I was watching a British TV show yesterday (Britain has some of the snazziest and most fascinating documentaries about life in England), called something along the lines of “The Most Luxurious Christmas” or something, basically a documentary about how rich people in London spend their money at Christmas time (I found it on Youtube; here’s the link: Rich People’s Christmas), and I just stared at the screen for about an hour with my jaw open and my belief completely suspended. I couldn’t believe the amount of money these people were spending on things like Christmas ornaments and decorations, enough to feed at least entire suburbs of families for Christmas, and it got me thinking about privilege and money and class and greed and, well, idiocy.
This sense of there being too much extravagance, wealth and privilege in certain parts of the world, amongst certain people, struck home even further when I went shopping for a new pair of shoes. I’m broke, in case you’re wondering, but I’m not jealous or envious of the rich, nor do I aspire to be wealthy and live a life of luxury. My shoes, my flats, had been worn through: you could see, through the black faux-velvet, the pale, inner lining of the shoes; and what’s more, they were a size too big for my feet, so they felt like slippers more than anything else (my mistake, when I bought it). So I went shopping for a new pair of shoes, an inexpensive pair, of course, because while shoes are a necessity, I don’t have any spending money at the moment to spare for things other than food, rent and utilities, so I settled for an $8 pair of flats from Kmart, and called it a day.
However, as I traipsed through the large shopping centre, I couldn’t help but notice how much luxury existed around me. The fruit juice bar, with its window display filled with fruits of every colour of the rainbow; the jewellery stores, glimmering with diamonds and gold; the high-fashion clothing shops, their display windows amassed with mannequins dressed in the most wondrous flowery gowns under the sun, each one with a price tag of around $200; the children’s toy shop, brimming with miniature kitchen sets complete with tiny foods, and make-your-own-perfume kits; the make-up shops; the bath-and-body-works store; the menswear, with pants going up into hundreds; crystalline soaps on one shelf in a store, and miniature silver beads in the shapes of Christmas trees and presents inside the display case of another; and I thought to myself, well, this is the Capitol.
In case you haven’t read the Hunger Games series, in which case I suggest you do so right away because it’s a fantastic series, even if there are no Asian characters at all in it, the Capitol is the wealthy district in a post-apocalyptic world the book is set in, whereby the surrounding districts, all 12 of them, supply them with all their resources, items and products, while being (most of them, at least) quite poor and hard-done-by themselves, to the point where they’re own citizens are dying of starvation. Katniss Everdeen is enlisted for the Hunger Games, and so begins a revolution against a totalitarian state, and so on and so forth—read the books if you want to know more—but what struck me was how similar this model is to our world.
Think. The sweatshops in China and India, the underprivileged and low-income people slaving away in factories making, I don’t know, Disney-themed soft toys and high heels and high-end fashion pieces: all of them are just like the people Panem’s poorer districts, whose labour goes on to enhance the lives of the wealthy instead of themselves. And we’re the Capitol. You, me. I mean, if you’re rich enough to have a roof over your head, food in the fridge, clean water to drink, and an internet connection in this world, then you’re pretty well off, mate. I can just take a bus from my apartment and enter a world of luxury and high-end goods, like some kind of capitalist wonderland, where snow globes the size of heads exist and advent calenders with a different, exquisite but pointless beauty product behind each little cardboard door (retails for $50). It’s alarming.
It makes me wonder why such consumption, wealth and greed exists in the first place. Are we that hollow on the inside, that we have to fill the void inside of ourselves with objects? Do we really need sparkly, pink flower gel that smells of nasty chemicals in a plastic package in the shape of a heart dangling on the end of a key ring instead of a cheap, solid bar of soap, or, if we’re going on the extreme end of the spectrum, a Christmas tree star worth over half a million dollars to adorn a Christmas tree you’re only going to take down the next month, instead of a pretty, but plastic star dusted with glitter? I mean, at the shopping centre, I even found a tiny, plastic claw machine, the kind you find at arcades, for around 30 bucks and big enough to fill with lollies. It’s like we’ve gone a little mad with our manufacturing and production, like our creativity has nowhere to go but into pieces of plastic and tubes of chemicals, instead of something a little longer-lasting and important, like trees or animals.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just not materialistic enough to appreciate the “finer” things in life. In fact, I’d much prefer a home cooked meal made out of ingredients straight from the ground than some fancy gourmet dinner in a restaurant whose prices go for about $500 a head. And the funny thing is, whenever I buy something, by which I mean, an object, I never feel particularly happy or satisfied about it. Sure, I might like it when it’s in the shop window, and feel a little exhilaration at having it in my shopping bag as I walk home, but afterwards, it’s just a dumb, unfeeling item, with no life or love or magic in it. Just an object. You can’t—it can’t satisfy you. No amount of luxury goods or cars or money will ever satisfy a person, or fine foods or wines or chocolates made out of gold dust and rare cocoa beans mined from the very bowels of Willy Wonka’s factory. There’s more magic in a single, real leaf than a million gold imitations of it.
This Christmas, I might get a present or two, if I’m lucky, and cook a meal for my family out of whatever ingredients we can afford on the day or the week of Christmas. We might not have much, but I’m happy, probably because I don’t go seeking it in the walkways of shopping centres, but in the lanes and avenues of nature, the imagination and art.