November 29, 2013 § 2 Comments
In the United States we have this bizarre yearly ritual where thousands of people wait in line for hours and then stampede each other to get into large retail stores. These same stores are open every other day of the year, but on this particular day the stores entice customers by putting things on sale. Of course they have sales at countless other times during the year, but this one comes at the holiday season, when people have an especially strong urge to buy things. We are told that consumerism accounts for 70% of the American economy. In that sense you could look at these crazed shoppers as economic patriots, doing their duty for country. Some of us see over-consumerism in this country as a disease, and Black Friday looks more and more ridiculous each year.
There is a great William Morris quote on Robin Wood’s home page that reads, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I try to remind myself of this when I look at all the plastic tubs of stuff in our basement, or the countless things squirreled away in drawers throughout the house. And I wonder about all those things being stuffed into shopping carts today. Will any of it still be useful just a few years from now, or rather shoved into a dark corner in the basement or garage? And how much of it will soon find its way to a landfill? I doubt that anything being purchased today is beautiful.
I’m currently reading The Art of Japanese Joinery by Kiyosi Seike. He talks about the importance of space, or ma in Japanese art and culture. To the Japanese, an “empty” space is of vital importance to the whole. In American culture empty spaces are seen as a waste, and must be immediately filled with something. There are some who believe that parks and open space in cities is nothing more than squandering property that instead could be making somebody money. And give us a 5,000 square-foot house, and we’ll accumulate so much junk in a few years there won’t be any empty areas left.
In our house the Black Friday tradition (if two years makes a tradition) is to stay home and brew beer. We do buy grains and yeast from our local home brew supplier, so in a small way we’re part of this tribute to American consumerism. But in 4-5 months we’ll crack open a bottle of our own Scottish Ale, and that beer will certainly be useful and beautiful.