The Shopaholic was recommended to me by The Princess, daughter of The Empress. While you might think, if you have noticed what I read, that there are no depths of literature to which I haven’t already sunk, the truth is that I have read little in the “chick lit” genre. The Bridget Jones books, of course, but I did not notice that they were an entirely new genre. It seemed to me that there had been fiction of that kind for centuries. That was before the marketing division got to it, obviously. The Shopaholic is witty, though, and well-written. I always enjoy books in which the characters are self-deceptive — it seems like a challenging task, to make it clear to your readers that the character is deceiving herself.
I am also still reading the Daniel Quinn books. So far, the most interesting idea I’ve found in Ishmael is the notion that unlimited competition reduces diversity. Actually, I find the notion that increasing the food supply leads to increased population and therefore there will always be famine an interesting one, too, but I recognized it as the work of Thomas Malthus. So I figure the idea about reducing diversity is not a new one, either. I just hadn’t read it before, or at least not formulated in that way. I think it is true, though.
In fact, Candyfreak reported that there were 100,000 new candy bars developed in the 20th century, and now they are nearly all gone. This is the result of competition run amuck, leaving us with fewer choices. I didn’t warn you about the potential dangers of Candyfreak when I recommended it. The obvious one is that it might make you want to eat chocolate, but this is counteracted by the natural response of nausea when you read about that much sugar. The remaining danger is that you will want to read the funny parts to people who are trying to watch TV or play games or talk to you about something, and they will lose patience with you.
Diversity is a good thing, though. There are ecological advantages to biodiversity, of course, and there are philosophical and aesthetic advantages to cultural diversity. I’m not sure what the advantage would be to having 100,000 different candy bars available to us, but it sounds better to me. I think it was better when every town had a couple of little bookstores and they were different from one another, and from the ones in the next town.
We have an odd new poster at work that says “DIVERSITY” down the side with the words coming off the initials: “Different Individuals Valued Equally Regardless of Skin, Intellect, Talents, or Years.” I found this odd because I tend to think of diversity, in humans, in terms of ethnic, religious, and philosophical differences. Age, okay. But is diversity really about valuing people equally regardless of their talents? Maybe so. This could be something for me to strive for, I guess. I tend to admire competence a lot more than incompetence. However, we all have our own areas of competence, don’t we? This approach to diversity, if it is indeed a newly shared American value, would go some way toward explaining our government.
In any case, the thing about unlimited competition is interesting to me. It happens that there are a number of different circumstances in my life and my reading that are bringing the issue to my mind. When Ishmael talks about unlimited competition, he is talking about greed — the desire not merely to have one gazelle for your meal, but to have all the gazelles in case you want them in the future. Or all the land, because it is your Manifest Destiny. The Candyfreak describes himself as “somewhere left of Jesus” on the subject of greed and consumption, in spite of his having hoarded 36 boxes of dark chocolate Kit Kat bars, and writes about the permutations of thinking on that subject, and on economic competition, throughout the book. And the Shopaholic is a study in greed and excessive consumption. In the book that I am reading (perhaps the second in the series), she has decided to buy only what she needs, and we get to see the mental gymnastics she goes through in order to persuade herself that she needs more than she could ever actually use or afford. That’s the topic in the books I am reading.
There are also magazines. #1 daughter has given me subscriptions to several lovely decorating magazines. Now, all advertising is designed to create dissatisfaction. That is its job. So when I keep seeing all these patio tables with fire pits — like the one #1 daughter is buying — it is natural that I should begin to think how nice it would be to have one of those, even though two weeks ago I had never heard of such a thing.
And #2 daughter has gotten a job as a “Brand Rep” at Abercrombie & Fitch. #1 daughter had this job, too, so I am familiar with it. A Brand Rep’s job is to stand around in A&F clothing in the store, inducing dissatisfaction. My daughters are members of the small genotype that naturally wears a size 0. It is not their fault; they were born that way. #2 daughter in particular eats like a horse. She also has great skin. Hardly anyone looks like this — and it is, at the moment, the arbitrary cultural definition of beauty — so it is just about guaranteed that most girls who come into the store will feel dissatisfaction with themselves upon seeing her. They are supposed to respond to this by buying clothes that they may or may not need. Given that I — a person who hates shopping and believes in consuming only according to actual need — am seriously considering buying a patio table, this whole method probably works.
But there she is at work with a sign on the break room wall that says “Remember why you were hired — because you look good!” Is this a decent way to make a living? #2 daughter is not vain or looks-obsessed, and she doesn’t make other girls feel bad as part of her daily life. What will it do to her character to do this for her summer job?
And I also am having to buy clothes. #1 son is growing at an unreasonable rate and needs new clothes. I need new clothes, too, even though I bought several pieces of clothing. This is because I haven’t bought any in so many years that it will take me a little while to catch up. And #2 daughter has to have some new clothes for her work, because the whole point is to stand around causing jealousy in A&F clothing. Now this is not about greed or excessive consumption. But it means that I am having to venture into arenas of competitive marketing which I normally avoid like the plague. Since I work in retail, I see all the tricks, so I cannot overlook it.
So, what with one thing and another, I am deep in contemplation of this issue. Have you any thoughts on the subject? If so, please share them. And just take one gazelle, okay?