WHY CONSUMERISM ISN’T SO BAD AFTER ALL: OUR KITCHENS AND BATHROOMS ARE MICROCOSMS OF THE GOD-GIVEN AND GOD-MADE CYCLE OF PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION OF FOOD, DRINK AND HUMAN WASTE AND CLEANSING OF OUR BEINGS.
I was meditating alone on the couch this fine May afternoon in Port Colborne, ON. The spring weather has finally arrived, the snow categorically has been gone for some time, but the renewal of the body, mind and spirit which always comes here in Canada with the arrival of the warmer weather, always feels like it’s been a long time coming. It’s always much anticipated, talked about in casual conversation and seems to affect the whole nation’s outlook on all aspects of living for both good and ill.
So much so that it got me to thinking about why exactly are we here on God’s green earth? Ah, the timeless question: Why are we here? Who put us here? What’s our mission? What’s the meaning of life? If we turn on the TV, radio or go online, we immediately are struck by the plethora of advertizing for consumer goods and services of all kinds.
In fact, increasingly, humans are being referred to as ‘consumers’, as opposed to ‘citizens’ or even ‘humans.’ This is definitely cause for concern. I often hear coming from the lips of politicians across North America when they refer to the citizenry within their constituencies as ‘consumers’, and ‘what is best for consumers to get the economy going and to spur growth in consumer spending’ etc…
It would seem that as a species, we were not of much value in the eyes of the political class, who, as Karl Marx wrote back in the mid 1800s, were, in his estimation, in the case of democratic systems of government, mere instruments of the commercial, industrial and financial bourgeoisies, in other words, big business or free enterprise.
So has our value as humans, as sentient beings, created in the image and likeness of God and charged with executing his will here on earth, been reduced to a simple, godless, mechanical, irreligious, socio-economic and socio-political equation of our greater or lesser (greater, do the denizens of free enterprise hope, it would seem), propensity to produce and consume goods and services? That’s what it appears to be if one bases oneself on the endless and relentless onslaught of 24 hr/day, 7 day/week, 365 day/year advertizing everywhere we go.
If it’s not on TV, radio, the web, newspapers, magazines, it’s on billboards, on the floor of businesses as we walk into an establishment, on T-shirts, even on the little divider thingy at the grocery store which separates your order from the one after you now has lottery advertizing on it! It all seems to be a well-organized plot to get us all to gorge increasingly on beer, pop, junk food, lottery tickets, casinos, sports and entertainment products and services, pharmaceuticals, health and beauty products (including weight loss and gym memberships to make up for all the other crap we’ve been consuming!), cars, cars and more cars, trucks, insurance, travel and the Mother of them all: Home renovations!!!
Never before in the history of western civilization, or any civilization has there been such an obsession with home renovations. A whole consumer industry has sprung up around it. Until a few decades ago, those big box stores weren’t all that present in the marketplace. However, as the massive amount of housing stock built just before and just after WWII in North America has begun to get old and be in need of renovation or to be torn down and rebuilt, a huge industry has emerged in do-it yourself home renovations, especially as the cost of labour and trades people has gone up, making construction more expensive.
We now have Home Depot, (Home Despot as some say), Lowe’s, Rona, Reno-Depot and so on. The home renovation and hardware stores of the 1960s and 70s in Canada just don’t measure up in the shear size and variety of products and services for the home. I used to work at Pascal Hardware in Québec City and it was considered to be a chain of hardware stores, mostly in the Province of Québec, that ‘sold everything.’ But they eventually shut down, same thing as Beaver Lumber, remember them? (Le Castor Bricoleur in Québec as I recall).
The biggest items in these establishments are invariably and perennially kitchen and bathroom items. What’s with that, eh? What is it with the places we ‘produce and consume’ food and the place we ‘produce and consume’ (as in dispose of) human waste, not to mention cleanse our bodies and hopefully refresh our drooping spirits in the process, that generates such an interest in our lives as ‘consumers?’
The answer is not as evident as we might think. We might just have a knee-jerk reaction and say that ‘well, these are the two rooms in the house which see the most traffic, since we have to eat three meals a day, and we all have to urinate and defecate and to wash ourselves to keep clean and stave off infection, so of course these rooms are the ones which get dirtiest the most often and need to be cleaned most often and hence wear out quickest and are most in need of fixing up.’
Sounds easy enough as a temporal, concrete, ‘consumer-based’ explanation for it. But wait a minute!? What’s goin’ on exactly here? As we ‘produce and ‘consume’ food and waste we are also engaging ourselves in a cycle of producing nourishment not only for our bodies but for our minds and souls as well. The kitchen and dining areas are places where families gather, often in God’s name, to break bread and to share a meal and the pleasure of each other’s company so as to ‘produce’ the desired effect of ‘consuming’ any ill-will or feelings of resentment or anger we may feel towards a loved one, either family or friends. Often a good meal, well-prepared and well-executed, with nice dishes and cutlery and serving bowls and candles with just the right lighting and ambience will set the tone for a delightful evening of conversation and happiness and will soothe and smooth over a lot of tensions which may have accumulated over a period of time. In this way, our homes become an oasis to ‘recreate’ ourselves and our circle of friends and family around the common denominator of good food and drink, good company, fine décor and pleasant conversation. After all, are we not trying to ‘recreate’ or ‘produce’God’s kingdom here on earth? Are we not trying to bring a little heaven onto this earth? We can do that by making our homes warm and welcoming oases of comfort and friendship where we ‘produce’ and ‘consume’ not only food and drink and home renovation products and services, but also we ‘produce’ the happiness and wholeness of a loving household based on God’s love and affection for His people which we manifest in the actions we bring forth in the ‘course’ of our ‘three course’ meal.
The same goes for the bathroom. We don’t just go there to urinate and to defecate and to wash up. Of course our bathrooms are places where much intimate and not-normally-spoken of bodily functions are carried out, often at great length and with great ritual. One only has to witness the amount of time both men and women spend in the bathroom executing these bodily functions and cleaning and cleansing their bodies to realize just how sacred a place is the bathroom.
We even nicknamed the toilet ‘the throne’ and have developed an elaborate economy of goods and services around ‘producing’ and ‘consuming’ products and services to make our experience on the ‘throne’ a more sanctified one. One only has to think of the plethora of bathroom tissue commercials which talk about their product being ‘soft as cotton’, or like ‘Cashmere.’ We really like to pamper ourselves when it comes to wiping our bums it would seem. (Myself personally, I just buy the big econo pack of the ‘no name’ stuff on sale for the cheapest price!’)
Then there’s the toilet sanitizers which show the guy dressed like a Roman Emperor talking about ‘only such and such a product is good enough for my throne.’ We don’t like any stinky poop or pee smell coming out of our toidy, now, do we? We want to sanctify the area where we perform our ablutions, do we not?
One only has to think of ancient times such as in Rome and the ancient Roman city of Bath, which was a sacred place with public bath houses where people went to replenish their souls in the pure water. Public bathing and bath houses have a long history in this world, such as with Turkish Baths. It’s not just a question of not everybody having central plumbing so they have to use the public bath house. There’s been a long-standing culture of bathing in many civilizations where bath houses have been connected to sources of hot springs with medicinal properties, all increasing the sanctity of the place where we go to ‘produce’ and ‘consume’ a process of both physical and spiritual regeneration.
So in the final analysis, are we really just being sold ‘consumer goods?’ Are we being treated solely as ‘consumers?’ Maybe. But maybe some advertisers are missing out on the sacred aspects of the ‘production’ and ‘consumption’ aspects of kitchens and bathrooms. Good thing the spring weather has finally arrived. I think it just ‘produced’ some worthwhile reflections we can all ‘consume!’