Capital concerns

Identity is a commodity
Who I am depends on the products I buy
Why the hell are we spending
A trillion dollars each year
To create demand and then end it
By changing the image in the mirror?

—"End of the Road,” from Capital Will Kill You by Chris Good

It’s a Monday in January, but the Galleria mall in Roseville, Calif., is still seeing brisk business. I am here with my friends James and Dave, looking to spend some of the gift cards we received for Christmas. According to a guy working the cash register in the men’s department at Sears, the beautiful, two-story mall has been open less than six months.

While Reno’s only really significant mall, Meadowood Mall (sorry, Park Lane Mall and Reno Town Mall), is nice enough, it pales in comparison to the Galleria in terms of glitz and selection. This really strikes me when I realize that, according to my count, there are four different Gap stores and two different Abercrombie & Fitch stores in this one mall.

It seems like all of these trendy little stores, their walls covered with large photographs of muscular, skinny, 20-year-old models, are having sales. In the A&F store—this is a novelty for us, after all, seeing as there isn’t one in Reno—Dave looked at worn-looking, orange baseball-style caps, with the ends of their bills already fraying. That’s apparently the style of the day. James and I scoured the T-shirts, which originally sold for $30 or so but are now on sale for $10.

What a bargain!

When the day was done, the car’s trunk was stuffed with our day’s purchases. Bags from A&F, Nordstrom’s, Sears, Pottery Barn, Gap and other stores provided a multicolor display in the trunk, and we drove back to Reno in the snow, quite pleased with ourselves. It was a day of celebrating our wonderful American brand of capitalism. Dave, James and I had a blast.

But in retrospect, the whole experience was a little alarming.

It was almost too much. The posters of all the borderline-anorexic girls and muscle boys, who, paradoxically, weren’t wearing much, even though the displays hung in clothing stores. The fliers at every store, practically begging customers to sign up for their own special credit card, with a mere 22.9 percent annual interest. The realization that many of these products we purchased were made in other countries, by people who don’t make in one week what we paid for one shirt. The fact that A&F did not carry a polo shirt that comfortably fit over my not-that-much-broader-than-average shoulders. The fact that even at $10, the T-shirts there seemed overpriced.

And the fact that even though those T-shirts seemed overpriced, I still bought one.

Don’t get me wrong; while capitalism is inherently without morals and certainly has its flaws, it’s still the best economic system the world has. And I am not going to advocate the demolition of chain stores that market their items well and make trillions of dollars each year, often at the expense of local mom-and-pop stores. After all, it isn’t their fault that they were smart enough to supply items and create a demand, and that there are lots of people out there, myself included, who are willing to pay top dollar for their products.

That doesn’t bother me, even though many left-wingers would say it should. What does bother me is that many people get so absorbed in the consumer culture that they seem to forget what is important, often at the expense of their credit reports, interpersonal relationships, intellectual pursuits and activities that actually can make a person better.

By the way, did you hear that Meadowood Mall is planning to eventually expand to two stories? Maybe then, Reno will have more than one Gap. And, if we’re really lucky, maybe we’ll even get our own Abercrombie & Fitch.