Editor's Choice

The "gleefully frugal"

I found this NYT article about the alleged resurgence of thriftiness as an ethic strangely depressing. Isn't this what I had been hoping for in writing all these screeds against consumerism, that there would be a return to some more sensible set of values once the waste and frivolity of status consumption was revealed to all? I don't know, maybe; but it's hard for me to overlook the inanity of this:

The gleefully frugal happily seek new ways to economize and take pride in outsaving the Joneses. The mantra is cut, cut, cut — magazine and cable subscriptions, credit cards, fancy coffee drinks and your own hair.

In San Francisco, Cooper Marcus, 36, has started choosing recipes based on the ingredients on sale at the market. Mr. Marcus canceled the family’s subscription to Netflix, his premium cable package and a wine club membership. He uses a program on his iPhone to find the cheapest gas and drives out of his way to save 50 cents per gallon.

“It seems a little crazy,” he laughs, then adds: “I’m frugal and loving it.”

Clearly, frugality is being regarded as a lifestyle choice, another mode of distinction. People want to be recognized for it rather than making it disapppear into a more compelling mosaic of activities that supply a sense of who we are to the world. The article suggests that those who are happy to be frugal constitute a "movement", as if they are pioneering some wholly new concept.

Instead, this suggests that consumerism remains at the forefront of how people conceive of themselves, only they are spending less instead of more. Which means less and more have become virtually arbitrary concepts that can be varied in order to add spice to the fashion cycle.

Obviously the predilection for spending less is related to the recession, but the thrust of articles like this is to provide the illusion to consumers that they are in control of things -- that frugality should be seen as a free choice that we can be "loving" rather than a conditioned response. Or if it is not a free choice, it is an opportunity, with constraints serving as the nursemaid to creativity. But something is grating to me about the way in which we seem to want to make this creativity an end in itself. Shouldn't the instinctively frugal sort also be sort of austere, circumspect, guarded? Wouldn't they be naturally wary of publicity, not "gleeful" and eager to be rubbing the world's nose in economic hard times?

I think I react strongly to all this because I'm so vulnerable to indulging in that sort of thinking, to wanting to be lauded for frugality as if it were a public demonstration of my wit and resourcefulness, when it is nothing more than preoccupation with shopping and signaling -- things I wished I spent less time thinking about outside of writing about them. (Writing about them is probably merely another strategy for trying to purge the unwelcome inclinations.) That's what seems like real frugality to me -- when shopping is taking up less and less of our consciousness. The gleefully frugal are, by that standard, as profligate as ever.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image