Today’s RSS Zeitgeist: Cheapskates

Two good posts on the cultural forces that discourage us from re-evaluating our vast piles of crap, one by Flea (who is, as usual, hilarious along the way):

I promise, if Alex had been with us (Christopher was, but in utero form only, so he missed the whole thing) the mighty bird fight would have been the one thing he remembered. Not the hot stone massage, not the putt putt, not the expensive restaurants or the fact that the gift shop sold couture.

Because of this, I tend to lean toward the dirty hippie style of parenting. It’s easy to puff up and spout clich├ęs about how it’s not the money you spend on your kids, it’s the time you spend with them. That’s one of those things that rich people say. Money helps. You get treated like shit when you’re poor, and your kids do, too.

And the other’s at Living on Less, set up as a blatantly humanitarian concern:

It pained me to see the man spend $30 on haircuts for himself and his son, and give his son $20 as a gift for a birthday party he would be attending, but what’s the alternative? To look like slobs, or show up at the party with some weird homemade gift? The only way to live affordably in our culture, even on incomes considerably higher than those of these two examples, is to be eccentric, but most people, by definition, don’t want to be eccentric. Adhering to cultural norms is strongly reinforced, not just by the corporate-controlled media, who have an interest in keeping up people’s spending, but also by one’s own peers and even one’s own self.

It’s one thing to live in a weird apartment, maybe with a bunch of other people, wear thrift store clothes, dumpster dive for furniture and home accessories, and forego expensive commercial entertainment and goods when you don’t actually have to. Choosing to live a lifestyle that resembles poverty is drastically different from being forced into it by actual poverty. But if only it were not so stigmatized, living like an oddball could provide some real financial relief to those who most desperately need it.

Which, well, yeah! Whenever we enforce our variously shitty consumerist cultural norms, we’re doing real harm to those who must choose between conforming and eating, or conforming and paying down credit card debt, or whatever. These bullshit incentives don’t just create a culture of waste and environmental catastrophe; they help perpetuate poverty. Why haven’t I seen this put so clearly before?


  1. Rana wrote:

    I am proud to be an eccentric oddball. And I agree that one can often have more fun on the cheap and for free than advertisers would like me to believe.
    However, I am not convinced that being one is _necessarily_ cost-efficient. *grin* My “weird homemade gifts” are very much prized, and can be rather expensive when you factor in the materials and labor costs. Nor does cheap have to look weird or unclean.
    It’s all about the framing. It’s not thrift-shop, it’s “retro”!

  2. yami wrote:

    Skill and ingenuity can work wonders – but how many people know how to give themselves a decent haircut and craft slick-looking gifts and pull together a wardrobe from Goodwill that doesn’t actually look like it came from Goodwill? And who has the time?
    Certainly not all eccentrics are cheapskates! But very few people have what it takes to be cheaply mainstream for all occasions.

  3. Rana wrote:

    Yeah, I don’t _really_ disagree. I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to pick a nit.
    In a better world we as a culture wouldn’t care so much about this sort of superficial crap. *sigh*
    What I’d particularly love is if this attitude adjustment happened in the workplace. I’m lucky that I can get away with being “casual” but I miss the freedom of dress I had in college where if I was decent, all was good, no matter how creative and costumy I dressed, or if I came to class in pajamas.

  4. des von bladet wrote:

    My professional life has been blissfully dresscodefree. I actually smartened up when I came back to university, because people kept reporting me to security as “suspicious”.
    But the problem with the struggle between social norms and any given individual’s inclinations is that it is so very unequal. I’m certainly much less openly eccentric than I used to be (I’ve even learned foopball as a second langwidge), although this is happily a country where not having a car is still only a quirk.

  5. yami wrote:

    Work clothes have never bothered me as much as, say, the baffled response I get when I tell people I own a washer, but not a dryer. Or hubcaps – seriously, is there any reason to have hubcaps? I know they used to protect the hub from grime, but modern wheels, specifically mine, are supposed to have built-in doohickeys for that, aren’t they?

  6. Rana wrote:

    Yup. They’re called axle boots, and they’re rubber and filled with nice clean grease.
    I’m so glad I’m not in high school any more and thus don’t have to deal with snide looks at my clothing (I can be fashionable _when_ I want to — but I hate feeling _obliged_ to dress “well”). These days I get the “Whoa, she’s a hippy ain’t she?” vibe mostly when I talk about crafts and other leisure activities. Knitting’s trendy enough, as is yoga, but if you mention things like spinning, or making your own clothes, people get this really odd look in their eyes.
    On good days it amuses me.

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