Obsessive materialism: the dark side of gift giving

Merriam Webster defines consumerism as “a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods.” Lines
of people waiting outside a store to purchase the new release of a product or advertisements portraying deals as “irresistible” embodies
America’s obsession with consumerism, despite its significant environmental and humanitarian impacts. American Psychological
Association explains that as buying material goods has become easier through the plague of advertisements in the media and the
access of technology, consumerism continues to grow more and more. Holidays are no longer about spending time with loved ones,
and rather focused on spending money.
“It is concerning that every major US holiday includes some sort of consumerism: Christmas is about the presents, Thanksgiving
is about the shopping and Halloween is about the candy. Although it is nice to receive and give gifts, these material things should not
be the main focus of these holidays,” Junior Ho-hsin Wang said.
Consumerism has influenced nearly all aspects of American culture, including its traditional holidays. According to Pew Research
Center, in 2013, 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, while only 46 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas primarily as a
religious celebration. Although the tradition of gift giving during Christmas originated from the Three Wise Men’s gifts to Jesus Christ,
consumer culture has transformed the once primarily religious holiday into one in which the average person spends $885 on gifts. In
fact, the last Saturday before Christmas is known as Super Saturday, because people spend more on that day than any other day of the
year, including Black Friday, a holiday created solely to attract consumer spending.
The holiday Festivus was created in response to the commercialization of Christmas. Ever since the holiday was depicted on an
episode of Seinfeld, many people around the world have begun to celebrate it as opposed to participating in the commercial holiday
festivities associated with Christmas. For example, those who celebrate Festivus gather around a metal pole instead of a Christmas
tree and focus more on spending time with close friends and family.
While many consider Festivus to be a silly parody of Christmas, its internal message—to condemn materialism—has serious
implications. National Geographic finds that most environmental issues are related to consumption . America’s obsession with
consumerism has exacerbated the climate change threat and depleted the world’s natural resources. The environment is cluttered
with plastic bags, disposable cameras and various cheaply-made goods that result in a “throw-away” mindset. A study from The
Journal of Industrial Ecology found that consumers are responsible for more than 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This
is due to the manufacturing and shipping process involved in mass producing goods to fuel America’s desire to consume.
The environment is not the only victim of consumer culture. The majority of clothing from retail stores in the US is made by the
cheapest labor force possible: sweatshop workers in developing countries. In his film The True Cost, director Andrew Morgan exposes
the fast fashion industry’s controversial treatment of workers. The documentary reveals how major apparel companies circumvent
labor laws and pay these workers as low as three dollar wages a day as they complete the job in unsafe working conditions.
Materialism also has direct negative effects on the consumer. The New York Times reports that an increasing amount of studies
have linked obsession with consuming to “damage to relationships and self-esteem, a heightened risk of depression and anxiety
and less time for what the research indicates truly makes people happy.” When people turn to material goods for comfort, it only
exacerbates their problems because acquiring these goods does not solve for one’s psychological needs.
In an increasingly consumerist society, Americans should remember the non-materialistic things that bring them joy and realize
that money and an excess amount of items does not necessarily lead to happiness.