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Beyond The Valley Of The Consumer Zombies:

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the walking undead are becoming more like lovable cartoon characters than haunting specters invoking fear and terror. Zombies are showing up in TV commercials, cracking wise, and then having a limb fall off as a punch line. You know, to sell mobile service. Then there are comedy films with funny zombies and wacky villagers possessed by space critters. To be perfectly frank, the brand is losing traction as a source of horror.

But let me suggest that the default staggering cadaver with flesh bits dangling may soon be replaced by something that should scare us even more, and that’s Singing Zombie Consumers. Zombie Consumers are everywhere this holiday season.

I don’t mean the folks with some form of mental illness that causes them to get violent during early or late hour “Black Friday” store rampages. Getting into a fist fight with a complete stranger over who had their hands on the last deeply discounted X-Box console at Best Buy isn’t being a zombie; it’s being a rude hick with a poorly tuned value system.

What I’m talking about are these TV commercials or print advertisements where somebody appears to be either approaching or having an orgasm because of special low holiday prices, convenient layaway, value and selection… some dimension of the apparently life-affirming exercise known as shopping. Dressed in nerd-ish every-person garb, with holiday scarves, these people have lost physical control of their bodies because of some sales event at a big box retailer.

These representations are supposed to be amusing by way of everybody acting way too excited about shopping.  But they’re not funny, they’re shrill. And when you give yourself even a moment to consider the need and deprivation in parts of the world like Haiti or the climate-change ravaged Philippines, you are left viewing these “spots” as a very pungent sort of pornography.

I’m not attacking capitalism or more specifically our manufacturer-to-consumer distribution system. I’m saying that the implication that the act of shopping can somehow bring one to orgasmic climax – while singing puns in place of lyrics originally intended to celebrate the birth of Christ – is kind of sick when it’s held up against the conditions prevalent in other areas on our planet where there are few shopping malls or even potable water.

Singing Zombie Consumers are not yet the default for all Christmas advertising. But their numbers are large enough that I believe we must respond to make sure we don’t become infected ourselves. Allow me to offer these suggestions, some of which appear in this column about this same time every year.

It can be a warm, human gesture to call someone on the phone during the holidays and talk to them, especially if you’ve been out of touch for months or even years.  Rather than saying to somebody by means of a gift that you love them, try just saying “I love you.”

Before e-mail there was something called “mail.” People would use it to send Christmas cards and often those contained a little personal note, with a wish for getting together in the New Year. Often the cards themselves were creatively original and home-made.  There was tactile enjoyment in the making of the cards, and then pleasure for the person at the other end in receiving something with some real effort involved. Examples of these so-called home-made cards are on display at local museums this time of year, right next to the vibrating electric football games of our youth.

There’s lots of ways to go “shopping.” One of those is to send a gift in the name of a loved one to a charitable organization. A visit to Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org), for even a few minutes of checking out various agencies can put your mind at ease about making donations. There’s so much need out there right now, I don’t even have to guide you on where your help can go.

What you are not obligated to do is evaluate your own decency and humanity through somebody else’s consumer behavior index. It’s not our job to drive up the numbers on Black Friday, and we should not be portrayed as singing robots that find an almost explosive satisfaction in buying goods as an expression of joy. Not because that offends any sensibilities I might have concerning the holiday of Christmas, but because it’s just flat out offensive. There’s an enormous and painful disparity between haves and have-nots in America. But it’s nothing compared to the gap that too often appears between representing the spirit of Christmas and simple good taste.

in Opinion
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