radical self-acceptance as culturally revolutionary (baby, let your colors burst!)


Watching Mad Men the first season*, the writers made it abundantly clear (in at least one episode) that in order for those advertising companies to sell products, they needed to create shame. Shame will get people to buy things. Shame can be manufactured by advertising (and media). Shame sells.

We are now (in the industrialized world) steeped in a culture of shame.

It's incredibly difficult, in fact, to tell where our own shame starts and our cultural shame ends. I'm not entirely sure we can.

Each step we take in ending the shame cycle is a victory.


Another piece fell into place for me on Sunday, when my husband and I went to the Newark Museum (the largest museum in NJ). One of the permanent exhibits there is the preserved brownstone house of a "middle class" (I would say "upper class") white family who lived in Newark in the Victorian era. It had a (creepy*) Downton Abbey kind of vibe, except the downstairs rooms weren't on showcase. (Ugh.)

Before going into the house, there were educational signs talking about the Victorian concept of the "ideal home" which (they pointed out) was an entirely new* (man made) concept in the world.

Let's see if I can work out the formula:

Industrial revolution. Creates new products. Needs consumers to buy these products. Creates new "ideal home"-centric lifestyle by getting people out of their multiple family homes and into small one family homes which need to be furnished. Creates advertising (and mass media) to tell people why they need to buy the products that go beyond being useful and get "decorative." As that need gets created, creates more need for extra products (and then for disposable products, because if products are too durable, they don't need to be replaced). Creates more jobs. Creates more consumers.

Depletes natural resources. Depletes human resources by giving us jobs that feel awful - mechanical and robotic. Creates slave labor in other parts of the world because "normal" people don't want to work those kinds of jobs. And so forth... the cloned workers of Cloud Atlas really don't seem to be far behind on this chain. (Except I think we'll be out of natural resources - oil and wood and water - by that point.)


Am I overly-simplifying life before the industrial revolution? Yes, probably. (Living at home, working. No media-created need for extraneous things that need to be purchased.) Did the industrial revolution give us awesome things? Yes, amazing and amazing-er things. I love cameras and computers and washing machines and refrigerators.

I can't help but live here in this time, at the (I hope) end of the industrial era. It seems to be like it's failing. That greedy cycle of buy, buy, buy doesn't work long term. (Does it really even work short term? A hundred years isn't even a blip in human history.) We're starting to see the push-back, both human and environmental.

The environmental push back may end up killing a lot of us.

Hell, so could the human push-back. (Slaves revolt eventually, thank goodness.)

One thing I notice is that as I dig myself out from the shame I am enmeshed in, culturally, I start to see what I don't need:

I don't need makeup to cover my acne.
I don't need a bra to "lift and showcase" my breasts.
I don't need hair products to give shine or change the texture of my hair.
I don't need teeth whiteners. I don't need diet sodas. I don't need new, faster gadgets.

(This doesn't mean I don't still want some of these things. But it gives me the space to distinguish between need and desire.)


This is where the ending of our personal shame cycle can help get us out of our greedy, consumerist (culture) cycle I think.

This is why to me, radical self-acceptance is culturally important, not just personally.

This is why I write. Why I dig through the layers of the shame embedded into me from magazines and movies and books and advertisements everywhere. Why I keep encouraging you in your quest for self-acceptance.

I am trying to do my part to help us evolve into our next glorious revolution. I am doing the best I can, with the means at my disposal. One person at a time. One day at a time. It can be small. It can be personal. It can teach us how to turn away from the aisles and aisles of products and see ourselves for the glorious miracles we are. Whole in ourselves.

I am learning this as I go, too.

I am learning how to be whole, in this broken, beautiful, painful, amazing world.

______________________
* And then instead of digging deeper into that premise, the next seasons of Mad Men just started skimming the surface of the office and home dramas - this is the biggest reason why I stopped watching. It became just another soap opera selling us shame about our own lives because we don't look as good as them. Sad.

* Does anyone else find Downton Abbey creepy now? Just me? No spoilers, but I'm just mad as hell at the direction the producers went in season 3. I didn't even watch the end of that season.

* Although I'm not entirely sure they were correct, world-wide, but let's just accept their possibly Western-centric view for a moment.

* I look around at my house, and I see so much fucking stuff. I am a middle class American woman. Although I believe in minimizing my impact on this planet, I also live here, in my day and age. I am a product of my time. I cannot be anyone else.

Made in China. Made in Taiwan. Made in the USA. Made. Manufactured. Not needed, just wanted. A created desire.

200 years ago, I couldn't walk into Target and buy a rainbow of notepaper and envelopes.

And on this desk there's also some stones. Sand. Shells. Feathers. Art that I've made. Art that Remy's made. Tools for making art. I am not saying this stuff is bad. I am saying it is here. It exists. I am not immune to the lure of Target.

* Yes, fireworks because of the Katy Perry song. You are a firework. Let 'em say "boom boom boom."