can “legitimately” deny them health insurance.

  • Jason

    Yeah, there was some Wal-Mart induced death. There was a K-Mart that died, but it was no great loss, it was poorly run long before Wal-Mart finished it off. Other than that, every other store that was around before Wal-Mart is still around. No one employs as many people here as Wal-Mart. Like I said, this is a small area, about 30,000 people in the entire county. A solid 1/2 of that population is actually snowbirds who own summer homes here. The rest is us working joes.

    And yes, some of those Wal-Mart employees might be getting assistance, but so are the ones at Safeway, True Value hardware, or any other store here. We have a core group of people here who refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, more power to them. They can afford to.

    As far as benefits go, our Wal-Mart does pretty well on that front, but I will also say that this Wal-Mart is run a lot better than most I have seen. Our Wal-Mart is quite nice, clean, and well run. I have been to some Wal-Marts where I wished I had a gun on me for protection purposes. Of course, this is a resort destination area, we can’t have a scummy Wal-Mart now can we?

    I am not a Wal-Mart junkie or fanboy, I just think it isn’t as bad as some would have people believe. It could disappear tomorrow and most people would be fine. It just saves a person from having to drive to five different stores in a day, wasting time and fuel.

  • MaryAnn

    The fact that people have to drive to get what they need — as opposed to walking or taking mass transit — is a whole other issue. We’re gonna be sorry someday we built stuff so far apart…

  • bitchen frizzy

    –“And they have as much to do with unfair practices as they do with the need for competition.”

    Those “unfair practices” are things like economies of scale to bring down prices, computer-linked pharmacies willing and able to provide uncommon medicines to backwoods places, and so on… basically, everything customers had always wanted.

    –“There was room before for competitors to come in and give those poorer stores a run for their money.”

    No there wasn’t. Small-town politics, as Jason said. A corporation has the money and the lawyers to break the local chamber of commerce’s oligopoly. The good old boys fight hard to shut out competition.

    Wal-Mart still has plenty of competition. There’s Walgreens, and CVS, and Kroger…

    …the sad part of all that is that small towns are becoming homogenized across the U.S. The villages in the Keys, on the Cape, here around Houston – the storefronts are looking more and more alike. There’s definitely a downside to chain stores, I certainly don’t deny that.

    –“I would like to expect our culture not to put the needs of giant corps like Wal-Mart ahead of the needs of citizens.”

    Our culture? The small businessmen running the mom-and-pops are “our culture”. The customers that choose Wal-Mart are “our culture”. They aren’t aliens from another planet. Read again: Wal-Mart makes it easier for people to get what they need than it ever was before in small towns. You are FAR more likely to encounter religious restrictions to getting what you want in a small local business than you are in a branch store of a major corporation. I can assure you of that from abundant personal experience – not with birth-control pills in my case, but with everything else from beer to books.

    –“We’re gonna be sorry someday we built stuff so far apart…”

    Umm… things are always “built far apart” in the country. And there’s no mass transit out in the sticks either – not enough of a tax base to support it. People in the country *choose* to drive miles to the Wal-Mart in the next town, over shopping at local stores. If Wal-Mart puts a local store out of business, that’s how it happens – customer preference. Wal-Mart (etc.) doesn’t make people shop at their stores, people want to shop there.

  • MaryAnn

    I give up.

  • Jason

    No need to give up MaryAnn, we are just saying that the logistics of New york allow for the use of mass transit and the more preferable proximity of stores to purchase needed goods. Where I live, you cannot function without a vehicle. In fact, my wife and I each have a vehicle, and have considered buying a third inexpensive vehicle in case of breakdown. We would have no other way to get to work, that thing we do so we can eat. And go to Wal-Mart.

    The majority of this country is rural, and this country cannot be compared to Europe. I was stationed in Germany for two years, spent time in France, Spain. I enjoyed the fact that I could walk down and grab a train to anywhere. But then we are talking about countries that are the size of a single state in this country.

    Blaming Wal-Mart or any other corporation is Victim Mentality. We are all given choice, so if someone needs to be blamed for something it is ourselves. Look on the bright side MaryAnn, thousands of stores will be closing down due to low sales, that mean less consumerism, and less jobs. That’s okay, because the government will save us, just like North Korea’s government saved them. They get a whole chicken each and every day! Some of them even get to own a car! They get to listen to forced propaganda on a radio that is in each house that cannot be turned off. Sounds great to me…

  • MaryAnn

    This is why I give up: Because some people refuse to see that the way things are did not come about naturally, refuse to see that the way things are is not because of a laissez faire federal government but one that acts to benefit large corporations over individual citizens, and refuse to see that the way things are is not the way they inevitably must be.

    Refuse to see, or simply aren’t interested in seeing.

    And things will never change if so many people continue to misunderstand that there are middle grounds between the way things are now in the U.S. and the disaster of somewhere like North Korea. You don’t even need imagination, Jason, to see it, if you really have spent significant time in Europe. People in Europe are happier, healthier, work shorter hours, have more time off, have a safety net when things go wrong, and overall pay less to live that way than we do. (Yes, they pay more taxes to their central governments, but that’s less than we pay in taxes *and* health insurance. And when you count other, less tangible factors — like not having to worry about losing your home if you get sick — they “pay” even less.)

    The majority of this country is NOT rural. Geographically speaking, yes: population distribution wise, absolutely not. The majority of this country is urban, suburban, and — in what will surely come to haunt us as one of the worst things we could have done as a nation — exurban. These awful exurbs — miles from work, school, and viable communities — would not exist if not for certain conditions (gas keep artificially cheap by low taxes, fiscal policies that created the housing bubble, tax situations that subsidize driving over mass transit, etc) that pushed for their creation instead of for more livable, more mass-transitable communities.

    So yes, where you live right now, Wal-Mart may be the only option. And driving may be the only way to get there. But it didn’t have to be that way. If you prefer to think only of yourself, in your particular situation, I’m sure everything looks just fine to you.

  • Jason

    I am not disagreeing with you MaryAnn, I see the same problems you do. Yes, I have spent time in Europe, and yes, they were happy, partially because of what you have said, but also because that is all they have ever known. Heck, I was very, very happy there myself, but I can’t tell you if it was because of how it is there or because it was something new to me.

    I spent 11 years in the military defending this country, so I am less inclined to view it as a cancerous scourge on the planet as a lot of people do, but I am also not a blind flag waver either. I recognize this country’s issues, but I have to balance those issues with this country’s strengths. No, I am not a huge fan of corporations running everything, but the thought of the government running everything is worse. Have you seen how bad the government has run things so far, and you want them to run more?

    Also, I have a lot of Canadian friends with dual citizenship who would never trade our health system, as flawed as it is, for their program. The closer you get to full bore socialism, the worse it is for everyone. And yes, this country is already fairly socialized anyway (just don’t tell the Republicans), it doesn’t need to be any more socialized.

    I also will own my choice to live where I do, and the challenges that come with it. I know you love your city, and I would never take that from you, but when I can walk outside and smell clean air, see nothing but mountains and trees and moose while standing on my porch, that makes my 20 mile commute to my job worth it.

    There is not enough money that could get me to live in a city again. I am a Los Angeles veteran by the way, so don’t think I am an urban novice. I have learned in my travels around the world that, for me, the only place to live has four seasons and no buildings over 4 stories. I have not been to New York yet, and it is on my list of must visit places. However, once you have been inside the Great Pyramids of Egypt, not much else can really compare. But I bet New York is pretty cool too :)

  • MaryAnn

    Have you seen how bad the government has run things so far, and you want them to run more?

    I’m so tired of hearing this. Our federal government runs the best postal system on the planet. Our national park system is a wonder. The Smithsonian is a treasure. The federal government does many things *very* well. Is it perfect? Of course not. But the things it does badly can be done better, and governments can do some things better than the private sector does. Certainly it can do better those things that should not be done for profit, like police and fire services and health care.

    I am less inclined to view it as a cancerous scourge on the planet as a lot of people do

    Do you really believe Americans who criticize our leaders believe this?

  • JoshB
    I am less inclined to view it as a cancerous scourge on the planet as a lot of people do

    Do you really believe Americans who criticize our leaders believe this?

    I wonder how this even came up. The topic was the evils of consumerism in general and WalMart specifically. How do you get “America is a cancerous scourge” from “people shouldn’t buy alot of useless crap from WalMart?”

  • JasonJ

    I’m so tired of hearing this. Our federal government runs the best postal system on the planet. Our national park system is a wonder. The Smithsonian is a treasure. The federal government does many things *very* well. Is it perfect? Of course not. But the things it does badly can be done better, and governments can do some things better than the private sector does. Certainly it can do better those things that should not be done for profit, like police and fire services and health care.

    Well, the things you mention are run fairly decently, but they are plagued with the same problems as other government entities. I have worked for two government entities. The military, and law enforcement at the city level. My wife has worked for law enforcement at the county level and is also working for the state. That is four government entities I have direct experience with. The problems with government entities lies in the abuse or waste of funding, the mindset that the tax payer dollars as an endless supply. Need more money? Raise the taxes, cause you have to pay those taxes. raise the prices too much in the private sector, you just priced yourself right out of business. I will concede that some entities do a better job at handling these taxpayer dollars than others, but overall, the private sector handles money better because they know money is a finite resource.

    Some examples of government entities that should be abolished and started from scratch: Child Social Services. For every one child that is taken care of, ten are ruined for life. That comes from direct experience as a law enforcement officer. Another entity, the Welfare system. People are rewarded for lack of productivity, and are paid to have children, which this planet does not need more of. The EPA, another entity that has lost sight of the mission and instead is governed by whoever gives them the most money (which is a tragic flaw of a lot of government entities). These organizations were well intended when created, but do not function well for the intended purpose and have morphed into bastardized versions of the origional.

    In the government, there are people who have jobs not because of their skill, but because of their race. It is difficult being highly skilled in your job and being passed over because there needs to be one more Latino to round out the percentages. I am all for equal rights, but I am also all for the most skilled doing the job. After all, our tax dollars are paying the wages of poorly educated and poorly skilled people holding jobs they are not fit for. I could give two farts what a persons skin color is as long as they can perform their job to standard.

    Yes, this does happen in the private sector, but it is weeded out more quickly. The government moves very slowly in fixing itself. My hopes are that these issues can be corrected, but we all know how that goes. We elect people who tell us what we want to hear to get elected, then do what they want to once in office.

    All this being said, I would not trade our country or it’s government for any other on this planet, I havn’t experienced a system that works any better.

    I wonder how this even came up. The topic was the evils of consumerism in general and WalMart specifically. How do you get “America is a cancerous scourge” from “people shouldn’t buy alot of useless crap from WalMart?”

    Because whenever the topic of rampant excess consumerism comes up, it seems to end up as a finger pointed at America. Don’t see a lot of Wal-Marts in Egypt or Syria or Brazil, so that is where I am coming from on this. I might have been jumping ahead a little, as usually when I end up in these discussions it devolves to being the fat American Humvee owners fault. That’s all I am saying. Lets be honest here, when you think of excess consumerism, what do you picture? A Skinny child in Ethiopia?

  • JoshB

    Because whenever the topic of rampant excess consumerism comes up, it seems to end up as a finger pointed at America.

    See, this is annoying, because essentially what you’ve done is assume what MaryAnn’s opinion is based on your experiences with someone who is not MaryAnn.

    Lets be honest here, when you think of excess consumerism, what do you picture? A Skinny child in Ethiopia?

    Sure, I’ll be honest. I used to work at a computer store chain. I picture what we called “rebate fuckers.” People who would pull out our newspaper ads and come into the store and buy every single item on the damned thing because it was discounted. Nevermind the fact that it was all of it completely useless junk.

    Fucking keychains for 99 cents, give me 5 of them. Old school PCI graphics cards (which if you’re not computer literate, trust me, they SUCKED) for 19.99 (after mail-in rebate, natch), give me a couple of those too.

    In other words, I picture stupid people, which the whole planet has in abundance.

  • JasonJ

    it’s a celebration of America’s obsession not merely with buying shit we don’t need, but with buying shit we don’t need as a recreational pastime that also serves to indicate our rank in the social pecking order

    JoshB, that is a direct quote from MaryAnn’s topic starting post. I am not presuming to know what she thinks, I am interpreting what she has written. She didn’t say “Stupid people of Planet Earth”, she said America. Please educate me on how I have interpreted that wrongly. I don’t believe she is an anti American, I just think she is willing to point out the issues she believes a percentage of this country has. Otherwise, I stand by what I have written.

  • JoshB

    She didn’t say “Stupid people of Planet Earth”, she said America.

    No, I said that, and I was speaking only for myself.

    Anyway, the quote says nothing about America being a cancerous scourge. MaryAnn is an American. It’s no surprise that her social commentary would be focused on her own society.

    I’ll leave it to her to explain herself further if she is inclined to do so.

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