I like to think that I was a slightly ahead of the economic curve. Working in the entertainment industry is of course misleadingly glamorous. It’s just a grind for most people as it is for me. Still, there is an aura about working in Hollywood but you get so used to the concept it becomes boring and tired and I couldn’t be more blase about it. In 2007, threats of an impending Writer’s Strike ebbed and flowed and finally, on November 7, the WGA did in fact order its members to join the strike, which they did, loudly and disruptively. There was fair warning. The writing was clearly on the wall (so to speak) for the period preceding the walkout. It promised to be a horrendous labor action with extensive ramifications, and everyone in the “Industry” began bracing for an onslaught of abbreviated schedules and a frightening curtailment in work. For my part, I began reducing as many expenses as I could fathom. I ate out less. I had begun practicing an enduring simplification of my lifestyle even before talk of the strike, but now I began to obey a stringent sense of personal austerity when the strike began and my paycheck was endangered. I cancelled cable TV, I reduced my cell phone plan, I got rid of satellite radio, I discovered the joys of cooking my meals and taking them to work as lunchtime leftovers. The 4-month strike certainly did have an effect on showbiz when all was said and done. Jobs were lost and the entire industry’s business model was revamped due to the strike’s triggering action. The changes were imminent, but the strike hastened them.
The strike was over in February, 2008, but I continued to minimize my consumption, which in itself was a radical departure from my normal behavior. Most of my previous life I was one of those people who never met a dollar he didn’t like to spend. I was a free-wheeling purchaser and voracious credit consumer. After the strike, my life’s turn for the simple accelerated to even greater depth of miserliness. I became addicted to the concept of saving money and reducing costs. I began clipping coupons. Coupons were an alien, distasteful concept to me before, but now I became adept and shameless at digging them out on my supermarket runs
Amusingly, even after the strike, the global economic disaster of 2008 was just gaining a destructive footing and the daily economic report turned into a parade of paralyzing facts and figures. It drove me to further reduce expenses. I had internalized the cheapskate mentality long before subprime mortgages began their insidious destruction of materialist and ownership society.
Which brings me to an article I read on MSN last week. It was one of those ubiquitous “personal finance” tidbits of our post-apocalyptic economic age that have proliferated since the economic crash. In this story, it was noted that Americans have cut spending to the tune of $175/month/person in the last 42 months (the end of 2008, when the party ended). Suddenly saving money is haute. I’d beaten this new style of public austerity by over a year. By the time most people were gearing up and cutting back, I’d already had a healthy head start and my ravenous (compulsive) ability to cut monetary corners was firmly established. My previously consumptive personality underwent a sea change in 2007-2008 and my new incarnation eschewed materialism and possessions to an unfamiliar monkish degree. It was a “reverse mid-life crisis,” so to speak.
It is amusing to read all these personal finance features of today which are rife with concepts like “savings” or “austerity” or “cutting back on spending” or “paying off credit cards.” The apparent evolution in the American psyche is pleasing to me because it echoes my leanings. Granted, there is still a persistent strain of materialism and consumerism in our society. There always has been, and there always will be, especially among the ghetto class. In fact, it’s curious that some of the most egregious displays of conspicous consumption are among the lower class urban dwellers who revel in credit in order to exude a royal aura they can never sincerely afford. Financial wisdom does not appear to have implanted its timeless lessons on the poor. Nevertheless, the predominant financial value of our age seems to be “save money by not spending so much of it” on frivolous shit.
Predictably and sadly, the article linked to an item from last year alarmingly titled Are Americans Saving Too Much?. As I read the cross-linked story, the bizarre, Orwellian ultra-dimensional skewed appraisal of economic logic assaulted my eyes. Observations such as this are equally common in response to the freshly minted sense of American austerity as well. The counter-intuitive concept that individual monetary restraint is harmful to our societal economic health is lauded and proclaimed by certain repulsive lifeforms lodged stubbornly in the nooks and crannies of our economic society. The article cited instances of American’s sense of saving and financial restraint while barely resisting the assertion that this is a bad thing. As the final paragraph states quite obliviously, “So now we’re faced with an odd dilemma: Should we abandon our good spending practices to help the economy? It’s a matter of what’s more important – your own financial well-being or America’s?”
Mostly, I’m offended that this question is even dignified by so many people and accepted as a serious query demanding analysis.
The health of a society is best measured by the gap between its values and ethics and the values and ethics of its individual citizens. If the gap is too large, society begins to break away and begins to resemble an alien hegemony which manipulates the needs and desires of its citizens.
It’s one thing to state that what’s good for the individual is good for society, or vice versa, but quite another to purvey the economic dystopian model of modern economic consumerist thought which asserts what is good for man is not good for society. This is a far cry from that “gap” I spoke of being simply large…this is a completely different beast because the interests and aspirations of one are so at odds with the opposing segment so as to be harmful to it.
A society whose well-being infers the suffering of its citizens, or where the well-being of its citizens likewise confers that society must suffer, signals that there are manipulative and inhuman elitists in control. An oligarchical society seeks to distance the interests of citizens from society at large. This is the stuff of tyrants and ruling class ghouls.
If citizens choose healthy austerity, only a diseased society will suffer as a consequence because it thrives on exploiting the buyer/seller relationship in order to prosper and reign over its inhabitants. …government of the people, by the people, for the people… banished to the trite and archaic rantings of a simpler era.
The first lesson of consumerist indoctrination is that simplicity and restraint are evil.
Excess is American!