It’s that time of year again. Time for you mums and dads out there to decipher this years incomprehensible list of must have fads from Nippon and movie franchise action figures, gritting teeth through a Santa suit at having to shell out once more for Crimbo magic. Scenarios like this, played out through the millions of homes across Europe and America, are the very engine of the economy. The blood of globalization. We done the same in our own spoiled childhoods, and our parents probably in theirs, but conning children into wanting new shapes of plastics each year is a relatively recent trend, one we can date back, more or less, to the Great depression.
In the same year the US economy vaporized, President Herbert Hoover sponsored a conference called the “White House Conference on Child Health and Protection”, and in its report concluded with the then novel idea that parents should encourage children to have their own possessions (toys, furniture etc) at an early age. Parents were encouraged to take their children shopping with them and choose their own food and toys (Big hoops with stick, whatever kids played with back then). The report continued;
Through such experiences personality develops... [These] experiences have the advantage of also creating in the child a sense of personal as well as family pride in ownership, and eventually teaching him that his personality can be expressed through things.
The idea clearly caught on. The kids grew up, went forth and multiplied and spread this way of thinking. Seventy years later Americanised consumerism has spread across the west and beyond. We grow up very much with the idea that our personalities are best expressed through commodities, be those toys, clothes, gadgets or genres of music. Billions are still spent convincing the next generation that buying is a form of empowerment; consumption is freedom. This is unsurprising as children in the west spend more time exposed to television than they do going to school. That’s why they grow up to become mentalists that put people in hospital during shoe sales.
Expressing our personality through ‘things’ is so much a part of our worldview that it is almost invisible. For millions leisure time equates to purchasing new accessories that match the abstract notion of “me” to project to others. Christmas has become a guessing game of deducing which items match your loved ones idea of who they are. Guessing correctly is translated through the magic of Christmas into an expression of love. But they’re not gifts of love, they’re offerings of duty for people we love.
I’ll go now and await a certain trio of festive ghosts.