Tuesday, March 9, 2010

9 March 1956 “A Rant: Are We Happy With the Way Things Are?”


I was thinking the other day of the glaring differences in shopping in 1956 and in 2010.50sshopping buyswalmart

How, on the community scale, we are so affected by our current trend, nay infrastructure, of the huge box stores.

A friend of mine who works in a sort of chain store was telling me about her set up. How they have some new fixtures coming in to be built. I asked if they would hire a local carpenter or how it was going to really happen. She said, “No, it will all come in and be put up by whoever the company sends. It is all uniform and every store will have it the same”.

I knew this to be true for such stores. Rather you go into Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Target, The Gap, you know you are going ot see similar mannequins, displays, signage etc. Then hubby and I were discussing how so much money and effort is put into these decisions at corporate offices set up specifically to better advertise, use the space and to create a BRAND.

I hate that term. BRAND. Everyone uses it and people too. Stars will be proud to expound on how they have created a BRAND of themselves, which sells, perfume, shoes, clothes, whatever. We have actually come to the point where our goal is to make ourselves a Brand.

Someone even said to me the other day, “Oh, you really could make yourself a BRAND of the vintage lifestyle. Have a particular look and packaging.” I just stared, at first in disbelief. I don’t want to be a BRAND?! I don’t want to be a packaged item on a shelf, for what? You sell out, sell yourself and then what happens when you end up in the ‘reduced’ bin? Is this actually a goal people are striving towards? Has the search for money through the overused concept of advertising really become such a siren song that we just throw our personalities out, latch onto some sort of advertising wheel, sew  on some buzzwords and sail happily into the rocks? I know I am mixing metaphors, but is that what IT is really all about?

I began to think how if this store my friend worked at was a locally owned store. They would need this new display/fixture. They would find a local handy man. They would probably know or hear about it from around town. He would do the work and, if it were good, customers would see it and say, “Oh, who did this work. I think I will get them to do a deck or build a cabinet” etc. Then that person gets that work and while there finds out another person needs some work ,but doesn’t have a lot of money, “Oh, I can help, just pay half of your bill in your garden produce or your canned food” Then someone is eating that canned food and thinks, “this would be wonderful to sell at my shop” and the cycle goes around and the community grows WITHIN itself. It mixes and mingles and becomes strong BECASUE of the people in it. Based on WHO they are and WHAT they can do not just HOW MUCH money they have in their pocket at any given time.

Then, I think about the corporate store. I envision these large offices plopped down somewhere, in a state that offers the best tax right offs, deciding what we all will see, like, hold, look at and then, as if in some horror futuristic Sci-Fi movie, they sound out trucks and faceless people to add to all the stores. They come into your town and set up the displays, lay down the mandate of how the product will look and be laid out, what style will be where and how” and then easily glide away. I can almost hear some scary industrial soundtrack as secretive robots come out at night, refill the store and lay out the look and then disappear.

Even when such chains hire local carpenters to do some of the work, they have to do and lay it out the way the store dictates. There is no discussion of ‘Oh, what about this way or you could try that” as the owner and the carpenter share their expertise to make a unique setting. Instead, the people hired by the company, sitting in offices and knowing little about the various towns, are deciding how our towns shops and such will look and be shopped?

And, with this uniformity of shops and stores, are we not also giving up the individuality of our towns? When the landscape becomes dominated by their big ugly hulking shapes lined with acres of blacktop and concrete while the towns and parks go empty and unused, are we not unhappy? Do we like this? And yet, WE are making it happen. We still happily drive out to the parking lots, wander through the stores that are the same no matter what town or city you are in. The homogeneousness of it sickens me. Maybe it is just me, maybe people feel some comfort in the sameness of it.

I never really liked such stores before, but I would still frequent them. The Gap and Old Navy, cheap clothes easy. Target for quick sales. I did it. But, since 1955, and now into 1956, whenever I happen in such a store, I could almost become ill. I honestly sometimes feel as if I am a true Time Traveler and have been plopped down here in 2010 and look around and wonder? Have the Communists won? Why are all the stores and shops huge, cold, unified places? It’s funny, because part of the communist fear of the 50’s was that large government run sameness and cold sci-fi future of long lines, being told what to buy and when to buy it. Yet, how has modern capitalism not become that communism of the 50’s? IN a sense these stores are government run when you consider the government is highly influenced and controlled by the corporations through their lobbyists. Many of the laws passed about even some of the food and safety issues are more about stopping you and me from selling our homemade jam at the local grocery store than all the actual food fears, which is why we get the food fears of tainted Salmonella Tomatoes and such. It all happens on such a large scale, how have we not stumbled into Big Brother. The modern capitalism is merely, to me, a disguise of communism, in that a few decide what is good for all. And we stand in line waiting to hand out our money so we can all wear our ‘company sanctioned uniform, :Jeans, Hoodie, Uggs, Hair Scurnchy, velour workout pants”. To me, as a 1956 time traveler, I would seriously think the country had been taken over by the Russians and we were all being told what to wear and how to shop and only ‘sanctioned’ stores could exist in towns. When I consider it this way, it really scares me. Where are we headed?

The one truth I once heard of Capitalism, is that it has no agenda. It doesn’t wear a black hat. IT is NOT the bad guy in the film. It doesn’t think beyond the financial quarter it is in. It doesn’t PLAN to do this or that with an evil or good bent. It simply exists for the bottom line of profit for that quarter. Which is why sometimes it works against itself, because it doesn't’ think ahead. Case in point, back when the first Betamax video recording machines were invented. They were made as a new device to make a new market to sell to. Not considering, it might affect the markets that already exist, going to the movies and the of course the power to tape and record movies from the tv so you don’t have to buy the movies they will make. It didn’t matter. It needed to make a market in which to sell a product. Sometimes it hurts itself, but it just moves on. It doesn't’ care or feel or think ahead.

In a way, that is scary. At least the cowboy with the black hat is obvious. He is out to get the good guy. We can see him. He is Hitler, of course he is bad, let’s get him. But, when the bad guy is the way of life we have lived and been slowly evolving into something greater than it had originally intended to be used, it is scarier. IT is Frankenstein’s monster. It was made with the intent of good, to grown and make an economy, but it go away from us. It stood up and without thinking marched upon people and crushed them, it doesn’t know or care.

That is what scares me. We care. We are feeling people. Our communities are made up of People. Yet, we seem happy to let the Monster grow and to shop in the homogeneous places. And everyday, another little bit of our community and who we are as INDIVIDUALS within  a community goes away. Even the way we communicate with one another. On the computer on the cell phone, it is a distant second hand version of actual human contact, and yet we take it all in stride.

Now, I am not saying go out and overthrow. Because, we cant’ That is what is most frightening about this type of ‘takeover’ IT was never really done with malicious or intent, it just kept going forward because we kept feeding it. That bear that could kill you and your family isn’t evil and isn’t how to destroy you, but if you keep feeding it and luring it closer to your home and then suddenly decide you don’t want it there and slap it and say ‘get out’ it will turn on you and kill you. It will move to the next house. It doesn’t care about YOU only the FOOD. It doesn’t have an ultimatum, but it also doesn’t care if you are crushed, as it will just move onto the neighbors house. That is how we have allowed our current consumer economy to get hold of us. IT isn’ t evil. We lured it in with our money, and became lulled into it by the ease and cheapness of its products, but all the while not realizing we had let a wild bear into our homes. If we try to stop or move it, there is little we can do by ourselves. But, if we want to try to affect a change, we can use our money to tame it and control it as easily as we did to lure it to our towns in the first place.

If the trend moves towards shopping at unique places and places where you can know the owners and where the product comes from. If we say, we want to buy locally made products and if you are not going to sell them (only Chinese made) then we will just buy old products from individuals which helps them and hurts the big store. The chains don’t care one way or the other. They slowly moved out all the production from the U.S.A. and into china because they could use it to SELL more to you. It wasn’t done to be mean, but it WAS done. Every time one of us goes to a store and buys a product that says China or India on the bottom, we are driving another nail into that ‘vintage old timey’ life style we all claim to miss.

Stores have always used Sales and Low Prices to lure us in, but now the corporate store has made it almost a ‘God Given Right’ that we MUST expect the lowest price possible. But why? If we had to pay more to buy things made and produced and grown locally, so what? We would spend LESS because we would HAVE TO BUDGET and we would not need thousands of books telling us how to organize and contain all of our JUNK because we wouldn't’ have bought it in the first place. Such stores, this type of consumer driven economy HAS to make new things for us to NEED all the time in order to survive. While a small company or store, in the old days, could survive a lean year, by the very nature of it not being too large and being a part of our community (where we might pitch in and help) cannot happen with the big chains, and yet, when they were in need, when they had failed US with lending when they shouldn’t and not competing properly in the auto trade, who bailed them out? We did, only we had no say in it.

That is why a solution to this sort of mad drive off a cliff sort of thinking we all seem currently bent on isn’t even Democrats or Republicans. It is US. WE are the people. Who cares, at this point, about either party? It is just the division of one unit, the different side of the same coin which is the corporate run government. Big business AND Big Government ARE the same thing today by the very nature of the size of corporations and their power over the government through lobbyists AND in political offices. The large agriculture/biotech company MONSANTO, actually has had its high up executives serve in the Food and Drug Administration at various points to allow the current horrible movement of patenting genetic codes of LIVING THINGS! That is why I am so determined, myself, to grow vintage, heritage seeds that are not super hybrid genetically altered plants. TO think a company is actually buying up the patent on living organisms. When one company literally OWNS the blueprint for all the food on the earth and grows seeds that make a plant that will grow a sterile seed so you HAVE to buy more seed from them, is scary. What if those seeds got away from us and took over other natural plants, we could seriously have crops of food grown that would kill itself the next season.

So, how did I get here? You ask. Little ole’ me, 1956 homemaker, transported against her will to 2010? I looked around at what the country WAS in ‘my time’ and what the ‘hopes and dreams’ were of that great ‘war generation’ and was horrified. Confused, saddened and feeling very much that we are all living in a world designed to self destruct.

Even the very need to want all that is new, is alien to my 1950’s mentality. Sure, here we are after the war, happy to look at dishwashers and thankful for washers and dryers, but as a boon to our life to allow us the time to be a Community and to share and care for friends and family. Now, the need for new to HAVE IS the be all and end all.  A new phone or gadget comes out, is shown to us on tv and computers, as if by magic shows up in all the shops in the same displays overnight and it is all so seamless. WE happily walk in hand over our ‘money’ (which has been replaced by magic plastic cards that seem to have No limit) and sell off another piece of our individuality, our community, our humanity.

Standing in a large shop, that looks like a warehouse, with rows and rows of product lined up perfectly, large signs and displays, talking ads, then endless people milling about, mindless throwing things into carts while talking into little objects in their hands, seemingly unaware of one another, but intently animated, talking about the most private things out loud into their hands. Every so often one cart might bump another and they two cart pushers exchange heated looks, all the while continuing their “hand conversations”. Lines and lines of people at endless registers that simply look at a product and know the price. The apparent sad state of peoples clothes, the messy hair, dirty shoes, torn jeans and oversized sweatshirts. “Is this some punishment place for the poor? Is this a sort of factory?” my 1956 self wonders, as she stands confused and feeling so out of place, her hose and pressed dress, her hat and gloves, her little shopping bag, wondering, “WHAT on earth, what in GOD’S name, has happened to this country”.

This is the world the 1950’s time traveler has to look forward to. She can pop back to her own time and think, “Well, my grandchildren will have THIS to inherit”. And, we modern people, all of us living ‘happily’ in it. Are we happy? Is our life better because we can buy that t-shirt that looks live everyone else for 5 dollars on sale at Old Navy? Is it more wonderful that we have filled our kitchen with inexpensive gadgets from Wal-Mart, as we let it sit idle, heat up a frozen pizza and eat off paper plates in front of the TV. Are we happy as we stand amongst our neighbors in stores that are not unlike factories, talking into our cell phones, and handing over our money to buy a plastic cup with the latest football team or Disney character emblazoned upon it. Do we sing ‘Hallelujah’ as we dress our children in little shirts with corporate logos on them, slip on their tiny feet, (which they cannot even yet walk on) expensive shrunken versions of tennis shoes advertised by our favorite basketball star? Are we happy? I don’t know, maybe most are. Am I? No. And, since my sojourn into the past, even more so. Because, I saw what it once was. Saw the hope and dreams of the post war era and see the world their children and grandchildren have actually made.

So much of what I want the Apron Revolution to be is the movement of the individual against the corporation. That doesn’t mean pointless picketing or idiotic news channels that shout propaganda at you from ‘their side’ as they both prove to separate us all from working together. We, are individuals. We are OUR country. We can decide where to shop. It won’t be easy at first, but how much easier do we want life? Are we hoping to one day just be gelatinous blobs connected to our TV/ computer/cell phone with a feeding tube into our bodies, maybe eating the latest Corporate/ celebrity endorsed version of our IV drip that keeps us going so we can buy more, watch more, be MORE entertained?

Doing for ourselves. Cooking, sewing, gardening, THINKING. These things ARE the secret to happiness. They ARE living. The more we separate ourselves from one another and from individuality, the more inhuman become. How much longer before we, the people, begin to think as the corporation. We aren’t evil or good, we just do what we want in that moment to get the most out of it. Who, today, would stand on the deck of the titanic and help the ladies and children and play “Nearer my God to Thee” as the ship sinks slowly closer to death in the cold water? Are we just breeding more and more cold consumers who think with their wallets and not their hearts? We even treat our aged and elderly like so much consumer stuff. They are out of style and out of date, just plop them into that growing big business, the ‘nursing home’.The humanity of our current generation to someone from 1950’s who remembers the war and the fear of Fascism and of Hitler’s wrath wouldn’t care what the Democrats or Republicans say, they would look around them, at the state of the country the power and growth of a few companies not even owned by individuals and wonder, “How do we fight this? Our boys can’t be shipped off to fight this tyranny, for it is in our own back yards. We are feeding it everyday with our dollars and our minds”.

If I could, would I go back to 1950’s? At this point, yes. Though I would know what was coming and would be uneasy. But, it would make me all the more go out and enjoy my community. Be happy to shop at my local shops. To get involved in my town and community. Have a voice, lend a hand, spend my actual dollar bills locally, cook my own, make sure my hat and gloves were on and straight and neat, sew, cook , garden, and live out each moment, for I would know it would end.

And, really, if we could but do that now. If we could but say, “what if I WAS in the before time? What if there were no Wal-Mart, Target, Stop and Shop?” we could begin to live that live we so covet. We could meet our neighbors and have more time to LIVE because there would not be 100’s of channels with shows about nothing to watch. There wouldn’t be hours after hours of checking to see if our old friend from grand school who lives five states away just updated their mood on facebook. We would have the time to give ourselves a manicure, or set our hair, help out at the local place, talk to a neighbor, plant that garden, learn to sew, join the local ladies in that knitting or sewing bee. We would be LIVING and not just existing. We would care about others as well as ourselves and we would have so much to care for and to share with one another. We can, you know, do this even now. Those in 1950 had no choice, we do. But, can we choose humanity over corporate consumerism? Do we want to?

I wish and hope we Apronites could take that torch of change and bring it about in a soft easy revolution of homemade food and clothes. IF someone sees us happy and smiling after they are frustrated with traffic and all those ‘lines at the stores’ we can just say, “Oh, well I don’t shop there.  I go to Joe's shop. Never a line there and it is so small I always have a chat with old Joe”  And I can just imagine the scenario now:

Then they will begin complaining about the price of things or their kids need this or that or never enough time, “Oh,” you reply, “well, my kids only get a few things, they help around the house so it all gets done’ and we don’t have large cell phone bills because we only have one cell phone. I don’t worry about Susie ‘sexting’ because she cannot as she has no phone”.

Our modern visitor looks more perplexed and then takes a bite of the cake you have set down before her, “OH, this is so good, where did you get it?”

“I made it” you reply.

“I don’t have time to make things” replies the visitor, “ I have SO much to do. Oh, did you see what happened last night on Grey’s anatomy, or Desperate housewives and that new show?” 

“no,” you reply, I have so many things I do and with my sewing and the garden coming along I just never have time to watch TV. The visitor stares at you as if you have three heads.

“You will never guess who found me on face book, remember Johnny?”

“The grocers son?” you ask.

“NO, that kid we knew in second grade, he lives in (five states away from you) and he just got divorced and his latest update says he is divorced and horny! Who is the grocer’s son?”

“You know, our local grocer. He lives two doors down from you. His son’s name is Johnny and he is going away to college next year…”

“Wow” says the visitor, shoveling another mouthful of cake into her mouth, crumbs all over her jeans, as her napkin stays folded on the table. “That is creepy, why do you know so much about that guy?”

“Well,” you say, wiping her mouth before sipping at your pretty china tea cup, “I do my marketing there every week. We get to talking…”

“WEIRD” says your visitor. “I’d watch out, don’t get to chummy with him, you don’t know who he is!” another mouthful of cake, she notices the crumbs. “Do you have a paper towel or something”

“Well,”you reply, “You have a napkin right there”.

Your visitor eyes the cloth napkin as if it is plate of monkey brains or some odd item she has never seen before. “I don’t want to mess up your nice things”

“well,” you reply, “I launder them each week, it’s not a big deal. I just don’t like to waste the paper or spend the money on paper towel”.

“WEIRD” says your guest, spraying you with cake crumbs. “Speaking of not wasting, we have really been trying to recycle all our water bottles. They have the BEST new Vitamin water, it is like regular water but it has vitamins added.” Upon which your visitor spies her water glass. “What kind of water is this?” she asks.

“Oh, just tap water.”

“Oh, god!” says your guest,”you don’t know what might be in that water! Oh, I had the best cream filled cupcakes the other day at Starbucks, SO good. I bought some to take home and they lasted like a month! Can you believe that, so good. Well, I have to be going, I have so much to do tonight.  My shows are on and I have to pick up Sally from soccer and the dry cleaning. I don’t know why I never have enough time in the day to do everything. How do you have time to bake and dress up?”

“well,” you begin, “It isn’t any harder to put on a dress than a pair of jeans and I don’t watch a lot….”

“Hello” says your guest as you are in mid-sentence. “WHAT?!” she yells into her cell phone as she holds up her ‘wait a minute finger’ in your face. “No, I am not going to do that! I have to stop and pick up the pizza and Sally and get home. NO, I forgot to set the TIVO. Well, you could have done it. I have to get my ointment for my yeast infection!” she says, still holding her finger in your face. “FINE” and hangs up. “Well, I have to go. Some people are so rude, as if I have time to do that” she says and stands up, sending crumbs all over you floor. “Thanks we will catch up again later,” and as she heads for the door, begins texting on her phone.

So, if any of us truly want the ‘good ole days’ we can have them. No one is forcing our arms to NOT shop local, to not try and make and do more for ourselves nor stopping us from just looking at the world and thinking, ‘Does it have to be this way?” We have more control over our own lives than we want to believe, because once we realize we are responsible for our happiness and our community, we have to be RESPONSIBLE. It is hard to grow up but the result is a happy and fulfilling life without out NEEDING all the things we can or cannot afford. Some say God is in the details, I Say LIVING is in the Details. We rush through all the bits between the TV and the Computer and Cell phone to get to those diversions. That bit we are rushing through and trying to make easier with frozen food, cheap clothes, and fast and cheap big box stores, that is where our lives reside. We should not hurry them along but begin to stop and see what can I do with those ‘in between’ bits to make my LIFE.

Well, thanks for listening to my rant. I can only keep them in so long. I do fell we, the Apron Revolution, really can make a difference. And the more we learn and become more self sufficient and better at LIVING the more it is our responsibility to make sure others can see the beauty of it. Sure it is faster to cook frozen, to go to the big homogeneous box store and just buy whatever off the shelf, but is it fun? Are we really living? And are we real people are just boxed and packaged versions of everyone else with all the same products and clothes and ideas?

Until another day, keep your apron strings tied and Happy Homemaking. We CAN make a difference. I will leave you with these images.

50sstore walmart1

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