Monthly Archives: May 2009

The end of consumerism? Part 4 – Let us cease the devaluation of humanity

by Mariam Williams

This morning, Good Morning America featured a piece about trends in teen sexuality as depicted in the documentary, Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss. Pre-teen and teenage girls are engaging in everything from oral sex to prostitution.  Of the clips shown this morning, the footage of two particular girls has stayed in my mind: The girl who said she figured if she was going to have sex anyway, she “might as well get paid for it,” and the one who described offers of $20 for taking off her shirt or $100 for dancing on a table.

True, I can figure out how to make just about anything apply to this blog, the economy, and unemployment, but really, this topic fits.  At least, it goes well with my previous harps on consumerism and my over-reaching predictions about its end.  These young prostitutes apply to this blog because filmmaker Sharlene Azam said “the prettiest girls from the most successful families” are most at risk for this behavior.  Their parents aren’t those living life laid off; they’re just the people—or friends of the people—whose greed helped put our country in crisis.  (More on this after the definitions.)

After my dad read my post about the lure of an easy life through a sugar daddy relationship, he expressed interest in hearing my thoughts on what he calls “the psychologically programmed consumerist commercialism at the root of the whole phenom and the possible social consequence of its relentless, vapid, amoral, vampirish soul rape of bling-blinded youth.” (Does that sentence make so much about me make sense or what?)

About a month and a half ago, I read his comment again and focused on the word “consumerist.”  I looked up its root, “consume” (emphasis not mine):

transitive verb

1: to do away with completely : DESTROY

2 a: to spend wastefully : SQUANDER b: USE UP

3 a: to eat or drink especially in great quantity  b: to enjoy avidly : DEVOUR

4: to engage fully : ENGROSS

5: to utilize as a customer

intransitive verb

1: to waste or burn away : PERISH

2: to utilize economic goods”

I looked up “consumer”:

“: one that consumes: as

a: one that utilizes economic goods

b: an organism requiring complex organic compounds for food which it obtains by preying on other organisms or by eating particles of organic matter”

The cultural attitudes are manifesting themselves in 11-year-old prostitutes, but the bling blinded most of us.  Here’s what I think happened: a few brilliant people—owners of retail and real estate corporations for the most part—paid a few other brilliant people to convince us that we had to have it.  Our lives were incomplete without the car, house, pool, clothes, jewelry, handbags, gadgets, weave, beauty treatments, and gourmet food those few brilliant people were selling.  Things could fill voids in our lives.  Things could make us happy.  Not having enough money to get the things didn’t matter to most of us; happiness was attainable, even if it was only via loans and credit.  More brilliant people profited off our mismanagement and became people whose lives were incomplete without the money to get the things, and more money on top of that.  To those same people, the people using credit also became things.  They weren’t even customers anymore, just 9 or 16-digit numbers whose rates needed to be raised.  Ways to consume more.  Means to an end.  Prey to be devoured.  Pre-teen girls to use.  Teen boys and men to get cash from.  We might as well.

Many who opposed our President’s economic stimulus plan claimed they were horrified by the burden of debt and taxes that government spending would leave to future generations.  Seeing girls of any economic status or social class approach the removal of their clothes for $20 with nonchalance horrifies me, and not just because I hate to see women objectified.  It horrifies me because the STDs these girls may spread won’t help a healthcare system that’s already insufficient for a civilized nation.  It horrifies me because these girls won’t even notice that particular social consequence because they’ll probably marry affluent men who can afford the best healthcare.  It horrifies me because seeing people as a means to an end prevents you from seeing people’s needs.  It blinds you to the compassion needed to address the health and wealth disparities in our society and to radically change the consumerist economy that we have proven will crumble when any one element—wages, jobs, credit, responsible repayment of debt, or an insatiable craving for frivolity (consumer confidence)—is removed from the equation.

Equation.  That word indicates a call for balance.  Most viewers’ comments on the story faulted lackadaisical parenting, abstinence teaching, and generational immorality.  A few saw it as a cry for attention to parents who have been too busy working to watch their kids.  Others saw no difference between this and previous generations.  If girls whose parents already have money feel they might as well dance on tables for $100, I think it goes deeper than moral deficiency, and that it’s worse than lonely kids who just want love.  It’s a devaluation of humanity that will continue to perpetuate and is perpetuated by the idea that enough is always just a little bit more.

CONSUME

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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The end of consumerism? Part 3 – If you only knew, you wouldn’t do it

By Mariam Williams

I watched the President’s town hall meeting about credit card regulation the day after I read this Time Magazine article as I took a break from revising my upcoming feature story on bankruptcy attorneys (read it in the July 10th issue of Business First, in the special section, The Business of Law).  President Obama and the Senate seem to think that if the dangers of credit cards—the freedom of the card companies to change interest rates at will for no reason at all; the length of time it would take to pay off a balance if you only paid the minimum payment each month; the fees and tricks that set you back just when you’re making a dent in your debt—were spelled out to consumers in plain English and large fonts, or abolished all together, people would use the powerful pieces of plastic more wisely, or not at all, and not have so much debt.

When I worked in retail, I accepted an extra discount as motivation to encourage irresponsible spending (especially on college students; it was ridiculously easy to get them approved for credit).  I often used this line when trying to push store credit cards on the wiser, more unwilling customers: “You don’t have to wait to pay it off.  You can open the card to get the savings and immediately pay off the whole balance with cash or check, while you’re still here at the register.  Why not save the 15% today?”  Some saw that the glittering “Get 15% off your purchase and double rewards points when you open a Store Card today!” signs strategically placed on fitting room doors and at the register weren’t gold.  Others “saved” 15% on that purchase and then paid almost double that amount in interest when something kept them from paying the balance off in full later in the month (just like people with adjustable rate mortgages couldn’t refinance because—oops—there was suddenly no credit available).

My own credit has NOT been damaged by my employment hiatus.  Around this time last year, I was blessed to encounter a good sales woman hocking a credit protection plan that would pay a nice of chunk of my credit card balance over a set period of time in the event of major life changes or unforeseen emergencies.  Due to my present misfortune, the card that still carried remnants from days when I had California dreams now shows such a healthier balance that I sometimes log into my account just to see the number and smile.  I chose to close the card that had a manageable but less attractive balance and that didn’t have the insurance after getting word from Bank of America that the interest rate on that card would be going up by 5% this month, because they felt like it.

And yet, as much I enjoy lifting my middle finger to Bank of America through my credit boycott—and even though lack of disposable income has forced me to sever my ties with retail anyway—I find myself tempted to use the plastic again, to treat myself to something pretty, to enjoy a break from Kentucky, to see a show I can’t manage to get free tickets to, to have a carefree weave again, to get some work done on my car, to get a massage, to eat a lavish dinner, to buy some new computer software, to enjoy Memorial Day sales, to do any number of things I don’t need to do to survive and probably shouldn’t do even when I have the cash to do them.

The sad part is, I know what credit companies are capable of.  I know the trappings of the minimum monthly payment.  I know shit happens that you don’t plan for and happens so quickly that your balance has gone from $100 to $10,000 (actually, I’ve never seen a credit card balance that high, but you get the idea) before you can even make a minimum payment.  I don’t need the fine print reworded, and I’m still tempted.

I fully support eliminating credit card issuers’ unfair practices.  People paying off their debts in full or repaying them steadily each month shouldn’t be punished so that banks can cover the difference left by those who are defaulting, nor should those faltering due to unemployment or other unforeseen circumstances be punished.  To suddenly have your interest rate doubled could easily make a manageable situation impossible.  To have your credit limit dramatically cut could damage your credit score, which is something potential employers check, which could make you end up in the unemployment line longer, which could lead you to default on your payments, which gives card issuers incentive to increase everyone’s rates …

Obviously, I see the need for regulation.  Our insatiable craving for stuff, however, and our economy’s dependence on it, needs to be reigned in as well, or at least rethought so that it doesn’t stand on the shaky ground of massive debt.

I’m tempted, but I haven’t done it, partly because I know better.  What percentage of the American population would resist the temptation if everyone knew?

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Good news, wishes, and snafus

I auditioned for several local theater companies at the Theatre Alliance of Louisville Unified Auditions on Saturday.  (That’s what all the tweets were about.)  Good news: I faced my fear of singing a solo in public.  Wish list: I wish that during all this time off, I had had money to fill the time with acting and voice lessons.  That doesn’t mean things went badly, just that everything gets better with practice.

It was good to be around theater people again, to escape for a moment into a character who has problems that I don’t, and to be in the company of people who haven’t given up on making a career out of the talents that bring them the most joy.  I’m hoping that the inspiration sticks and that the brief exposure to a different form of creativity translates well into productive writing sessions for me.

On Sunday, before heading out to my mother’s house to celebrate Mothers Day, I logged on to the state unemployment website to request my weekly benefit check.  I got an error message stating I couldn’t make a request because my account has a zero balance, which is odd, considering that 1) I had just visited the unemployment office in person on Wednesday and an agent there who knew about the snafu that I will address later had instructed me to request my check as usual on Sunday and then file for an extension of benefits on Monday; and 2) the agent had given me those instructions because my account balance was in the low hundreds, an amount less than the usual benefit amount but far greater than zero.

Of course, my purpose in going to the unemployment office in person was to take them a letter from the unemployment commission appeals branch stating that they had indeed made a snafu when I first applied for benefits in October 2008.  That’s the good news.  They were finally agreeing that I really did receive severance pay that does not count against my unemployment benefits (as my former employer and I told them), and that I did not receive wages in lieu of notice, which do count against my unemployment benefits.  That meant the state owed me more money than the amount remaining in my regular benefit account, so I can only guess that they processed the new information and cut a check faster than anticipated, and that this caused another snafu: a zero balance in the regular benefit account before I got the chance to file for an extension.

While I’m grateful to the agents who have been kind and understanding, who have given good leads or advice, or who have fixed my own snafus over the phone without forcing me to come into the office and wait for several hours, and while I understand the stress that a state with an unemployment rate of 9.8% can put on even a fully-staffed office, I’m frustrated that the system is not set up for first-time filers who might make snafus—or even for professionals’ errors—and that it takes massive professional intervention by people with some sort of top-secret, classified access to correct the snafus.  It can also take an entire day of sitting in the crowded office, waiting for your number to be called, or over six months for a letter acknowledging the snafu to arrive.  (Also note that the letter had no instructions or information on how the money owed to me was to be dispersed.  I had to call the appeals branch myself.  They then instructed me to take the letter to a local office and ask them to release the payment.  I don’t know how I was supposed to know that without asking the appeals branch.)

With the latest snafu, I’m also pulling out a calculator, trying to figure out exactly what the balance in the extended benefit account would have been as of Sunday if the decision on severance had been made in October.  I think the easiest thing to do would be to cut one check that covers the entire amount that the state agrees that I am owed, take that amount from both the regular and extended benefit balances, and have me just file for extended benefits at the same time, as if the owed check were never even cut.  It’s already been explained to me that the owed checks will come in bi-monthly parts, just as the regular checks would.  So I should believe that a state that is running low on funds and that took over six months to make a decision in my favor is really going to pay me all that they agree that I’m owed without some other sort of interference?

Lord, I thought Sunday, I am so tired of the snafus. I’m tired of the inefficiency, but more than that, I’m tired of it being a concern at all, of worrying about checks, of counting down the days until they run out, of job seeking (now with a new crop of college grads alongside me), of leads not panning out, of new ideas fizzling, of not knowing what to do, of wondering where to take my skills and who might need them and how I might actually be of some use in this society, and of even more burdens that I rambled about in prayer but don’t remember at the moment.  I shouldn’t be so perturbed.  God has blessed me financially this whole time, and I have no reason to believe that I suddenly won’t be taken care of.  I’m just tired.

You know, the amount in question would have mattered even when I was employed, but I’m longing for the day when said amount feels like pennies that won’t even be missed instead of like something I have to fight for.

And on another snafu note, if you subscribe to Living Life Laid Off via email and received a random feed from January, I have no explanation for what happened, and neither does Feedburner. :-/

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Doing Derby while living life laid off

on my way to a single derby event

on my way to a single derby event

This time last year, I was either hiding out in my cubicle with a good book or walking aimlessly through downtown Louisville, desperate to find activities to fill the last “work” day of Derby week and give myself something to do while the sales people got plastered at Churchill Downs, ran about the city for remotes (live, on location broadcasts), or got their hair done.

Few people in sales and advertising (and many other professions) work during Derby week in Louisville.  The Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May, and the week leading up to it is filled with festivities, like galas, parades, boat races, concerts, and for ad professionals, a day or two to network (read drink or have fun) with other ad professionals at the famous track.  The sales office of radio stations, at least the ones that play pop and/or urban music, tend to be slammed one to two weeks before the big week, with concert and event promoters all vying for ad space.  By the big week, the sales staff has done its dirt, and the ads are running, so there’s little reason to stay in an empty office, unless you just like quiet.  Yesterday was the first time in a while I tuned in to one of my former employer’s stations long enough to actually hear several commercial breaks, and all the ads were about Derby events.

Last year, I went to a “Taste of” event, a comedy show and two celebrity-hosted parties.  Free tickets were a blessing, but I’m not hurt this year.  I was stuffed from the food at the “Taste of” event, but as for the comedy show?  Well, some people are better in movies than they are at stand-up.  I also found the parties overrated; unless you were among the boldest females, the people most willing to flaunt or fake their wealth with VIP tickets, or the press, there were few opportunities to even see the well-promoted celebrities, and forget about socializing with them.

Needless to say, I wasn’t about to pay for any of those events this year.  My big Derby plans were to maybe attend a barbecue on Saturday and to otherwise hibernate and prepare for the coming week of résumé rewriting, job applications, theater auditions, and unpaid special projects that may help me in the future.  Then a friend changed my plans by recruiting me for one such project.  It wasn’t exactly unpaid; I got to attend the 100 Black Men of Louisville 18th Annual Pre-Derby Gala last night in exchange for writing about the event, with the words to be read in a national publication.

I enjoyed myself, and I’m learning that free tickets are still possible in exchange for some hard work.  Still, I noticed some differences between this year and last year, aside from actually having a good time.  The first difference was in my shopping budget; since there isn’t one, I reached out to friends and relatives who are around my size and asked if I could recycle some of their past gala gowns.  One found a dress that worked (and she didn’t even know it was in one of my favorite colors), and I always keep formal shoes on hand and own plenty of accessories, so I was set for the night without being financially set back.  The stars kind of aligned for my hair too; the President’s generous stimulus check for the unemployed arrived in time to stimulate my beautician’s pocket.  (I say kind of because I can’t help but feel a little guilty about it, but if you had seen my hair the night before … ooooh …) I tweezed my own eyebrows, had a coupon for a new shade of lipstick, and thankfully, the party went so late the garage parking was free.

The other difference was in my ability to walk and stand in high heels.  I might have worn heels that weren’t boots twice

The offending sandals

The offending sandals

in the fall and winter; why bother with the pain when you don’t even have to wear them to work? I haven’t even brought the summer stilettos over from my old closets in my mother’s house yet.  My feet could’ve used the calluses I sheared off just hours before stepping into the rhinestone heels, and my balance really should’ve gone through a refresher course a few days earlier.

Mint Condition performing

Mint Condition performing

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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