Andy Smith, 31, from Portsmouth, England is a writer and blogger who describes himself as “a standard self deprecatory Englishman”, with a witty, honest sense of humor and a moral understanding very in keeping with the ethos here at ASLI.
While Andy describes his life as mostly average he certainly holds a bright personality through his writing.
We welcome Andy’s submission on consumerism:
There’s a scene in the film Fight Club where Brad Pitt sums up one of the horrors of modern civilization; Consumerism. You can watch the whole scene here:
and as it’s a minute long I urge you to do it. I mean, it might stop you buying shit you don’t need with money you don’t have as summed up so eloquently in Pitt’s monologue.
Most people reading this magazine will already be open minded, sensible fellows who are aware of the problems with consumerism. If, however, you’re stumbling across this piece after a busy day buying crap from town then let me elaborate with this simple story.
I have a colleague that bought a cheap knock off smart bracelet in order to help with their exercise routine. I instantly assumed that said bracelet would end up, first off their arm within a month, then in a drawer, and eventually in a charity shop. The wristband lasted approximately a week before disappearing into the ether. What a chuffing waste and – to add insult to injury – they’ve also gained weight.
To me, consumerism is a mental illness. People are so compelled to treat themselves to something ‘new’ and ‘special’ all the time that they end up practically bankrupting themselves (at least in some cases). I too suffer from a level of “consumeritus” (coining that if it’s not been taken already). Personally I try and temper my urge to buy by compromising on what it is; maybe it’s buying a cheaper lunch out rather than something more extravagant. But I’ll often feel that I’ve earned the right to treat myself and then have to remind myself that I still have games, books, DVDs and such like just laying around at home. In my moment of resistance I stand there in town surrounded by shoppers, shops, adverts and colour; all threatening to drag my monochrome existence into their glistening Technicolor grasp. Look how happy you’ll be! Be a better you! Make yourself amazing!
I often leave town feeling a little deflated because of my moment of defiance. I feel like I’m missing out and I feel that I should simply treat myself. But when I get home I look at my shelves full of books, my two games consoles, my TV, my PC, my garden, my dog, my mobile phone able to access the entire internet at the touch of a few buttons. I remind myself of the fact I am happily married, I have great friends and family. I have a car, clean running water, the freedom of speech, a passport that allows me to travel most of the world. I feel genuinely cleansed when I think about all that I already have. And then I actually invest my time in one project, or a blog, or daydreaming and I find the fulfillment that consumerism can never satiate.
People should buy things because they need it. If it genuinely improves your life then you should buy it. Not giving in to consumerism is not giving up on fun or not treating yourself. Instead it’s about finding the wealth and value in the things you already have and then deciding if you need something new.
I’m a massive gamer and I have recently resisted picking up a brand new console as well as the latest games. For example, Fallout 4 was released in November last year and I avoided buying it despite utterly adoring the digital worlds that Bethesda have created. And here I am in February finding the same game for a third less than its release price. You’ve probably had a similar scenario if you’ve seen that same dress on sale or that same book cheaper online just a few months after release. Thankfully the internet is helping people become savvier consumers. People do shop around to get a good bargain and do not simply buy things at full price anymore, often waiting for an inevitable sale. Hurrah! Some progress.
Or not. As Black Friday, Boxing Day sales and just sales in general show; people just buy more cheaper things. The consumer itch is still scratched and the level of non-fulfillment is multiplied. People find themselves surrounded by even more products they never really needed. Maybe that new phone might improve my life? Or a new wardrobe will make me feel better about myself? Dissatisfaction grows and grows and you end up on Channel 4 as some caricature to be mocked.
And then you get the people who can’t afford the latest gadgets and tech. They spank their money over at Bright House and pick up their X-Box or TV. They sit at home paying twice the price for something that they could have waited a year for to save up and buy at a cheaper price. Instead they are the envy of their friends! Everyone wants to see your new TV! Until new tech is announced and no one gives a shit about you anymore. Oh, except to hear that you can’t come out as your paying 70% interest on some shit TV nobody wants anymore. Great job.
The internet may surround us with bargains, perfect lives and wonderment but it’s okay to not keep up with the illusion. More importantly there are usually cheaper ways of enjoying the digital things you love. I know many people who save money by downloading or streaming things illegally but I am totally against this because, as overpriced as some things are, I think there are still cheap ways to get all you want without essentially stealing. Spotify, Youtube and Netflix cost me nothing to use except my ISP’s monthly fee. My friend lets me use their Netflix login free of charge, I get the occasional advert on Spotify and Youtube and that’s it. Pretty much all of my music and TV needs with no additional costs.
Consumers are becoming savvier and there are certainly more options to get what you want for free but ultimately the addiction will continue. For many I guess it’s down to a lack of fulfillment. Living in a rented house, with a crappy job and surrounded by a world of possibilities we all desire to fulfill our potential. We see friends go on travels around the world, others going back to study or enjoying a fulfilling career. We are failing, they are winning. The only thing you think you’ve got is money to spend on something to cheer you up. A pittance to be spent like pocket money from a parent. You’re a child. Go buy a toy and add it to your toy box.
Or, grow up. Grow up and realise your potential is not dictated by the things you have, but on how you use your skills. Spend your money on genuinely improving your life and then, when you are in an enviable position, help others escape their bondage to capitalism. Maybe you could write a blog or something? That might help a few people realise their real dreams cannot be bought.
Our interview with Andy for our campaign “Capitalism, Poverty and War”:
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
Because it pains me to see people repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Debt is so easy to avoid if people just spend sensibly and stop comparing themselves to others. Not all of us have millionaire relatives or the ability to spunk money on luxury holidays and such like. Just because you see someone have a life of luxury doesn’t mean that everyone will get that same life – but that’s another issue. The main thing is people buy shit they don’t need with money they don’t have. And that’s fucking stupid.
What is your process when creating?
Alcohol, music, other arts in general or just whatever I’ve read, seen and heard. Whatever inspires me/makes me despair or somewhere in between compels me to write about it. I’ll then sit down at my desk and write. Sometimes it’s well crafted and other times I rant and then tidy up.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
Probably Charlie Brooker; his particular brand of vitriol makes me smile. He also predicted that a politician would have fucked a pig at some point which means he’s basically omnipotent (he won’t admit that though). I also like Owen Jones, but I’m not a massive political powerhouse so I read what he has to say but know that I am outgunned when it comes to giving clear views on major political issues.
Who inspires you in general?
Anyone who challenges themselves. Also anything I read in fantasy fiction where good defeats evil – because at it’s core that’s all that life is about surely – good defeating evil eventually.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
Pretty much everything that I hear about where justice isn’t seen. That often makes me despair because I know that there is little I can do but I’ll try my best to chip in with the chorus. So Syria, the middle east, the media, the 1% and the development of the BRIC nations and such like are all topics that I am passionate about.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
Read Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s 100 years of Solitude or Albert Camus the Outsider and come back to me. Nutshell – those books (and many others to a more limited extent) saved my life and I believe that literature in particular can change our view on life.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
For the latter point, I’d like to think so. I’m not naive though – I realise my blogs readership of about 100 people a month is not going to change many views – maybe a couple though. Be nice if people could stop and think for a bit at the very least
As for the first point, if I hadn’t studied literature at University I probably wouldn’t be as happy as I am today so yes.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
Present goals – expand my readership and find the time to write more.
Future goals – get published and paid to write someday. That would be nice.
In your opinion, is capitalism the best system in today’s world? Why (not)?
I think there will always be a need for currency but capitalism has led to the development of an establishment which looks after itself and not the world. We should not live in a world where children starve to death while others spend £4000 on a drink That’s fundamentally wrong.
What are your opinions on how capitalism serves those who are born without the wealth and opportunities enjoyed by others?
Well it doesn’t serve them – instead those without wealth serve for money. And that’s pretty much it until you die or get filthy rich.
If capitalism rewards only ability, what are your thoughts on those who can’t compete? For example, to people with physical or mental disabilities?
Well that’s a tricky question to answer. Even without capitalism if someone cannot physically or mentally work then they may not necessarily be able to in any other system. What society needs to do is enable people to be as happy and productive as they can be within the boundaries of their own disability. Enabling people to achieve the best they can should always be the priority.
In your opinion – who benefits from poverty, and how?
Those with money and power. Poverty is a weapon that can be inflicted on people who fear to challenge those in power. For instance I have to be careful what I write because I may lose my job. If I lose my job then I will be in poverty. Therefore I am shackled to my job to an extent.
How do images/videos/news reports of people in poverty influence society in different countries? What is your country like?
Britain is confused. We’ll donate money to people during children in need yet we struggle to let people settle here when they flee from war zones. Britain likes to keep its care for the world at arms length.
To what extent does stigma contribute to the experience of living in poverty in your country, and in your opinion what could be done to address this?
Being poor is now portrayed by both the media and the government as being lazy. “You can only be a poor person if you are not hardworking” seems to be the by word these days. Unfortunately when the government and media are working in tandem on this issue there is little that I can see that can be done.
Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day. How does this make you feel and is this something you think about and actively try and change, and if so how?
It makes me feel like shite and it’s one of the many areas I’d like to address one day. But right now I’m having to look after myself, my partner and try and do what I can elsewhere. Whether that’s helping out a friend in need or just keeping myself afloat.
Do you think war is ever necessary and why?
Well here’s a left field thing – war seems an inevitability; especially when people compete so much over resources, land and wealth. It’s not necessary but it’s seems to happen a lot.
Ideally talk should be the answer but ideals and reality are two very different things.
Who profits and gains in general from war, in your opinion?
Do you think enough is done by the global community to help the people affected by the ongoing occupations and wars globally? As well as the aftermath; leaving people with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, homeless, and often completely destabilised in general.
God no. If there’s one benefit of capitalism it’s that it’s an excellent way of generating wealth and creating stability. The problem is that some people have gotten far too greedy. A better distribution of wealth (or higher taxes on those who earn the most) could be used to fund improvements globally. But, you know, £4000 cocktails and yachts aren’t cheap so I guess we’ll just have to watch the world burn while a few sit on their private islands with their hands over their ears.
How do you feel about the media’s use of propaganda when discussing war and the rhetoric of the “good guys and bad guys” being fed to the masses?
Well I believe there really are good guys in this world and there are many bad guys. But the problem is there are perceptions that whole nations (companies/politicians/whatever) can be good or bad because the whole issues are too complex for the every man to fully understand. The media in general has a skewed view of the world and facts can often be distorted to sell newspapers. Basically newspapers should stick to complete facts and not opinion – but they’d probably go broke if they did. Basically it’s a mess.
Lastly we would like to know of your own experiences with either war or poverty or both. Have you or anyone in your family been affected by them and how are you now or are you still affected?
Nope – I’m very fortunate to have had good parents and a generally solid upbringing. I’ve had some horrible stuff happen in my life but I’ve never been directly affected by poverty or war – though they are issues that are close to my heart.
If you would like to find out more and read more of Andy’s work please follow this link to his website: https://syndathim.wordpress.com/