If there is any single event that defines America’s compulsion with mindless consumerism, there is no doubt that that event would be Christmas. The ancient pagan holidays (Yule, Saturnalia, etc.) from which Christmas was derived were later co-opted by Christianity, giving the holiday not just new meanings, but new purposes. Yet even the change of metaphysical premises changed Christmas very little compared to the effect that a highly developed industrial civilization has had on it. Christmas has come to be defined almost exclusively by the activity of gift-giving/receiving.
Some will argue that it is also about spending time with your family. But nobody should need a specific reason to do that. Nor should they have to do it on a specific day because that is the day that everyone else is doing it. That is compulsive behavior, and it has nothing to do with the Wheel of Life or Birth of Baby Jesus that inspired it. And while those holidays often included gift-giving, until recently they were not centered around it. Gifts were not just another compulsion conditioned into us through ‘tradition’. And yet I don’t really give a swimming shit about ‘the true meaning of Christmas’, I think that we can examine the mindless consumerism of our culture parallel to Christmas as a way of seeing the psychological functions similarly underlying each of them.
As a child I failed to enjoy toys. Or at least, it seemed to me like I was unable to enjoy them in the way that other kids did. Sure, video games and bb guns were always fun, but most of the plastic junk that ended up under the Christmas tree or was acquired during the rest of the year were only really valuable when being shown to friends that did not own them. Yet playing with little plastic people, except when attempting to blow them up midair, was never rewarding to me. For this reason I failed to understand the appeal of Star Wars, a movie that seemed little more than an extended commercial for Star Wars swag, then and now. I had always assumed that I was either doing something wrong or was just somehow not gifted with the ability to enjoy playing boy dolls. Yet as I have gotten older and observed others, I do not think I was alone in that.
I think that we were conditioned by marketers to believe all these toys were somehow fun. And we believed it so much that we told ourselves that it really was fun. And when we saw others telling themselves how much fun it was, we decided to believe it was fun too, lest we get left behind as the fun train trailed off into the funset. Now I think that most of us never really found it fun, even if we told ourselves that it was. Even those people who still think their childhood fun centered around all these little plastic lumps of merchandising probably really never felt contented in the ways that more genuine fun like a splash-fight or nighttime outdoor hide and seek made us feel. And so I submit that it is this inner subconscious recognition of our failure to find any meaning in junk toys and the ‘fun’ they provide that causes adults to try to make up for it by living vicariously through their children. Surely they will have the fun that we never really felt, right? And so each generation has to buy harder to try to fill in that hole. The more toys that failed to fulfill you, the more you will buy to attempt to fulfill the next generation.
It is like an addiction. We are chasing the dragon of fun. We remember how great that first time seemed and are constantly trying to get back there. But the truth is that not only can we never return, there is nothing to return to. It was all a myth. That first fix wasn’t that great. It only seemed so because it was the only one that we never did out of the necessity of compulsion.
So then if our gifting behavior is comprised of unnecessary consumer items that promise to fulfill us but only doom us to more desire than we can ever fulfill, what about a holiday centered around gifts? Could it be that Christmas is just as empty as useless plastic tchotchkes? Could it be that we keep trying to outdo every last Christmas to make up for how empty they make us feel while promising us fulfillment? In Christmas, toys and mindless consumerism, are we just chasing the dragon like heroin addicts and serial killers?
Why does Christmas start earlier and end later every year?
Is that the mark of something we are satisfied with/by?
Why did I see people come into the bookstore where I work and spend gift certificates they got last year to buy gifts this year? Could this possibly indicate that there is really no meaning in this giving, but just an endless cycle of compulsion, as in addiction?
Why has Christmas shopping become a violent sport if all that giving is in the name of love and caring, and not just some selfish instinct to overcome our own fears of meaninglessness and inadequacy through competition?
Christmas has been co-opted by a new religion, the religion of the oligarchs. And they use Christmas as a way of making you feel guilted into massive amounts of spending that benefits nobody but them. It is as in The Parable of the Broken Window, where we see that breaking windows in order to fix them actually detracts from wealth by distributing it without value being created in the process. Yet you can be sure that even if the window fixer and community were not experiencing an increase in wealth from intentionally breaking windows, the window factory owners in another town were. This is the case of consumerism and Christmas in a global industrialist oligarchy. Christmas consumerism is based on the creation of a false need, just like the breaking of windows.
We are conditioned to believe that we must buy each other gifts for Christmas. More and better every year. But there is no real need for this. There is not even a good reason. Just a compulsion implanted by clever marketers working for the oligarchs. Our economies and communities do not gain value or increase wealth by Christmas consumerism. Nor do most individuals. Only a select few are actually gaining anything from all of these acts of senseless shopping. And the reason all of the shopping and preparations begin to feel more like a job than a holiday is because that is precisely what it is. Christmas is slavery in sleigh bells and a stupid sweater.
Spoiler Alert: The dragon is never caught. The bad guys win and everyone else is enslaved in their meaningless mindfuck forever. The end.