On Saturday, (two posts ago) I was in Times Square, standing in the hot July sun for five hours hawking comical political souvenirs. There is a small group of people who have been doing this for about a year, and I just recently signed up. If it’s a busy tourist day, it’s possible to sell a lot of items and make pretty great cash. I haven’t had this good fortune yet. The folks who have seniority can bump me off the designated selling corners, and they do, especially during the most profitable/high tourist traffic times to sell. I have worked many hours during off-peak time with only $20 to show for it. This holiday weekend I was banking my fellow hawkers would be out of town, or would shy away from the day-time heat, or at least wait and come out in the evening when it was cooler and catch all the folks going to the 8 p.m. Broadway shows. So I was on the street at 11:00 a.m. determined to catch tourists on their way to lunch, on their way to the matinees and then after the matinees ended. My plan worked, no one booted me from the corner and I made $110 – a record high for me.
Because this is political merchandise I am vending, which also pokes fun at the president and other political leaders, it rubs a handful of passersby the wrong way. Most people laugh. But every few hours I get remarks directed at me like, “That’s disgusting…” or “You should be ashamed of yourself…” And, though these remarks are always passive-aggressively under peoples breath as they kept on walking, I can see they are indeed enraged, angry and offended and they view me as the most brazen, disrespectful American citizen in a 5-mile radius.
It’s a drag to hear people hiss this stuff at me and as a personal self-defense I always remind myself silently there are worse things. But it’s the word “disrespectful” that kind of gets to me and the personality type that spouts that declaration – and that this insignificant and harmless merchandise would grab their attention so sharply. Would they also agree that human trafficking was disrespectful? Do they think child prostitution is disgusting? Do they think people who torture and kill in the name of genocide (“ethnic cleansing”) should be ashamed of themselves?
I’m sure they do. But my point is these inhuman atrocities happen all the time, and it doesn’t seem to hold the average American’s attention long enough to really examine it. I bet these folks spent a good hour over dinner recapping their shock at this political merchandise it took them two seconds to walk by, but they’d give less then five minutes of gab time to express their dissatisfaction of the exchange rate being so favorable from the American to Taiwan dollar that people flock to vacation in Taiwan and get their money’s worth out of non-consensual sex with an 11-year old.
BIG shitty stuff is happening world-wide, and in our own backyard, and the general American populous just drones it out. Where are people’s values? What do they really care about? What is important to them? I’ll tell you what: Possessions. Tchotchkes. Bling.
People are so caught up in insignificant, distracting things (flat screen TVs, sheet thread counts, Jimmy Choo’s) that those pesky crimes against humanity aren’t being noticed.
And the thing that hits home most immediately for me, as an unemployed person, is the general populace is completely unconscious of that fact they are actively keeping themselves economically enslaved every time they purchase something they don’t really need.
Why should a minority of wealthy individuals/corporations/CEO’s have more money than the entire population of Sub Saharan Africa or America’s Appalachia? I’ll tell you why: people are willing to literally hand over their money to them. Because that’s what you are doing every time you buy something you don’t really need. You are facilitating someone else owning a palace in Palm Springs, floating their yacht, financing their private jet, etc., while you watch grossly overpaid sports figures on Monday Night Football or rich-ass pop singers in concert on your brand new 52″ flat screen TV.
If DeBeers Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer came up to you on the street and asked if you would give him $1,350 toward his trip to the South of France, would you just fork over the money?
That’s what you are doing every time you purchase, for example, a diamond pendent.
And, who needs diamonds anyway? No one, really. Who NEEDS even ONE diamond? NO ONE. There is not one single person on planet earth who needs a diamond. Yet there are millions of people who are living less than modestly who will spend thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars to get one. Rather than say putting that money toward something like organic groceries, a hybrid car, or into savings (for when Social Security conks out.)
Why not just have 50% of your paycheck direct deposited into DeBeers, AIG, Lehman Brothers, British Petroleum or any other capitalist CEO’s pocket?
Many of the poorest people (particularly in America) are actively keeping the richest people rich every time, for example, they buy diamonds. And if you are a middle class citizen who hasn’t lost your mortgage and are in a comfortable financial place, yet you have a complaint about CEO’s salary – stop contributing to their salary—and obscene bonuses!
It’s the oldest idea in around, but boycotting (and gerlcotting!) is the most effective weapon people have to force change. The whole world could decide not to give any economic power to the diamond and make a ripple in the world economy. Wouldn’t it be great if masses could simply say, “That stone is worthless to me. Later, Zales.”
I want to promote the idea that people can change what the value of money means. Especially in consumerist America. There are the have and have-nots, and it’s the have-nots, including the American middle-class, who (consciously or unconsciously) allow others to be rich while they tread water financially. What are the non-essentials you are buying that drain your bank account yet funds someone else’s 4th home, this time in Dubai.
This is something people seem most resistant to looking at – they gots to have their stuff. Hopefully for me there won’t be a boycott on worthless souvenirs in Times Square over the next few months and I’ll be able to keep paying my rent this summer.
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