It’s officially winter in London, the time of year when Oxford Street transforms into a festive landmine–a conglomeration of lights, snowflakes, trees and gift boxes–all inviting the world to participate in that popular holiday past time: shopping. The question is, though, how much more can the world really afford?
In December 2007, Annie Leonard wrote and filmed “The Story of Stuff,” a short multimedial documentary that follows the life cycle of material goods. Despite the film’s occasional comedic tone with the use of animation, Leonard touches on some harsh realities concerning the modern era of consumerism. From extraction to production, distribution, consumption and disposal, Leonard maps the detrimental effect of a culture centered on material wealth.
In the past three decades alone, Leonard says one-third of the planet’s natural resources have been used, and the poster-child involved in this depletion is the United States. Less than 4% of U.S. forests are left undisturbed and with over 100,000 chemicals used in commerce today, chemical pollution has caused a massive amount of U.S. waterways to become undrinkable.
This degradation isn’t caused by some accumulation of natural disasters, it’s due to current trends in consumerism. If everyone in the world consumed at a U.S. rate, we’d need 3-5 planets to sustain ourselves.
As advertising becomes psychologically complex, corporate chains get bigger, and more and more values are misplaced in the material realm, our desire to devour heightens and our raw materials continue disappearing at an exponential rate.
A few decades ago, people only saw about a dozen ads a day, yet today, the average amount of marketing messages that flow into our minds exceeds a thousand. We are constantly being force-fed consumerist conditioning through television, magazines, newspapers and websites, subliminally convincing us to want, need and buy. Corporations have us right where they want us.
In 1992, Vancouver artist Ted Dave initiated the first ‘Buy Nothing Day’ (BND), a 24-hour period dedicated to just what it seems: buying nothing. Dave simply spread some posters that he created around the Vancouver area, “To return the purchasing power of the marketplace to the consumer. The idea of voting with your dollar, it seems to be an apolitical solution to what was once a political problem.”
What originally began as a response to the incapability of affording every day living turned into a substantial contemplation on consumerism in the developed world. The statement was so effective that Adbusters, the Canadian not-for-profit, ‘culture-jamming’ magazine, promotes it annually.
Adbusters self-identifies as a global collective of creative types working toward advancing social activism and stands as a definite subverter to consumer society. Taking Buy Nothing Day even further, Adbusters asks its readers to consider a buy-nothing Christmas:
“With the simplest of plans you can create a new rhythm, purpose and meaning for the holidays. Why not take the spirit of Buy Nothing Day and morph it into Buy Nothing Christmas? With catastrophic climate change looming, we the rich one billion people on the planet have to consume less!”
The point of buy nothing day isn’t just to stop shopping for a day -but rather to create a point of reflection – on what it means to be a consumer and most of all, to reevaluate our table of values in a society obsessed with possessions.
Buy Nothing Day 2010 will be held on Saturday 26 November in the UK. Participate by not participating.