For most of my childhood, there were a few insults that were as common as they were unforgivable: You didn’t utter them unless you were prepared to fight. They were, in order of severity from highest to lowest:
- Any implication you were gay.
- Any insult against your mother (“yo’ momma”).
- That your clothes came from Goodwill.
That’s right: One of the worst things you could say to a kid was that their parents bought second-hand clothes. The severity was probable swapped for girls – I never heard one girl call another “dyke” until high school, but mocking her clothes as cheap was both common and bound to summon a crowd faster than bleeding into shark-infested waters. Even here in the rural South, where just about everyone was either poor or just middle class enough to live on credit, consumerism was powerful enough that little kids felt it and enforced it.
I thought about this a lot as Macklemore’s ”Thrift Shop” hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 despite being an indie release that contradicts all the norms of modern hip hop by embracing and glorifying bargain hunting*. Perhaps its success can be pinned on five years of economic kicks to the stomach, or perhaps people just think it’s a funny, catchy track. Either way, thrift shops, consignment stores, and other grey-market fixtures have reported an increase in customers over the last several months: Maybe Macklemore succeeded in making Goodwill cool.
I hope so. Consumerism has infected our planet, literally sickened our bodies, our minds, our environment, and our souls. We swim in mercury oceans choked with a rainbow spectrum of petrochemical confetti, bleeding Red No. 5 and pissing FDA-approved snake oil. We bankrupt ourselves in pursuit of Bigger, Better, and More, and ignore the tremendous human costs of our demands for it to be Cheaper as well. With TV cameras pointed at compulsive hoarders, we fail to see we’re hoarding on a global scale.
About a month ago, I borrowed an old pickup and drove about an hour into the Uwharrie Mountains. I loaded somewhere between 90 and 120 salvaged concrete blocks, paying pennies each for them. That weekend, my wife and I built three raised garden beds with them and a smaller fourth section for potatoes.
I’ve jokingly called it our “resistance garden.” Less money to chain stores, less money to industrialized pesticide-crazed super-farms, less money processed by fee-fattened bank. I’ve also pledged to buy no “new” clothes. I used to think the best way to avoid funding sweatshops was to pay a premium for American-made labor. I now realize I can do far more by buying used and fixing what I have. There’s a tiny bit of revolution in a packet of clothes dye, a needle and thread, a second-hand coat.
Is this all a bit high-minded? Can we really change the world with a spade and a trip to Goodwill? Of course not. Corporations broke the planet, not individuals. I can only refuse to participate and hope enough others do the same, enough to force a change on the corporate level. And I can do it while eating good food and looking awesome.
* Confession: Although the song and video were released in August, I only discovered them last month. Yes, I live under a rock. It’s moist and cool and there’s plenty of grubs to eat.