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Confessions of a Shop-a-holic
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Welcome Shoppers! Its the Mall of America!
Yes my friends, it's true. I am a recovering shop-a-holic. I can remember the first time I felt I just HAD to go shopping. I was six-years old and I asked my mom to bring me to the mall, so that I could buy the latest additions to my plastic Smurf collection. Even recently, I have said things like "Gosh, isn't Target the BEST! I could live here," or "You just aren't a real person until you've had a Krispy-Kreme HOT donut".

Now that you know that about me, I am sure you can imagine how crazy I have been feeling here in Minnesota. I'm only a skip away from Bloomington and the largest shoppers' paradise in the whole country, The Mall of America. Ever since I first heard of the Mall of America opening in 1992, I have wanted to see it, to make sure that it is real. I mean really, who's ever heard of a mall with an amusement park and an aquarium? Though there was excitement, I was a bit worried, too. I wasn't entirely convinced that I wouldn't pass by the 'the coolest shoes ever' and feel compelled to burn my entire trek budget on a fleeting shopper's whim.

Does Stpehen need that virtual, wide screen movie theater or does he just really, really want it?
I convinced myself, however, that as a recovering shop-a-holic turned trekking historian it would be a good exercise to go. I figured that being there, talking with different mall-goers, and having the opportunity to write about the experience would be a good way to fulfill the last few hurdles on my twelve steps toward becoming a reformed shop-a-holic.

It's true, some folks really do LIVE at the mall!
Yes my friends, twelve steps. If there are twelve step programs to recover from other addictions, I figure there should be one for shop-a-holics, too. With my trip to the Mall of America and this public confession, I hope to complete all twelve steps in this self-created program. I also hope to shed some light on how we can all confront our shop-a-holic skeletons in the closet and combat the looming demon of consumerism.


1. Admit that you have a problem with shopping--that your life has become powerless to consumerism.

My name is Stephen Danner. I am 25 years old and I am a shop-a-holic. I suppose I first realized I had a problem when I would find myself feeling bored and going to the mall or stopping in for a bite to eat at a fast-food restaurant to kill some time. I realized I was using shopping and eating as a hobby, as something to do to pass the day away. Even now, I sometimes feel lost in the whirlwind between what I want and what I need.

2. Make a decision to confront the problem.

To confront the issue of shopping, I searched for what it is that really attracts me to shopping. I decided to take my digital camera into a popular technology store at the Mall of America and to document my shopping experience in order to get at the heart of my consumer bug. In the store, I saw robotic dogs with emotions, glowing light pads promising to read my level of happiness, a wide-screen movie theatre that fit on the bridge of my noise, and ionic air purifiers guaranteeing better health. I was mesmerized, but before I could reach for my wallet, I remembered to confront this experience.

Mmmmmm... Legos
I started to take pictures and ask salesmen what these products were really for. Can this glowing orb really tell that I'm happy? "Of course, not," said the salesmen, "these products are mostly for gifts and for people to experience the latest technology". Upon asking further questions, the salesmen answered, "Of course you can live without these products, but why would you want to? Most of them make life easier and living more comfortable...and some of them are for people who have money to burn". Money to burn?! Wow, I didn't think there was such a thing.

3. Learn the history of consumerism and why it has such a nasty reputation.

Humans consume. We always have. Sure, we've advanced somewhat since our days as hunter-gatherers, but the point is still the same. We work to make money, and we use that money to purchase food and shelter. Sensible enough, right?

The Mall's 7 Acre Amusement Park!
If that's the case, then how come Americans have such a nasty reputation for over consumption? Why do so many cultures around the globe criticize us for consuming too much, or at least way more than our share? Why is it that the consumer class takes home 64% of the world's income, and is responsible for destroying 50% of the US's wetlands and hundreds to thousands of the country's native plants?

At the Mall of America the rides go....
and round!!
How did we become this way? How did we shift from buying things that are necessary to destroying our world? Well, with the advent of mass production and the spread in the use of the assembly line (Check out the dispatch on how Ford's assembly line changed the world! U.S. businesses became very efficient and started to produce more goods than they could sell. In order to deal with the surplus and make a profit, businesses needed to convince people that their products were safe, effective, and yes, even necessary. To sell more of their products, they needed to advertise to the public. Check out Neda's dispatch from Times Square to see just how influential advertising really is!

4. Come to believe you can overcome the problem.

When I find myself saying "I'd rather die than give up my Twinkie", "I'm happiest when I'm wearing Banana Republic" or, even worse, feeling the emotions that go along with them, I can understand why people in the U.S. have such a nasty reputation for being product-hungry consumers. I do think, though, that if we learn more about ourselves and the impulses that make us consume, we can again live authentic lives free of advertising as well as remedy some of the damage we have done to our environment.

5. Speak with other shop-a-holics and hear their stories.

After my little run in at the technology store, I decided to speak with some of the visitors at the Mall of America to find out why they were there at the mall instead of somewhere else. Some of the people I spoke to said they were there shopping for something specific, like a new shirt or a gift for Valentine's day (reasonable enough), but the majority of the folks told me they had come to spend the day. One gentleman told me that he and his family go to the Mall of America often because, "Everything is at your fingertips. You can shop all over, eat over there, play games right here [in the amusement park, that is]...I never come here just to shop, I come to take part in the most popular spectator sport in the country...people watching". Really? That was pretty insightful. I guess consumerism is not just about shopping; it's about being entertained. Is that because we're bored, or don't see enough inside our own hearts to entertain ourselves?


The Spice of life.... She put sage in my pancakes...

6. Make yourself ready to renounce needless consumption.

I am ready.

7. Humbly seek the guidance of a close friend or professional.

Kalle Lasn is the founder of the Media Foundation, the editor-in-chief of Adbusters magazine, and the continent's foremost critic of American consumerism. During my talk with him, Kalle spoke about the country's transitions to becoming a consumer culture. According to him, "it used to be that Americans produced their own culture, but now that culture has been taken away from us".

Is consumerism destroying our world?
Advertisements seemed harmless when they were first used, but gradually they have made their way into every corner of public space. Through television, salesmen and advertisements have entered the private rooms of our homes. Now, everywhere we go we are told what to buy, to consume, and what to spend. Kalle believes that many of us our blind to the signals of our decaying culture. Most people don't think, 'Why do we spend so much time shopping?' 'Why is going to the mall one of the most popular things to do in the US?'

According to Kalle, in America we feel like there is something sexy about ownership, that being able to buy new things makes us cool, that our lives are not just more convenient but somehow better if we own more. We must take the power back from the businesses and advertisements we have allowed into our homes and our public spaces. We must stop considering shopping to be a viable hobby. We must become active participants in our lives.

8. Make a list of the latest things you have bought unnecessarily.

Raisenettes, potato chips, a greasy hamburger, blue shoelaces, and a gumball at the Mall of America (The list would probably be longer but trekking doesn't leave much time to buy things).

9. Take inventory of useless goods and give something a way.

A month ago, I accidentally bought the wrong the size of some extremely red, fancy pants at a popular store. I later found out that MY size had been sold out, and after searching nationwide began to feel depressed that I would be stuck with the wrong-sized pants forever. Have no fear, though! Trekker Neda does not just like orange and yellow. She likes red too! I passed the pants on to her and she's now sporting the hand-me-downs on the trek! Check them out for yourself here!

10. Continue to take inventory of useless goods and give them away.

I plan to.

You can take action against consumerism on November 21!
11. Seek through direct-action to reclaim your mental environment, to combat consumerism, and to increase to your awareness of independence and individuality.

How? It's simple really. Turn off your TV. Promise yourself that one day out of every week or every month you are not going to buy anything but are going to spend time developing your own interests that don't require money.

Did you know that people all over the world are already doing that? There is already an International Buy Nothing Day and a very popular TV Turn-off Week that you can take part in! Take action and spread the word in your communities that by taking part in these activities we can combat our nasty reputations as product-hungry consumers, and we can reclaim our culture.

12. Having realized the effects of shop-a-holism, share the history of American consumerism with others and carry the message of activism.

With these twelve steps, I hope to do so.


Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Making A Difference - Does your community need a facelift?
Rebecca - Out to get us: How GM destroyed our good public transportation
Neda - How many licks does it take to sell you a lollypop?
Stephen - "Beans. I want more beans! And gimme some cars, too."