Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oblivious anti-consumerism

My dad spotted these:

Left rear bumper: "Consumption Will Not Fill the Void."

Right rear bumper: "Black Star Pub Brewery"

And that's not the only thing that makes the left bumper sticker ironic. What's that thing attached to the bumper sticker? Oh yes, a car. You would think that such a vocal critic of consumerism would think twice about having one -- or at least about decorating it with unnecessary plastic.

I'm reminded of the New York Times article that reported, with a straight face, on the family (a married couple with kids) that was purporting to give away its possessions. (Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, both the family and the car with the bumper stickers were in Austin.) I blogged the story and said:
They're also going to give away their current cars ... and get new cars ... and drive all the way from their current home in Texas to Vermont (where they've never been) to start a new life. I'm not sure how driving across the country -- which is to say, using up the world's resources and unnecessarily contributing to carbon emissions, just to give a partial list of the evils of driving -- is part of simplifying your life and returning to nature. Americans are so obsessed with our car culture that using a car doesn't even register as something that goes against the ideals of simplicity, counterculture, anti-consumerism. Thus, the Times write-up never mentions their car situation, and I doubt that the writers had a second thought about this. Or if they did, it was quickly dismissed: "Come on, you have to have a car!"
I don't mean to attack people who feel that they need a car. Maybe they do. But if so, they should think twice about whether to hold themselves out to the world as paragons of monastic counterculturism.


Ann Althouse said...

There's a void, Jerry, there's a void... "

"A deep, yawning chasm..."


Just because you know consumption will not fill the void doesn't mean you're against consumption. I like a lot of things that I don't expect to give me profound satisfaction. I can still enjoy a beer (or a car) even if I know it isn't the most fulfilling thing in life.

Jason (the commenter) said...

There's a lot of money to be made in anti-consumerism.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Just because you know consumption will not fill the void doesn't mean you're against consumption.

If the statement were made in the middle of a conversation, that would be one thing. But putting it on a bumper sticker implies that it should be interpreted as an ideological manifesto.

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, I also don't like having the idea of "the void" thrust upon me while I'm driving. I'm afraid of that phantom crazy impulse to drive my car into the oncoming headlights.

(Not really. "Annie Hall" reference.)

John Althouse Cohen said...

"Well, I have to go now ... I'm due back on the planet Earth ..."

summer anne burton said...

Interesting, perhaps semi-relevant note: if your dad is still in Austin, Black Star Pub Brewery is a cooperatively-owned, volunteer-run home-brewing group with the hope of eventually opening a bar at which the customers would also be co-owners, ala the cooperative grocery store in town Wheatsville.

Obviously that doesn't cancel out your points, and consumption isn't really a synonym for capitalism even if people act like it is... but I do think it might contribute to why the person with that car might not have thought of the two as contradictory. :)

kjbe said...

If they are recovering alcoholics, then the bumper stickers make sense.

halojones-fan said...

Filling the void, whatever, what about filling the VORTEX? Oh wait, that job's taken. (bah-DOOMP!)

John Althouse Cohen said...

Summer: That's a great point, and I wasn't aware of those facts. Yes, this knowledge makes the irony weaker than if the second bumper sticker had a Budweiser logo.

But as I said in my first comment in this post, the very fact that you're putting something on a bumper sticker is itself a statement. Putting a bumper sticker on your car typically carries a subtext: "This (statement, product, store, what-have-you) is one of the things that defines me." Sure, someone who shops at Wheatsville yet has anti-consumerism views isn't high on my list of people who are guilty of hypocrisy. You and I could certainly agree that shopping at Wheatsville is relatively benign as modern-day "consumption" goes. Someone who has a Wheatsville bumper sticker, on the other hand, is advertising a store where you buy products in cardboard boxes and plastic containers. You don't need to decorate your car with any bumper stickers promoting plastic products; anyone who does so, and also puts a down-with-consumerism bumper sticker on the same car, should be laughed at. (One of the Althouse blog commenters says the car owner was being knowingly ironic, which is fine by me!)