It’s Giving Tuesday. Tell Capitalism to Fuck Off.
“Just buy it! You don’t have to rationalize everything,” Lisa Simpson said to her mother as the guilt-ridden Marge found a pink Chanel suit marked down from $2,800 to $90.
“All right, I will buy it,” Marge says, talking herself into purchasing a garment she’ll run through her sewing machine again and again in attempt to impress Springfield’s country-club set. “It’ll be good for the economy.”
In 1996, the year “Scenes from the Class War in Springfield” — one of the most enduring episodes from The Simpsons‘ golden age — debuted, the U.S. gross domestic product was about $8 trillion. So Marge’s splurge constituted 0.00000001125 percent of all economic activity that year. It’s a joke in several ways, obviously, the biggest being the way we fuse personal consumption with virtue.
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Flash forward 23 years to Cyber Monday 2019, when America’s G.D.P. is more than $21 trillion and we are told that it was the best Cyber Monday ever, a $9.4 billion juggernaut that was up 19 percent over last year’s figure, with Americans spending $11 million every minute at its peak.
Indulge me as I parrot the most obnoxious phrase in online contrarianism, then italicize it: Am I the only one who thinks that this is really, really weird?
This is supposedly the new age of socialism. Bernie Sanders might be our next president. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez out-raised every other House Democrat in the third quarter. Crying together over student-debt burdens is the new meet-cute. I know it’s too much to ask print newspapers and CNN to revive a labor-reporting desk to counterbalance all the breathless coverage of corporate America’s triumphs, but even seeing the headline “Cyber Monday Was the Biggest Shopping Day in Amazon’s History” makes me want to behead a tsar. Hurray for Jeff Bezos! But sorry for the workers who injure themselves in his neo-Dickensian fulfillment centers, and for the local shops fighting for their lives on Small-Business Saturday — which is apparently sponsored by American Express.
If I may get particularly cantankerous about it, this a symptom of a bigger problem: We are pretty thoroughly propagandized to cheerlead for capitalism, and equating Black Friday and Cyber Monday totals with the overall direction America is going in is just plain weird.
It’s not just this week, either. Once upon a time, pretentious people pontificated about films with subtitles, but now film “criticism” seems to consist of oohing-and-aahing over blockbuster box-office figures, as if popularity had anything to do with aesthetic merit. Fine, Solo “disappointed.” So what? It didn’t disappoint me. It was fun and Donald Glover is an awesome Lando!
Even NPR gets in on the game, constantly filling up pockets of air time with quickie updates about the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the NASDAQ, as if their intraday fluctuations represented the economy in microcosm. They don’t.
Rather than go full ranty-Marxist about how you need to Wake up, people!, let’s just emphasize that today is Giving Tuesday. It’s the most benign part of the capitalist conquest of Thanksgiving, so much sweeter than Black Friday — although mercifully, it doesn’t appear that any Americans died in a stampede at Walmart or Best Buy this year. Me, I’m renewing my memberships in the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU, along with my unshakeable commitment to having issues of The New Yorker pile up in my house. (I gave the bonus gift subscription to a smartypants in my life who’s also a genuine broke-ass just now.)
But while everyone with the means to do so should support the causes they believe in, keep in mind that our worth as human beings isn’t predicated on our ability to spend — or even to give. Giving comes in many forms, too, not all of them monetary or easily compiled in stats. As I type this, my boyfriend is busy unscrewing the ceiling fixtures in our living room to clean out a year’s worth of dead bugs, which is pure beneficence because he’s really tall and I can’t reach up there plus it’s really gross.
Better still, Americans are coming around to the idea that endless growth is a destructive fairy-tale and capitalism is severely distorted. Its distortions produce further distortions in large-scale philanthropy, something we will hopefully phase out during the 2020s in favor of structural changes to how this society operates for non-billionaires. In the meantime, better to buy the Chanel suit — for yourself or for someone you love — rather than congratulate yourself for participating in an incomprehensibly gigantic consumption machine. Capitalism is over, if you want it.