RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen
'Tis the Season for Buy-Nothing Day
We Missourians deserve our long, comfortable autumns. After surviving unbearably
hot and humid summers, we are rewarded with stretches of 70-degree days,
crisp mornings, and soft, drizzly rains. Lawns that crackled underfoot in
August become soft and green. Spring-blooming plants often surprise us with
new flowers. Autumn is the best time for fooling with animals, too, and
it's the time of the best social gatherings--Thanksgiving, of course, and
Buy Nothing Day.
Thanksgiving is one holiday nobody has been able to pervert too much. There
are beneficiaries--greeting card manufacturers and long distance phone companies
and those guys who inject lubricant into turkeys, but for the most part
Thanksgiving remains a day when people get together just to share a meal
and catch up.
Buy-Nothing Day, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, extends the quiet. Instead
of rushing out to the mall and maxing out our Visa Cards, Buy-Nothing founder
Kalle Lasn suggests we find other ways to entertain ourselves.
Lasn's commercials, produced by his Media Foundation in Vancouver and described
in the Wall Street Journal, remind North Americans that we consume
"five times more than a Mexican, 10 times more than a Chinese person,
and 30 times more than a person from India ... Give it a rest."
In 1997, Lasn tried to get time for his commercials on the major TV networks.
He was turned down.
Richard Gitter, VP of Advertising Standards at NBC (owned, if you're keeping
track, by GE) said "We don't want to take any advertising that's inimical
to our legitimate business interests." The rejection letter from CBS
(owned by Westinghouse) said that Buying Nothing is "in opposition
to the current economic policy in the United States." The networks
also rejected Lasn's commercials for TV Turn-off Week.
It's no wonder Lasn's commercials are rejected by the Big Boys. His advertising
company produces parodies to strike at the biggest corporate advertisers.
His ads run in some alternative magazines.
In one ad, he turned Joe Camel into Joe Chemo. In another, his Big Mac Attack
victim collapsed on an operating table with a heart monitor throbbing out
Recognizing that his commercials will probably never be bounced off a satellite
to the world's consumers, Lasn compares the American corporate P.R. game
to propaganda campaigns in the old Soviet Union saying, "suddenly I
realized you can't speak up against the sponsor."
Lasn was a baby when his parents fled Estonia for the freedom of the west.
He continues, "There's something fundamentally undemocratic about our
Lasn's business also designs slick ads for environmental groups and publishes
Adbusters, a magazine that claims 40,000 subscribers. His supporters
include organizations like the Foundation for Deep Ecology in San Francisco
and other groups that champion simple living.
1998 will mark the fourth annual Buy-Nothing Day. Our family celebrates
by inviting friends and relatives to bring their kids, musical instruments
and Thanksgiving leftovers and nibble the hours away. We put out the signs
saying "Harvest Welcome" and "Martha Stewart Doesn't Live
Here." Then we pull out board games and playing cards. Some people--have
you noticed?--aren't happy unless they are doing something.
Gifted folks like my husband and some friends play music. The rest of us
tap our feet, make wise proclamations, help the little kids play pick-up
sticks, and wash dishes. Once in a while somebody organizes a walk or someone
else remembers how to dance.
Since we host Buy-Nothing parties, I've never celebrated in other ways,
but this day is perfect for doing the million things you never get done.
Going through winter things for stuff to give away. Getting a group together
to paint a room in your community center, library, medical clinic. Helping
an elderly neighbor winterize.
Or, you could spend the day doing something for yourself. Visit a museum.
Read a book. Design a budget that will get you out of debt, and share it
with family members who need to know. Really clean out your worst junk drawer.
Any group could plan a celebration to emphasize the fact that we can get
by without buying on one day a year, the worst day in the year, after all,
to try to find a parking place or a sales person. This kind of celebration
is easy to pull off and only requires a sense of humor, a tolerance of mess,
and a desire to be with others--the same qualities needed for shopping,
by the way.
And if you don't make it to the mall to buy the 1999 Christmas Barbie for
your fifth-grader or the latest Hilfiger shirt for your teen, take comfort
in these fun facts to know and share: Americans produce an extra million
tons of waste each week in the five-week holiday season; one day's junk
mail could produce enough energy to heat a quarter million homes; we can
As for your melancholy gift receivers, they'll understand some day. Make
your purchases count. For Auntie Ruth, a part of next year's tomato crop
or a couple of free-range chickens from your local farmer. For Uncle Don,
a hand-knitted scarf from the Senior Center. And for the kids, those frilly
dolls and chunky wooden cars from the sheltered workshop.
I won't waste time with the long list of things you can give instead of
junk from the Box Store. Donations to a good non-profit; a painting from
your favorite living artist and so forth, but I will pass along my bonus
tip for special giving: Get something precious fixed. My sweetie is delighted
to have his college-era wristwatch working again, his 1998 birthday present.
And I can't wait to see his face when he opens the package with the newly-running
Art Deco alarm clock he bought at a junk shop "as is" which meant
"as is a fire hazard."
Or give one of the dozens of books on voluntary simplicity, sustainability,
thrift, environmental activism.
Read it first, of course. On Buy-Nothing Day.
Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton,
Mo. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. See the Adbusters web site at
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