31.12.12

DICKENS, MARX, MACY.

The latest version of "getting and spending, we lay waste our powers?"
One of the downsides of Fordist or blue model industrial society is the combination of alienating work (like manufacturing jobs) with empty mass consumption that it both enables and drives. In the vicious cycle of a Fordist society, people try to make up for meaning-poor work with frivolous consumption patterns that fail to substantially enrich their lives. Dad never sees the kids so he gives them shiny gifts, and because the reality of adult work is so grim, childhood gets idealized as a world of pure consumption and play.

Christmas in a Fordist society bears a lot of weight; the grim world of work and production is banished into the background and for a few days families are (supposedly) united and consumption is the order of the day. In agricultural societies, Christmas was a time of feasting, but families worked and celebrated together all the time. Children, parents and grandparents worked side by side in the house and in the fields. Extended families saw each other all year round, rather than on a few special occasions. Our holiday celebrations are so intense in part because we are trying to cram so much into them that in former times was spread throughout the year.

In any case, few in 1900 would recognize or really approve of the commercial false-paradise into which the holiday had evolved by the year 2000. There are many more presents under the tree now, but the families gathered to open them are much weaker.
Lots of material for further research here. First, there's nothing sacred about the eighty, or sixty, or forty-hour work week; perhaps the ancient cycle of feast days had something to recommend itself, and something similar, in the form of additional three-day weekends, will emerge.  The flip side, though, is that the division of labor of the industrial or informational economy makes possible a lot of things those agrarian extended families didn't have, including the opportunity to avoid those annoying relatives who provide fodder for situation comedies and Festive Season commercials.  Second, there's no reason that work, just because it's a four-letter word, has to be unpleasant (although even in my gig, everybody understands that I get paid to say no and uphold standards, and fill in the activity reports, not to put on an improv three times a week).  On the other hand, as long as the money-code has supplanted the landed estate or the harem as a way of keeping score, that conspicuous consumption has to go into something other than serfs or concubines.  Third, those idealized family settings of the turn of the nineteenth century might be just that, idealized.

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