Saturday, November 22, 2008

Union Square

I went down to Borders Book store today. I have become addicted to a series of sci-fi books so I had to pick up the next three. Thats how they get you! Its the Borders right by Union Square. They have the Christmas tree up waiting to be lit. Every where you looked people were milling around holding their bright colorful bags and Starbucks cups. The economy might suck right now, but you wouldn't know it from the crowds. This might be my class issues acting up, but most of the people I saw holding a purchase projected a sort of immunity from the current events. They looked like mannequins that had come alive in a Gap store window and rushed out to walk around in the November sunshine with credit cards and ultra brite white smiles. Of course every woman had on large bug eyed sun glasses and knee high boots. The men were confident and well dressed in jeans that cost more than I make on most private gigs. They held hands or cell phones that they will gladly replace for the newest cooler model when it comes out in a week or a month. Doesn't matter when, they will buy it. These are the people we hate but want to be. Young, well off and attractive. They match the people on billboards and in window displays. I could see people checking out each other and the flash of envy in their eyes as they looked from advertisements to other people and back again to themselves in the windows reflection. Everyone was trying to look like the people they saw in commercials.
All of this, this spectacle of mass consumption mixed with self-esteem based marketing began as a simple remembrance of Christ's birth. How weird, ha?
Into this scene walked a protest. The first sign that this idyllic capitalistic outing was about to be interrupted, were cops cars driving the wrong way down crowded streets. No sirens blaring or even lights flashing, just a cop car trying to get around a cable car filled with over weight tourists in shorts and Pier 39 sweat shirts. Then I could hear the shouting. It wasn't a large group but they made up for that in volume. Holding signs that read, No More Fed and, Don't Bail Out Billionaires, they chanted slogans and moved steadily up a sidewalk bordering the square. People turned their heads toward the commotion. I slowed down and finally came to a stop to watch the soft collision between ideals and consumption. This is the best time to watch peoples faces. Eyes squinted of those who didn't wear sun glasses. Lips tightened on the faces of the living mannequins. Everyones pace slowed a bit as they took in the protest. It was an intrusion into their shopping sprees. Impolite and frivolous, was the impression I got from the shoppers. The protest represented ideas they did not enjoying having to consider. Especially today when they were going about the collection of the latest things, the freshest fashions and the newest gadgets. Happiness avliable at a special marked down sale for the holidays. Precisely why the protest marched around Union square in the first place, I thought. Some eyes seemed embarrassed. The message of the protest made a few guilty. Other eyes were glazed over with the plastic smiles of the disinterested. A few were simply confused as to why people would ruin this wonderful day. I didn't talk to anyone so all this is guess work. But eyes and body language tell a lot if you let it. To me it seemed as if the shoppers were simply angry that people would make a big deal out of something they couldn't do anything about anyway. After all, they were helping the economy by going out and buying. What were these people doing? Screaming slogans and bothering people with fliers? For what? A few of the living catalog people actually shock their heads. The gesture was beyond condescending. It was a wave of the hand a dismissal of what these people were yelling. From where I was standing I thought both groups lived up to the stereotype the other group had firmly in their heads about each other. The kids, wearing faded jeans that actually got that way from use were forcing fliers into the manicured hands of women wrapped in burberry scarfs. It might as well have been an alien encounter for both sides. The kids were aggressive, vocal and just as set in their thinking as the people who treated them as a mild upset to be discussed over drinks later that night. Faces turned to masks and sunglasses became a shield to not see the out stretched hand holding a flier with Ron Paul's name on it. After living here for so long and either seeing or participating in these types of marches, I doubt the effectiveness of such actions. The people you are trying to reach react as if you shit on their living room floor. The people doing the reaching out have nothing but scorn in their eyes for the women in fur coats and the men who bought those coats for the women they see as accessories. Each side has contempt for the other. All this was going on around the giant tree, sullen and dark with strands of unlit lights sunken into its branches. Our economy depends on people spending more money than they really have. Its a hell of a system we have created for ourselves. What is bad for the individual is good for the economy as a whole. But it caught up with us finally and everyone present in union square today shared that now familiar general anxiety over what comes next. No mater how much money was spent today, its not enough. No matter how right the yelling kids holding up bumper sticker slogans might be, the approach might just turn more people off to the concepts then on. All in all, it was a very San Francisco day. The rich and articulate poor did the dance around each other that has gone on for all of recorded history. Whatever change is going to happen I doubt either side will have much control over. Things have gotten beyond what the system is set up to handle. Once, I thought ripping it all down was the thing to do. I held signs and locked eyes with men in suits hoping to project some understanding into them. I am not a suit these days, but I did buy two books and a magazine at a national chain store. I was participating in the system I have never had much love for too. Apathy, I suppose is my philosophy of choice these days. Frankly, I would love to see the rich suffer. Problem is, to really cut them deeply you and I and everyone else who struggles over decisions like buying food or paying down the credit card, would have to be reduced to great depression style poverty before they ever felt a sting.
Merry Christmas and happy stock market returns.

1 comment:

Dean said...

...and life goes on...

My philosophy has become "be comfortable with your level of hypocrisy" (e.g., I still consider myself a Buddhist even though I love me some ribs and In n Out)