Materialism gets such a bad rap. Granted, a number of Americans tend to define themselves by a heart charm on a Tiffany and Co. necklace, the distinct pattern on a Louis Vuitton handbag, or the signature white headphones found only on an Apple iPod. The surname Hilfiger seems to be more common than Smith or Jones, and we all know Dolce and Gabbana aren’t Italian villages – they’re the names of two people who create overpriced merchandise.
But does this mean that American culture is spiraling downward into an abyss of covetousness? Will the word “generosity” inevitably fall out of the lexicon? Will anyone save us?
No, no and yes, respectively. In fact, there are two instances where a group of people actually used material items to benefit a greater good.
Last weekend, New York City’s Central Park was transformed into a 24,000-sqaure-foot tent sale. Shoppers were not charged admission on Saturday and Sunday, and were able to peruse new and lightly used items donated by a host of city residents and notable celebrities.
For smaller things, like lipstick or flip-flops, shoppers could purchase items at wholesale prices ranging from $1 to $25 each, as reported in The New York Times. Sarah Jessica Parker donated an outfit worn during an episode of Sex and the City, while Whitney Houston provided a pair of, dare we say, Dolce and Gabbana boots.
So maybe the tag-sale in Central Park wasn’t the resurgence of a less-materialistic culture. But it does show that some 300,000 items were given by some pretty generous aristocrats to city residents who can’t always afford top-notch items.
Second case in point. ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. A crew of designers show up at a deserving family’s home, sends them on a week’s vacation and renovates their house in seven days to suit the family’s needs.
It’s an advertiser’s paradise. The designers use only Sears products, build solely with Black and Decker tools, and post contact information for companies who donate items for the program. For Sunday’s show, items are already listed and the number is literally in the hundreds.
The show exemplifies the consumer spirit. But it is also a program that aids needy families, providing them with expensive items that they aren’t able to buy. More importantly, it affords them a new direction in life.
For the Grinnans, the feature family on Sunday’s episode, these material items are necessary. Hannah Grinnan, now six, underwent heart transplant surgery during her first weeks of life and needs purified air due to a weakened immune system.
The rest of the family did as much as possible to support the little girl, but couldn’t financially meet her needs. ABC provided the family with a brand new home, a new pool, and two air purifiers that made the house about as sterile as a hospital.
Despite the fact that our capitalist system demands us to consume as much as possible, material items are necessary. People need clothes on their backs, houses to live in and appliances to facilitate a manageable life.
Admittedly, Dolce and Gabbana merchandise isn’t necessary to live. But material items inevitably are. Can’t live with it? Then try living without it.