The Shopping Species

November 20, 2016 Posted by: George Jacobi
A number of colorful t-shirts hanging above a shelf that has folded stacks of the shirts on display.
Many of us would bring a piece of the Grand Canyon home if it was allowed. I suspect it would be quite a large piece, so that we could sit on our patio and enjoy looking into it for years to come. Especially at sunset.

Instead, we settle for a baseball cap or a t-shirt to go with the dozens of photos we take. The rare ones among us will come home with an impeccably crafted Zuni bowl, or Navaho rug. What does a souvenir do for us? In fairness, (it’s going to be easy to be cynical here) I think we mostly want to feel again the freedom and adventurousness that came along with a vacation in an awesome place.

Pull on the hat, or look across the room at the rug, and a sense of it returns to us. Gifts for others, whether coworkers or family, is the way we share that feeling. We enjoy new stuff anyway, and we think our friends do too. A gift of stuff is an expression of love. (What’s wrong with just an expression of love?)

Put stuff in front of our faces and we’ll buy some of it. Maybe part of it is a left-over hunter-gatherer instinct, redirected. For some, another part is the ego trip. (You knew this was coming, right?) When you wear that t-shirt, you’re saying “I did something cool - and you didn’t”. “The Black Dog” is a logo from a very ordinary restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard, an island regarded as posh, now recognizable around the world.

Wear one and you’re identified as a person who does cool stuff; you get around. Promoters call this ‘branding’. You are a member of a community that is at home in the larger world, with the financial freedom such a life entails.

Conversely, you might identify yourself as a member of a small exclusive club, one that most folks can’t get in. “I Hiked Rim 2 Rim”. “Don’t Follow Me; You Won’t Make It”. Bumper stickers like these, just like a New York Yankees baseball cap or a Black Dog shirt, advertise one’s personal power.

Should I go on about whether buying souvenirs fills a hole in us or is just a habit of our consumer culture? Are we desperate for recognition? Or does the purchase distract us from the fact that there’s not much of substance going on anywhere?

I’m speaking here of the mass-media driven American culture. Each individual would resent being included in a category like this. You’d insist you have a sound moral basis regardless of the rest of the society, and in most cases you do.

And maybe you just needed a new hat.

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This blog is meant to encourage awareness and thoughtfulness about the Grand Canyon, one of our most precious resources. It is not merely a story of what happens or has happened here, not a cookbook for what you should make of it yourself, but more an example of the many-faceted inspiration the Canyon nurtures in an artist, perhaps in you. Indeed, inspiration may be the Canyon's greatest resource. These words are sincere, my own take on this world, deliberately non-academic and directed toward users of social media. In no way does it represent the policies or opinions of the National Park Service, although it is done under the auspices of that entity, but is offered in gratitude, with my respect and admiration for these soldiers of conservation. George H. Jacobi 2016  

Last updated: November 20, 2016

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