Everything is just a bit surreal right now. It’s likely to remain that way for at least another week or two, while the holday season is on. I can’t wait to get back to “real” life, to the things that actually matter to me and that dictate what actually happens to me the other 50 weeks of the year.
The holiday season is this strange little bubble that, no matter the original historical genesis (whether pagan or Christian), has now been co-opted by capital. Nearly everyone has been convinced that this two week period represents the ultimate test of our social network’s caring for us; the abundance and personal desirability of the gifts we are given are the measure of the value that others place on us.
Therefore, from the converse perspective through which we understand most of our relationships, each of us is during this season saddled with the unenviable task of having to conspicuously consume (i.e. buy nonessential and/or unneeded gifts and trinkets in quantity) in order to properly value all of the relationships that we wish to maintain in the coming year, regardless of the strength and character that such relationships have enjoyed during the actual personal interaction of the previous 50 weeks. The living of each relationship over time, the communication and mutual history, become unreal and unimportant, while somehow a completely extraneous gift — that includes none of our own actual labor (not physical, not intellectual… wholly produced by a third party, from idea-genesis to marketplace), and that has enjoyed no previous context with its recipient whatsoever — becomes the real and imporant basis of future interaction and emotional security, coloring the potential of the relationship for months to come, perhaps even permanently.
I mean, how does this happen?
Okay, so I know. But that doesn’t make the rhetorical question any less powerful. In short, capital has us all in a vise-grip; we have all accidentally and implicitly agreed to spend money we don’t have on gifts that people truthfully wouldn’t buy for themselves (otherwise they already would have), and to attempt to successfully choose as these gifts products which represent the identity-aspirations of the recipient and the socially constructed meanings that they wish to attribute to them, simply in order to maintain, or at least not completely fracture, relationships that were perfectly fine only a few days earlier. And if we succeed in properly demonstrating the value of and our committment to the relationship with a well-chosen gift, chances are that the party most enriched is not the recipient of the gift at all (who is likely to toss it aside with all of the others in the coming twelve months, the gift itself being unimportant anyway and merely an artificial material representation of the measure of your regard — after all, they are doing the same thing that you are), but rather those at the upper echelons of capital, who are happy to accept the massive tributes that we as an entire population thus offer to them, and that we can ill afford.
Advertising… it’s an amazing thing. It can break years-long relationships over split-second decisions about unsolicited and trivial (yet mandatory) gifts — gifts that actually represent our voluntary donations of time and labor (i.e. money) to the filthy rich — under the pretense of somehow enriching those that we care about, even though nearly all of them could probably have used the money and time spent choosing the gift more than the gift itself. We all participate because we all share in the insecurity that advertising constructs for us about our relationships (“Does he really care? You’ll know he does when you get XYZ…”), and we all thus want to be reassured that our relationships are intact — and so we wait to receive such material reassurances from others while we struggle to purchase them for others, everyone completely ignoring the very real relationships that the gift exchanges presuppose!
And what’s more, thanks to advertising, to the Darwinistic forces of the free market, to the reproductive and hungry logic of capital, all of our holidays are increasingly this way: bubbles of media-constructed unreality in which we pause the normal expressions of our selves and lives in order to pay tribute to capital, while risking our social identities and networks by linking the flows and units of capital exchange to the reservoirs of emotional energy that we depend on in such relationships, in place of the actual relationships themselves and the emotions, as-actually-recently-experienced, that they embody.
God, we’re stupid.
To put it another way, I should be able to maintain relationships with my friends and family based on the things that we have in common and the communication, history, and episodes of care that we have shared in the past and that we expect to share in the future. I should not have to continually and carefully choose and purchase goods that I can’t afford, produced by a marketplace that isn’t otherwise connected to me, in order to fuel these relationships and keep them “healthy” (note use of “scare quotes”). Too bad we have all been enculturated to connect care to consumability, to connect emotional regard to material exchange value. But there’s a reason we’re this way… there’s a reason people feel let down, disappointed, or even unloved unless their friends and family buy them the right shit at the right times.
Capital is our teacher. Capital makes the books, the films, the brochures, the movies, funds the schools and thus pays the teachers, dictates fashion, constructs our range of choices, names products (and thus nearly everything in our reality), etc. In short, capital is responsible for producing the entirety of the culture which has produced us. Is it even possible that the uncritical emotional self would have any foundation other than capital or its henchmen, whether in pure or sublimated forms (i.e. consumption)? The more cynical among us might even say that, given the opportunity to construct the emotional-intellectual mechanisms of potential engines of consumption (i.e. us), capital as feedback-mechanism could almost have a certain tendency toward what in sentient beings would be regarded as “vested interest…”
For any conservatives I know that are now complaining, let me put it to you this way:
It’s about Jesus and togetherness and charity?
Then why do you spend weeks or even months buying frivolous shit[*] at Wal-Mart when there are living beings starving to death, freezing in the streets, and dying in discretionary wars? Why are you not spending the money on charities and the time volunteering?
Because you’re a hypocrite, it’s really about something other than Jesus and you know it, as is evidenced by your behavior — though it’s convenient (for capital’s interests, at least) that the public dialogue (i.e. capital, once again) should urge you to continue in denial, lest you be tempted to critically examine the motives behind your behavior (and thus possibly change said behavior, to wit, consumption).
* Unneeded shit that is produced unsustainably and exploitatively on the coming end of its lifespan and that will end up in landfills on the going end.
I’m tired. I’m going to bed. Merry Christmas y’all, whatever the hell that means.