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The Consumer Society: The Business of Gluttony

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As an American living abroad I'm always asked "Why are you Americans so fat?" Sometimes they are nice and note that I'm not personally fat... however this is a frequent question. Europeans seem to blame it on McDonald's. Is it fast food? It is probably true that the faster you eat the more you will eat. But I feel it is more sinister than that.

I've been thinking about it for a while and I've gone back to my religious training: Catechism classes. (I also went to Baptist Sunday School: it was the same thing only more intense). I remember daydreaming when the sisters or the Ministers were talking about the seven deadly sins. I pictured gluttony as this sort of little chubby guy with a red nose who seemed very happy and liked to eat and drink a lot. At the time it didn't seem very mortal a sin and actually not a bad way to go. I don't think of my self as that religious but it seems to me that American doesn't take gluttony very seriously and suffers from it.

My Dad sent me several Patriot football games (the "NFL" "National Football League") and when I watch the commercials I'm bombarded with images of hyper consumption. There was one beer ad that sang a catchy rock tune about Football, eating too much, and the twins (two very sexy blonde cheerleaders). I guess the idea was that you'd drink too much too. Ergo the company will sell more beer, I guess... Rock on. Rudeness sells. It's not just in America.

In France as everywhere in the modern world this consumerism is rampant. When you go into "Quick" (a sort of French McDonald's clone) you are instantly offered a second sandwich if you upgrade to XL meal: larger fries and Coke. But do you really need a second burger called "le Giant"? Well, it's free sort of...

It's the same thing with cars in the States: I've never seen so many enormous trucks on the road. I can't imagine how they pay for gas. When I've asked the owners why they drive such humongous vehicles they say that they can see over other cars and that they feel much safer. But 42,000 deaths a year on the road the percentage of people dying hasn't changed in years. (Even with the introduction of seatbelts, crumple zones, air bags, and giant monster trucks). What has increased is the percentage of bystanders or pedestrians killed, recently quoted as one in every eight deaths. It's no wonder that there are fewer people on our sidewalks.Gluttony doesn't bring contentment.

I hear on the TV quite often that the only way our economy is going to get better is if the consumers start to buy, buy, buy. This doesn't sound like a very stable basis for a market. You can't have exponential growth forever, we'll run out of planet. By the way did you know that for every computer user in the US 3000 dollars is spent each year. No help from new technologies. They're just another example of this orgy of consuming. We in the Western world are buying and junking our computers in an alarming rate.

Incidentally I watched "CNN" a few weeks ago for an hour and saw a report on compensation for the victims of 9/11. One company dedicated 25% of its profits for the families of their employees killed on that tragic day for the next four years! The spokesman of that company (a Stockbroking firm) said that because of this policy their profits would be higher than the year before even with deleting 25% for this charity. He said it made his surviving staff come together as a team. But what about the victims?

How can money ease the pain of those who have lost loved ones? (I'm sure that it's a very large sum they were taking about.) Then "CNN" went on to talk about how there was another fund for all the victims of 9/11 and how each family would receive at least 1.3 million dollars. What about the families of firemen or policemen killed in the line of duty but not on 9/11 what will they feel seeing such sums doled out? Do they have such resources allotted to them? Why not?

Finally, a few minutes later the new President of Afganistan came on talking about how for 20 years his people were the victims of the war, the Taliban, and "Al Quaida".

It was such a stark contrast what his victims were looking for: windows for schools, clean water, electricity etc... Are we really happy consuming as much as we are? I get the impression that we are complaining more, less secure in our lives and yet: Each year I find my weekly trash run getting larger. I'm just as guilty as everyone else. I don't even want to stop everything, but tell me how do we slow down?

Author: Christopher Yukna