I enjoy getting together with friends and family as much as anyone. Sharing time with the people you love most is encouraging and comforting. During the winter season these kinds of gatherings tend to grow more frequent. From the Thanksgiving feast to the New Year’s party, celebrations often center on collective consumption.
People eat together, drink together, shop together, and exchange gifts. It is a rare occasion that a group of individuals wanting to spend time with one another will simply gather and talk. Even organization meetings often lure members with the promise of free food and beverage.
To consume means to eat, drink, or ingest (in the case of food), to buy (in the case of goods and services), or to completely destroy. The last definition sometimes seems the closest to the truth, as consumption often results in waste. Americans make up five percent of the world’s population, yet they consume 30% of the world’s resources.
Many scientists agree, in discussion about global warming, the problem comes not simply from overpopulation in the developing world, but also from over consumption in the developed world. That is why Adbusters started its Buy Nothing Day campaign: to remind people that consumption should be a thoughtful process of sifting through one’s needs and desires to determine what is necessary to purchase.
Adbusters is a not-for-profit magazine published in Vancouver, British Columbia. On the magazine’s website it defines itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.” The goal of the magazine is essentially to “topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century.”
Changing the daily routines of billions of people is not an easy task to take on. Adbusters publishes its magazine, which presents creative criticism of society and capitalism, and uses Powershift, its advocacy and advertising agency, to work toward such revolutionary change. During the holiday season, Adbusters makes its presence more noticeable with public service announcements encouraging minimalism as an alternative to the outlandish spending that often occurs.
In the 2007 holiday season, however, Adbusters will not receive the airtime it desires. The organization targeted MTV. Probably the most influential media outlet for teenagers and young adults (some of the biggest spenders) is MTV. Upon graduating high school, the average teenager has been exposed to over 360,000 estimated advertisements. In today’s society, the average American spends six hours every week shopping, and only 40 minutes playing with their kids.
MTV is the epitome of the American youth consumer frenzy, and Adbusters wanted in on that market. The commercial Adbusters tried (and is trying) to air on MTV involves a straightforward message about North American consumption compared to the rest of the world. A giant pig, whose body takes up the entire North American continent, oinks and squeals while the narration explains the perils of over-consumption.
In front of images of landfills and litter, the narrator states, “the average North American consumes five times more than a Mexican, ten times more than a Chinese person, and 30 times more than a person from India. We are the most voracious consumers in the world: a world that could die because of the way we North Americans live. Give it a rest. November 23 is Buy Nothing Day.”
Buy Nothing Day is an international observance and protest against the commercial industry that prospers on such over-consumption. Also known as “Black Friday,” the Friday after Thanksgiving is well known as one of the ten biggest shopping days of the year. People arrive at the doors of Target and Wal-Mart at six in the morning just to have first dibs on the best deals. The expectation of the perfect Christmas gift places an undue burden on consumers to consume more, and never be satisfied.
This insatiable desire for more things exhibits itself in the area of credit and debt. In 1983, it was found that 8.6% of people’s personal income went to pay off their debts. In 1990, just seven years later, that number rose to 83%. That is basically everything people earn, going right back to the bank to pay for things they could not afford when they made the purchase.
Even with the trends toward an increase in consumption, many are fighting back. Adbusters and its supporters made November 23 Buy Nothing Day. This is a day which consumers make a point to spend nothing. Some supporters go even further. Instead of just not consuming, many participate in anti-shopping demonstrations. Some stand outside of shopping malls and superstores offering the simple but symbolic service of cutting credit cards.
Others might dress as zombies and walk around malls among the other living dead, playing the part of a confused zombie, curious about the brainwashed shoppers so mindlessly seeking material gain. My favorite is the whirl-mart approach. This demonstration encouraged individuals to gather ten or twelve of their closest friends to walk around Wal-Mart or other stores with empty shopping carts. In a sort of conga line, they parade around the store, obviously buying nothing.
In 1994 the Trends Research Institute found that voluntary simplicity is one of the top ten trends in North America. This proves that movements like Buy Nothing Day may actually have a much larger impact than is visibly measurable. The message is out there.
According to the same research, 70% of people earning over $30,000 a year said they would give up one day of pay a week for a day of free time. They just want one day a week to spend no money, forget about consumption and monetary situations, and be with themselves, their families, and just escape the pressures of the dog-eat-dog free market. There is potential in that 70% of the wealthier population, and there is even more potential for change in the youth advocating the Buy Nothing Day movement.