Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Shopping Cart Ethics 1.0

For years I’ve wanted to start a regular segment on my blog called Shopping Cart Ethics where I would cover topics like this: “You’ve arrived at the grocery store and you start backing a shopping cart away from the cart line-up when you realize it has a bum wheel. You can a) exchange it for another cart, leaving the lame cart for the next shopper or b) keep the lame cart and push it through the whole store because if you don’t take it, someone else will have to and you feel strangely responsible, as if the timing of you walking into the store at the very moment this cart was available mandates that you take your turn. Discuss.

Unfortunately, the ideas for this segment usually occur to me at inopportune moments (i.e. naturally while shopping) so I tend to mentally pocket them. Even more unfortunately, the pockets in my brain have many holes and thus any ideas poured into the tops flow out the bottoms like sand out the back of a de-icing truck. To cope, I’ve taken to storing pictures on my cell phone of shopping-related ethical issues. And yes, bewildered Shopko employee, this is why you saw me engaged in an impromptu photo shoot in the boys’ clothes department the other day. Thank you for not fetching your manager. You thought I was odd, I know. But there are odder things than me out there in the world of consumer culture. Case in point, the pajamas you were selling in your store.

Where do we begin? I can only assume pajama manufacturers personally know children who would enjoy crawling into these pajamas before slipping between the sheets for a night of pleasant dreams. But I’m having difficulty picturing these children. Do they poison neighborhood cats before church? Or maybe these kids just have no idea what a skull and crossbones represent. Perhaps they’re thinking “pirates” and nothing more. And they’re thinking the kind of pirates who attend birthday parties with fake eye-patches and go around saying arrr! a lot, not the pirates who fly the Jolly Roger to let their victims know they take no prisoners alive.

What I’m thinking is “why would I want to bundle my child in memento mori imagery before tucking them into bed?” Do I need another reminder that life is precious, my children may not outlive me and we are all, in the words of Samuel Beckett, born astride a grave?

Pieter Claesz, Vanitas Still Life, 1630

Memento mori symbols show up constantly in art, especially after the 17th century when it became positively trendy in Northern Europe to crowd paintings with skulls, hourglasses, burned out candles and cut flowers as reminders of the frailty of life and our limited allotment of time on this earth.

You can see where the Grateful Dead have latched onto this image, bringing the memento mori theme into the 20th century in true 20th century fashion: by turning it into a marketable graphic design.

Just for the record, I also wouldn’t hang a Grateful Dead poster above my child’s bed.

So I found these pajamas to be slightly disturbing and worth discussing in a tone of consternation to launch Shopping Cart Ethics episode 1.0. If you are keeping track, I have conveniently forgotten to check my own blog archives for any signs of hypocrisy. Fortunately, in times like these, my holey mental pockets allow me to continue feeling holier than others.


Anonymous said...

Thank you! I, too, have been bothered by the extremely trendy habit of putting skulls all over children and their clothes. We try to avoid them but it has proved impossible, since our kids are short and still wear hand-me-downs.
Also I love your posts where you combine modern thoughts with classic art! YAAY! You're back :)

Allysha said...

I don't like the skulls all over either. I think to myself, yes, what a culture, that can celebrate death like none-other, by putting it on children's clothing.

And as far as holes in the brain...I am so there (just don't ask me where there is).

Robbyn said...

Only you could make me feel suddenly squeamish about my kids' numerous pairs of skull-y pjs. I bought Tom two pairs last year because they were glow-in-the-dark and super cool. Good thing I am historically (and sometimes functionally) illiterate and have forgotten that skulls can signify something other than "AWESOME!" Glad to see you are blogging again. --Robbyn