In which I celebrate Buy Nothing Day with business-as-usual austerity
By Sophie Isbister, Staff Writer
Austerity measures dictate that for me, most days are a buy nothing day. This November, I’ve been sticking it hard to consumer culture, drinking my drip coffee from my own mug, and eschewing creature comforts like new clothes or the privilege of seeing Skyfall during opening week. It’s been cold, it’s been tragic, it’s been… well, austere.
And on November 23 in North America (the 24 internationally), the rest of the world will be catching up with me by participating in the global movement called Buy Nothing Day. This movement was started in Vancouver in 1992 by Adbusters magazine. Their Buy Nothing Day website urges folks to, “Go cold turkey from consumer culture completely! Like those who have accepted this magical invitation before you, you may be rewarded with a life-changing shift of perspective—a glimpse into how to consume less and live more on this precarious planet of ours.”
Sounds pretty good, hey? But, you ask, what difference is one day going to make? Won’t people just wait a day to consume what they were planning? Well, in North America at least, BND coincides with Black Friday, which, for the uninformed, is America’s answer to Boxing Day. A day long frenzy of big box deals, epic lineups for electronic sales, much-publicized deaths-by-trampling, and general deplorable human behaviour. It’s a real riot—there literally are riots. Culture jammers (Adbuster’s name for participants in their campaigns and general anti-consumer way of life) may not account for much of the Black Friday crowd, but the hope is that through poster and sticker campaigns (which always work), participants can extend their reach to the rest of the North American sheeple.
The credit card, symbol of excess in Western culture, is put on display during BND. Posters on abusters.org include a credit card being used to spread butter on toast, and culture jammers advocating public displays of card mutilation as a way to celebrate the attack on consumerism. To participate, you too can cut up your credit card! Adbusters also suggests participating in a “Whirl-Mart,” a synchronized conga-line of empty carts being pushed through the aisles of your local big box store.
Or, if you’re feeling a little more daring, you can follow the lead of the now-defunct Montreal-based anarchist group which advocates what they call “Steal Something Day.” In an archived press release from 1999 (I know, it’s dated, but it’s so fantastic I had to share) the group accuses Adbusters of operating from “their stylish home base in Vancouver’s upscale suburb of Kitsilano” and creating “the perfect feel-good, liberal, middle-class activist non-happening.” They instead suggest we “participate by participating” and steal something. For example, we could “[T]ake a yuppie’s BMW for a joyride, and crash into a parked Mercedes just for the hell of it.”
The Adbusters BND campaign can be seen as lukewarm, especially when contrasted with the anti-consumer approach of the anarchists. But a more measured word on the topic comes from TheTyee’s Jenn Farrell, who wrote in 2006, “So who is Buy Nothing Day really for? … It’s not for those who are already not buying anything and long to escape those circumstances. So that leaves Whitey McPrivileged, who can check to make sure he’s got enough toilet paper and tea bags in the house before the big day.”
Buy Nothing Day 2012 is coming up this Friday. Potential for slacktivism is high, but the event serves as a reminder that we’re more than just consumers, and that we can detox from the spend-happy rat race in which some of us may find ourselves trapped. Look for me on Friday: I’ll be the girl in the concourse brown bagging it.