My Holiday Gift to Core77
by Cordy Swope
For many people the holiday season is a montage of
benevolence, gluttony, depression, fruitcake, cheer, suicides, schmaltzy
sentiment, eggnog and of course, shopping. The holidays always arouse
a sense of wonderment--not at the pretty lights, nor at the cleverness
of elfin decorators who re-interpret old myths and traditions through
the filter of current trends--but rather, wonderment at the mammoth,
salubrious force that is the economy. Every year, a sea of money
washes heaps of quasi-desirable objects into people's lives. And
while the psychology
of gift giving that lurks beneath this annual rite is a fascinating
area of study, it is another
|But the massive, mostly benevolent force of the
economy comes about as close as any garden-variety atheist can
imagine to the notion of a "higher power."
The benevolence of the holidays is not limited to the down-and-out
in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but is also extended
to the down-and-out among corporations. Aviation is probably
the only field of endeavor that is more unforgiving of mistakes
in judgment than corporate capitalism. And yet, consumer spending
in Q4 has the capacity to avert all sorts of corporate disasters,
and to forgive almost all business or design sins. In fact,
free holiday spending argues against the old saw, "good
design is good business" (which seems to be mindlessly
repeated throughout the design community during all other times
of the year) simply because of the sheer volume of crap that
is bought and given to people as gifts, and especially as desired
to absolution, the holidays offer a time of reflection and resolution.
Last year, alongside the usual, giant electric snowflakes that hung
on the lampposts of New York, were banners urging everyone to, "Fight
Back and Shop." Around the same time, Rem Koolhas' pre-9.11
for Prada Part 1 about designing the shopping experience for
museums, libraries, airports, hospitals and schools are becoming
increasingly indistinguishable from shopping. Their adoption
of retail for survival has unleashed an enormous wave of commercial
entrapment that has transformed museumgoers, researchers,
travelers, patients and students into customers. The result
is a deadening loss of variety.
It is interesting
that both the local New York boosters and the current high priest
of modern architecture both inadvertently elevated the act of shopping
to something well, almost religious While the boosters appealed
to our sense of civic and communal duty to fight back and shop,
the architect was trying, on behalf of his client, to purify the
ritual of shopping in the face of its perceived debasement.
predictions that we will spend even more than we did last
year (an average of $649.00 per person), many people are doing
so with a lesser sense of purpose and more of a sense of resignation.
The "it" toy for kids has yet to emerge this year.
For adults, the "it" product of last year, the DVD
player, has been deeply reduced in price this season because
the market is saturated with them.
The age-old criticism, leveled at the Christmas holiday for
generations has been, "it's become too commercialized."
Last year, this criticism felt as though it had been inverted:
Americans seemed to create a condition wherein it was acceptable
to become so desperately and zealously acquisitive while holiday
shopping as to seem piously altruistic.
the face of catastrophe, alluring new objects lost their mystique.
(For example, on 9.12, owning those once-coveted orange Prada
bowling shoes just did not seem to matter anymore.) But what
replaced that mystique was a sort of blanket sense of duty
and defiance to spend money--otherwise the terrorists win.
Sadly, we have been reminded a lot recently that almost any
mundane activity takes on epic meaning if it is performed
in the face of death. The residents of the Washington DC area
experienced this during the sniper siege this past October,
after 13 people were gunned down while performing some of
the most banal tasks--shopping among them. As NPR later reported
post-apprehension of the suspects, "after three weeks
of random shootings by a sniper, kids and teachers in the
area are wondering what it's going to take to get back to
normal and what normal really means." Not long ago, those
orange Prada bowling shoes once might have been expressions
of individuality and uniqueness. One wonders about the desirability
of the accoutrements of uniqueness now that normalcy has suddenly
While 9.11 and the sniper rampage were extraordinary,
and hopefully anomalous events, our entire economic system is predicated
on the less extraordinary act of people forking over money for something--whether
we actually have the money to do so or not. Witness the consumer
confidence index, the metric by which many corporations that employ
or engage designers predict future health. Consumer spending--and
often, borrowing in order to spend more--is how our economy breathes.
So it is not
the point that what were once "religious" holidays have
now become "commercialized." Rather, it seems more that
the commercialism required by the practice of gift giving has become
newly imbued with religious principles. Consumer behavior has replaced
what was once considered religious behavior--behavior that reinforces
the interdependence we share with one another for survival. For
example, if the continuing issue of municipal bonds supports the
field of urban planning, and the continuing issue of mortgages supports
the fields of architecture and construction, then consumer credit
card debt is what continues to support the corporations, which in
turn support the field of design.
the excesses and sins of crass consumerism, it creates an interdependence
with one another, regardless of our differences. As born-again
Christians point out, "we all serve somebody." So
what then, besides people's wants and needs, does design serve?
For one, the $2.5 billion self-storage industry, then maybe
the Salvation Army (which, incidentally, raises $250 million
So happy holidays,
and remember, regardless of whether you are atheist, buddhist, christian,
dervishist, eckankarist, falun gongist, greek orthodox, hindu, ibo,
jewish, kemetic orthodox, latter day saint, muslim, neo-paganist,
ovimbundu, pentecostalist, quaker, rastafarian, satanist, trancendentalist,
unaffiliated, vampirist, way of right unitist, xhosa, yahwehite,
zoroastrian, or other designer, spend lots of money shopping, but
do whatever it takes in your work to create demand for the things
you produce--otherwise the terrorists win.
is a design strategist and co-founder of normal
life a research and product development consulting firm.