Friday, December 24, 2010

"I make toys, but I've got aspirations."

The Song: "Elf's Lament," Barenaked Ladies. Words & music by Ed Robertson. Track 6 of Barenaked for the Holidays, 2004.
How/when acquired: Downloaded MP3, 2008
Listen/watch here.

The rest of the country may be in recession, but you wouldn't know it here in South Hampton Roads. Greenbrier Mall and its satellite shopping centers were jammed yesterday, and people appeared to be spending.

As usual, I wondered who thinks up some of the items for sale, and who buys them, and why. Who needs the life-sized cardboard cutout of Justin Bieber? What will happen to those cutouts three years from now? (Actually, by the year 2015, you'll see back rooms in bars papered with Justin Bieber cutouts, though no one will quite remember who he was or why he was famous.)

In this context, it feels sour and Scroogish to check the manufacturing information of the things I buy, and wonder what the Christmas season is like in the maquiladoras of Mexico, Honduras, Malaysia and China. Isn't it better that those workers have jobs? Yes, probably — sure — I don't know. But yesterday I passed three different enormous dollar stores (and yes, bought stuff in one). How can that be good? How can that be good for anyone? Who needs all this stuff?

I like giving presents. I like the thrill of finding a toy that's going to delight someone I love, or a book that will engage them, or a piece of music they'll listen to for years. I love having stuff that people gave me for Christmas years or even decades ago.

I'm reasonably certain that not one of those things came from a dollar store.

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