American Depressions Series: What Can We Do?

Posted on November 19, 2011 by

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Editorial Note: Socialist Agenda is running a week-long series. The series was originally published on tikkun.org in January 2010.

By Harriet Fraad

The current disaster did not just happen with the recent burst of the stock market and housing bubbles. Americans somewhere knew for a long time that we could not pay our credit card bills or our mortgages. Somewhere, unconsciously, we had to know that disaster was approaching. We responded with denial, withdrawal, depression, and dissociation accomplished with the aid of extensive television viewing and preoccupation with scandals and celebrities.

Each of the five tributaries flowed together to drown the mass of Americans in debt, family dissolution, isolation, and drug-induced apathy. In response to the original questions that inspired this article, we now need to ask another question: what can we do about it? Americans may now be looking for change. They elected a president who promised change. That change has not happened. Where else can we look?

Capitalism needs and breeds consumerism. We are surrounded by advertisements for products. Ubiquitous advertising has a blighting side effect. The presentation of all human connection now carries a price tag for a branded product. Scenes of connection with a group of friends include, for example, Budweiser beer. The devoted mother is washing your clothes with Tide. The sexy woman, whom men want and women want to be, seems to come with the sleek Toyota. Ads appear whenever we turn on our computers or read newspapers or magazines. Product placement is present in almost every film. Television, America’s mass entertainment, embraces product placement and explicit advertising directed to all ages. Capitalist consumerism coveys the message that relationships happen with and through products. There are too few scenes of people trying honestly to connect and surmount their real economic, social, and emotional problems through honest discussion and negotiation. We need more images of people who enjoy their connection and work through the difficult times involved in creating close, mutual, nurturing relationships. How do we manage to effect change within this environment? Where are the contradictions that create openings?

A Time When Noncommercial Values Are Attractive

One opportunity for change has emerged due to the recent capitalist collapse, which has intensified American suffering. People can no longer afford the brand-name products seen on TV. Their economic woes reveal the relentless hustling of now unaffordable consumer products. They try generics, unknown brands, and less consumption, and often find them just as good. This presents us with an opening to question. New, noncommercial values can form.

Since Americans are hooked on the mass media, and the media loves anything new, the Left can create media-attracting new actions. The anarchist group that formed around a book called The Coming Insurrection got full media attention when a well-publicized group jumped on stage at Barnes & Noble in New York for a spontaneous reading that began, “Everyone agrees it’s about to explode.” The action was widely covered for its novelty.

We can look to the four areas that have grown in the current social drought. They are, in order of their growth, self-help groups, internet groups, evangelical church groups, and GLBT groups.

Editor’s Note: Harriet Fraad is a psychotherapist-hypnotherapist in practice in New York City. She is a founding member of the feminist movement and the journal Rethinking Marxism.  For forty years, she has been a radical committed to transforming U.S. personal and political life.

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