An Electronic Magazine for Thinkers

Hucksterism gone wild

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it:  Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."   `William Morris, English writer/artist 

   Imagine the shock to a senior citizen who must shrink the contents of an entire house into the confines of a small apartment, or even a "studio" apartment which is little more than one room, a closet, a kitchenette and bath.  My lady and I will face that one day and I dread it.  We are accumulators and we have overdone it.  The attic is loaded with forgotten treasures.  The cellar is packed with things for which we will never have any use, unless we use some of the discarded furniture for fireplace kindling.  

   Perhaps we can lay some of the blame on American hyper-materialism.  People have been trained to prowl the malls in their spare time to search for things to cart home. Even if they have no cash in their pockets the thrill of acquisition cannot be denied and another few dollars will be tacked onto the credit card.  Once the attic is filled and closet space is jammed the garage is converted to storage and the game continues. 

   We are two people in a three-bedroom home and we are completely out of storage space.  A couple of depression-era kids who had little in those bleak years now smothered in stuff without an escape plan.  Our clutter  may put Hetty Greene to shame, although we are not burdened by her vast wealth. 

   What causes American materialism?  Some people pass through life without accumulating a lot of unnecessary things, but the majority seem fascinated with acquisition.  And 21st century hyper-hucksterism makes it worse.  On our computers, radios, TVs we are overwhelmed with ads.  In our newspapers and other printed matter ads clog most of the pages.  Billboards ruin the landscape.  People even wear ads on their clothing!  They would never dream of  carrying a sandwich board in public, but they don't mind advertising beer or political views on their shirts.  It is impossible to escape advertising intended to persuade people to part with their money or principles. 

    As a retired huckster I feel the urge to confess that I never believed my work was unethical.   Oh, sure, I felt a little twinge of guilt when I poured my heart and soul into a pitch for some product or service I would never buy for myself, but I had a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed so I did what I had to do.  

   I advertised everything under the sun, although in the final years of my career as a huckster I drew the line at peddling financial services.  I just couldn't bring myself to hustle home equity loans and all the other loan traps banks peddle these days.  I also grew to hate the "no-money-down" car and furniture deals. 

   Hucksterism has has always been part of Americana, but modern media have made the intensity of it frightening.  Billboards blink electronically or switch messages like venetian blinds.  Radio and TV machine-gun us with rapid-fire ads.  The vogue is "loud and fast."  Computers compress the announcer's spiel and even clip out the pauses where he or she breathed.  That's so more words can be shoved into your ears. 

   Even non-commercial radio and TV pack plenty of commercial messages into their programming.  What started as a mere mention of commercial supporters has now blossomed into full bloom.  Garrison Keillor's commercials for cars and mattresses mid-way in his program are but one example.  

   And now we learn that the Christmas commercial orgy is going to begin before Halloween!  If consumers don't respond to make the holiday buying season more profitable for retailers than last year we'll hear that the economy is going to hell.  Experts will blame the hapless consumer who may at last be coming to the realization that accumulating more things may not produce happiness, or even contentment.   

   I am begging family and friends to give me nothing for Christmas.  My closet bulges with more clothing than I will ever need between here and the grave.  My shelves sag with odds and ends that are collecting dust.  There is no room on my walls to hang anything, although I could probably make way for a Monet. My library is packed with my favorite books and I need no more.  What I yearn for is less booty!  I have come to long for those unencumbered days of yesterday when I really treasured the few things I had.  

   Having worked the idea of materialism to death I'm ready to try a simpler life.  Sorry, hucksters.  It's an eccentricity you'll have to deal with. 

October 10th, 2006   

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