Culture & Conversation

The posts of Christmas past: No. 6

Discarded computer monitors dumped in West Africa. Photo: Danwatch & Consumers International

Discarded computer monitors dumped in West Africa. Photo: Danwatch & Consumers International

In It Came Upon a Midnight Sale, first published Dec 23 2011, Sujata Dey measured the brief thrill of a brand new gift against the environmental cost.

So Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters and instigator of the Occupy Wall Street movement, has shifted his target to the holiday season, urging people to boycott Christmas materialism. Lasn wants people to stop gift buying, which supports environmentally hazardous overconsumption and the unethical actions of certain corporations.

But I have to say that, while others are just discovering anti-materialism, my immigrant parents had been practising this well before it came into vogue. Back then it wasn’t a chi-chi protest of the economic system. It was called being cheap.

My family was ahead of the curve. They knew what re-gifting was before it became trendy. Most of my Christmas and birthday presents had been previously given to somebody else. My mother in her cheap, I mean higher environmental consciousness, saved every plastic bag, every container and every object that was given to her.

I remember the day I knew Santa Claus did not exist. Okay, you might ask, what was a Hindu girl doing celebrating Christmas. But we lived in a small town: Christmas was mandatory.

That year, I had duly written Santa asking for a new-fangled marker and doodling set, the kind that all the other kids had. Before the advent of the dollar store, these crayons were da bomb. Santa, in handwriting much like my father’s, wrote back saying, “Here are the pencils that you asked for.” Next to the note were five pencils with the insignia of my father’s workplace. Having already heard elementary school rumours that Santa was not real, I found that this just confirmed it. After all, Santa was supposed to be a jolly, generous man, not the family scrooge!

While growing up, I envied kids who went to school clothed in Benetton and Reeboks. My parents lectured me that “you go to school to learn, not for a fashion show.” So, like all teenagers, in order to better consume, I got a job and spent most of my spare time hanging out at the mall. I already knew that if you don’t want to be the social outcast, you need to have stuff. I learned from my friends and acquaintances how to spend money and then how to quickly trash anything that got too tired.

But then every so often, my immigrant parents’ values come up. I think, “You paid WHAT for that ugly brown Louis Vuitton handbag?” Or, I have a battle with a roommate who didn’t understand why I couldn’t toss my outdated, broken computer into the trash.

My parents’ values were those of scarcity. They came from the old India, where even newspapers were rationed and reused. Things that are junk for us, our outdated clothes, our old technology and our dog-eared books, could be luxuries. In the NEW India, however, these values are only shared by the poor majority who still die for want of food.

I spent a summer once in the old India, and I stopped caring about my clothes or the required amount of hairspray to maintain a bang, and went local. Suffice it to say, the world did not end. But when I came back to Canada, I had reverse culture shock. I could not bear the superficiality of a culture where the coolness of Corey Hart and Duran Duran was a life-and-death issue.

I learned this again when I recently travelled Cuba. In Canada, I am a BlackBerry, phone and Internet addict. But in Cuba, these things are rationed. Not having access to any of that, I found pleasure in real human contact. With nothing to buy, I enjoyed music, dancing and talking. I did not feel I was missing anything.

Is poverty the only teacher? Do we need to have another financial crisis to change our habits?

All I can say is what is said every Christmas. During this Occupy Christmas or insert-the-name-of-a-comparable-festival-here, we should not equate generosity of spirit with generosity of the pocketbook.

Sujata Dey is a freelance writer and political attachée who doesn’t want anything from Santa, this year.

  • 10 Responses to “The posts of Christmas past: No. 6”

    1. Paul

      This column lacks credibility and source. The author starts off with the claim that "Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters and instigator of the Occupy Wall Street movement, has shifted his target to the holiday season, urging people to boycott Christmas materialism. Lasn wants people to stop gift buying…" But the author gives no source for this alleged statement by Lasn, offers no direct quotation from Lasn, and the only link provided is to the Adbusters website — where there is no mention of anything about boycotting Christmas shopping, either in the current issue or anywhere else on the website! Does the Rover not do even rudimentary editing and fact-checking before publishing articles by freelancers? And who or what exactly is this "political attachee" attached to? If to a political party or organization, don't readers deserve to know? The issue is not whether boycotting Christmas shopping is a good idea (personally I've been doing it for years) but the credibility of this article in particular and the slack journalistic standards of this magazine in general.

      • Christine

        Sujata Dey is Attachée politique at 2e Opposition, Ville de Montréal (Projet Montréal) (that took all of 2 seconds to find out)
        How can a piece that is, for the most part, a reminiscence of growing up lack credibility? Yikes Paul, are you having a bad day? And Ad Busters does have a campaign OccupyXmas
        and easy enough to find out about if you want to – but I suspect you didn't want to, you would rather find fault, tear down, rip apart. I thoroughly enjoyed this article, too bad you didn't – I am guessing that an awful lot pisses you off – there is a lot going on in this world to be critical of why don't you focus your intelligence on the things doing real harm in this world and if the standards of Rover bother you so much stop reading it.

    2. Leila Marshy

      This column is an opinion piece. Its credibility rests on the reader's trust of the author and their patience to see it through. As for source, sometimes a reader's curiosity can fill in the blanks where Rover – neither a home for investigative journalism nor a well-funded media outlet – fails to do so.
      Kalle Lasn, for example, is indeed urging consumers to boycott Christmas:

      Paul, if you are volunteering to do "rudimentary editing and fact-checking" for Rover, I will take you up on it. The payment for that is the same as we all get for contributing to this labour of love. That is to say, $0.

      • Paul

        Christine and Leila, why shouldn't Rover aspire to higher journalistic standards, even if it is a volunteer effort? Volunteer needn't mean amateur; there are many examples through history of unpaid editors publishing high-quality journals. Why shouldn't Rover aspire to do so? And why shouldn't readers hold Rover to account when it slips up, or challenge it's editorial decisions?

        It's not the job of readers to do the work of editors. If Sujata Dey's bio is that easy to find on the net, then the Rover editor who handled this article could easily have provided the necessary information.

        And if Adbuster's does have an Occupy Christmas campaign, then the link should have been to that specific page, rather than to the Adbuster home page where there is no mention of the campaign.

        Asking readers to "trust" the author of an article misses the point: a publication must earn and keep the trust of its readers. And that comes, in part, through rigorous editing and high editorial standards. One needn't be paid a salary to do quality work.

    3. Elise

      An interesting issue raised here is the one of context. That is, it's difficult socially when you are not consuming at the same rate as everyone around you (however you define "everyone around you" — your family? your neighbours? the rich and famous you see on TV?). It is not as easy as just saying no; it takes a lot of personal strength to choose not to have the fashionable sneakers, or haircut, or electronic gadget, and it can be a real disadvantage in a job, for example, to look different. What this means is of course that as more people make these choices it will create a larger space in the culture for them, so those who are able to choose to consume less will potentially have a doubly positive impact.

    4. Leila Marshy

      Paul, if your two issues consist of (i) not including a more direct link, and (ii) not expanding upon Sujata's bio, then it is a little difficult to take your concern for journalistic integrity more seriously. If, for example, there was no such Adbusters campaign, or if the author's professional life presented a conflict of interest with the article, then you might have a point. Otherwise, to paraphrase a real estate agent I once knew: Google, Google, Google.

      • Paul

        Leila, you seem not to understand the basics of editing, despite being listed on the masthead as one of Rover's editors. These are not personal "issues" and your attempt to personalize our exchange evades the essential point: it's the editor's job to read critically, ask questions, insist on accuracy, etc. — not the reader's.

        • Dolly

          Hello Paul. Yes, you write well and it is a shame that you don't send your articles to Rover. But, oh right, you are working on your Pullitzer. That is why, in your spare time, you write anonymous critiques on web sites.

          To turn your question around Paul, doesn't the public need to know who you are. What are your credentials to criticize the editing? Are you a political hack? A bitter unpublished author? A former love interest of one of the Rover crew?

          If writing demands complete and total transparency, is it not within reason to demand that you do the same……

    5. Jon

      Just curious Paul – how is Leila Marshy "personalizing" the issue. She merely responded to your critique with a fairly defensible position (if you ask me).
      Perhaps she shouldn't have responded at all, because it just seems to have gotten your goat. Or your lamb, it being Christmas and all. Play nice, Paul, Santa's watching.


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