Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of Month Date, 2003
Galloping greed consumes us
What were vices are now habits - - Doobie Brothers
By SUZANNE ELSTON
There is something seriously wrong in a society when four of the seven deadly sins are extolled as virtues in the media. But that's exactly what cosmetic giant L'Oréal has done with a new ad campaign designed to promote the company's line of hair care products. The television and print ads feature four gorgeous young models; each expensively dressed in the style-du-jour and captioned with the words, greed, anger, pride and gluttony.
The ads would be disturbing enough by themselves, but they are just an example of an alarming trend in advertising that extols the virtues of excess while promising that priceless values can be bought.
Consider a recent print ad for Hyundai that claims, "When you can get everything you want in a car, and in life, you win," or Radio Shack's print promotion for the RBK streetball edition cell phone that offers, "Respect is just around the corner."
Perhaps what I find most upsetting about this trend in advertising is that not only does nobody else seem to care about this, but society actually appears to be lapping up the new ethic of excess. To borrow from the title of an old Doobie Brothers album, "What were once vices are now habits."
This was driven home to me recently in Toronto's Eaton Centre. In the atrium of the mall a large, excited crowd had gathered around a $140,000 fully-loaded Hummer. The personal armored transportation device (I really can't bring myself to consider it a family vehicle) is the grand prize in a contest being promoted by a local radio station and the long-distance discount company yak.ca.
The display was surrounded by young, upwardly mobile shoppers, who looked strangely like the models on the L'Oréal billboards lining the street outside the mall. I am quite sure that somewhere in each pair of designer jeans an equally trendy cell phone awaited the next incoming text message advising its owner where to shop or what to buy.
If a picture is worth a thousand words then this vision of unabashed consumerism and greed is worth a million tears. How did we get to a place and time where a mere 20 per cent of us consumes 86 per cent of the world's resources? How is it possible that on a planet of over six billion souls, close to a billion are starving, while an even greater number suffer from obesity?
To have the time to ponder these questions more fully, the organizers of Buy Nothing Day (BND) invite citizens of the world to do just that. This year, BND celebrates its tenth anniversary on Nov. 28 in Canada and the U.S., and on Nov. 29 in Europe.
Begun by the Canadian founders of Adbusters magazine in 1993, Buy Nothing Day is now celebrated in 55 countries as a global stand off from consumerism.
As the BND U.K. website states, "Buy Nothing Day isn't about changing your lifestyle for just one day - we want it to be a lasting relationship with your consumer conscience - maybe a life changing experience? We want people to make a commitment to consuming less, recycling more and challenging companies to clean up and be fair. The supermarket or shopping mall might offer great choice, but this shouldn't be at the cost of the environment or developing countries."
I believe we are nearing the point of critical mass. Like seagulls screaming at the dump, scrapping for the best bit of rotting garbage, we are fighting for the remains of a society that has long since outgrown itself.
Contrary to the popular cultural myth of the day, the one with the most toys, or cell phones, designer hair or SUVS at the end, doesn't win. When we push our planet and its resources past the point of being sustainable, we all lose.
Recommended websites:Buy Nothing Day is the self-proclaimed festival of frugal living that challenges everyone to spend a day without spending. For more information, visit the UK Buy Nothing Day website at www.buynothingday.co.uk
Adbusters is a not-for-profit, reader-supported, 120,000-circulation magazine concerned with the erosion of our physical and cultural environments by commercial forces. Go to www.adbusters.org.
You really can find just about anything on the web. For more information about the seven deadly sins, check out www.rushman.org/seven.
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