The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.
~Ray Bradbury, “The Golden Apples of the Sun”
While reading my used copy of The Simple Living Guide, I stumbled upon a newspaper clipping about minimalism. “Room for Thought,” in the Saturday, August 22, 1998 edition of the Washington Post.
“Paring down to the essentials has become the mantra of the moment,” it declares. “All but the most traditional shelter magazines have swept bric-a-brac from their pages. Downshifting is raised up as a new ideal to soothe our lives. Yet even as devotees of the new order unload excess possessions at the nearest yard sale, few are taking minimalism seriously at home.”
And that was what? Thirteen years ago? Granted, the internet has become more the norm now than it was then (and I found out about simple living thanks to the internet), but ultimately, even if 1998 was the start of the minimalism craze, it’s hardly taken off. Duane Elgin’s pioneer book “Voluntary Simplicity” was written in 1981, and I’m sure the movement probably goes back to the 60s.
Simplicity and minimalism, in my opinion, are only mainstream on the internet. And believe me, there are plenty of people out there who don’t get online. I know some of them. Almost all the people I know are not simple livers nor minimalists. Most of them are “regular” folk, possibly in debt, with so much excess bullshit it makes me shudder.
To believe that simple living and minimalism are mainstream, or are becoming mainstream, or will become mainstream, is to believe that American society is something that it’s not. These movements will not reach full acceptance (or if they do, it will be in some bastardized and commercialized form) simply because of the average American’s training as a consumer.
Advertisers know how to push all our buttons. The only good way to outwit them is to remove them from your life. Even I don’t believe that I’m able to completely outwit advertising…there are too many minds working on exactly how to appeal to our basest natures. They’re good at it. Advertising is meant to get us to buy, and it does a damn fine job.
Not to mention television’s focus on the lifestyles of the rich and famous. People are bombarded not just by advertising, but by images of people who seem to have it all. Everything from the commercials themselves to complete shows, such as MTV’s “Cribs.” It’s a one-two punch of Consumerism 101 meant to get you to think that you need and/or deserve that item or that life, no matter the cost.
And these forces are stronger than people think. With them in the driver’s seat, minimalism and simple living can kiss becoming mainstream goodbye.
On a slightly related note to this post, check out The Limits of Fashion (part 1) at Contrasposition.