How many of you would make a donation to my personal bank account in exchange for my behaving in a manner that amused, entertained or was otherwise interesting? I could just behave erratically by doing or saying things inappropriate to my surroundings. We could even take the show on the road, I could travel around just being eccentric. Of course you would all need to pay for this. I, off course, would record each moment and make it available to subscribers for their vicarious living pleasure.
As I’m sure you are well aware, this job already exists and most of us have subscriptions to multiple eccentric lives. We call them celebrities and they come in various flavors. In fact, we can’t get enough of them. These people live lifestyles that we can only dream of: huge mansions, luxury vehicles, exotic toys, lives of leisure and the adoration of millions. How many little boys grow up idolizing a star baseball, basketball or football player? How many little girls sing into the mirror pretending to be the latest pop queen? Don’t kid yourself and think that this type of behavior wanes as we reach adulthood. Our heroes change but we all have them. Dreams of grandeur are all that some of us have to keep us looking past the “drudgery” that is our lives.
The irony of the situation is that these “rock stars” are only able to live that lifestyle due to our patronage. Americans spend 1.2 trillion dollars a year in goods and services that they don’t need. This money not only pays for the extravagant lives of rock star musicians, athletes, actors, business executives, and well, you fill in the blank, it also encourages them to keep it up. Oh yes, please continue to emphasize your bizarre behavior instead of your art or product. By all means, continue to set bad examples for our children by lying and cheating. Continue to produce unsafe, unnecessary products and continue to lie about their merits.
We tolerate this behavior because we’ve bought a sale of goods that promises that if we are smart enough or good enough that we too might someday be free to act in a devil may care manner. It’s liberating to watch someone whose life seems to be an endless party where there are no obvious consequences. What we don’t see, or don’t care about, however is that most of these people usually go out in a ball of flame completely devoid of the humanity that they once had. These people give up their soul so that the masses might have a completely unrealistic notion of what the “good life” is. Ironically, I think that many “rock stars” fantasize about being “normal” but are unwilling to give up their luxuries to achieve it.
Not too long as I sat browsing around on Netflix utilizing my internet connected XBox 360 which is hooked up to my 50″ LCD screen television in my 2000 square foot house in the suburbs, I ran across a documentary called [Which Way Home]. It is the story of unaccompanied preadolescent children from Latin America journeying by train through Mexico in hopes of crossing the border into the United States. Their mission was to acquire the presumed life of wealth and prosperity that awaited them here. By the way I highly recommend the documentary. I won’t try to review it, you’d be best served watching it yourself. These kids were young and naive but surprisingly when quizzed about what kind of life they expected, they did not speak of being pop or movie stars. They spoke of eating everyday and having their own bed and the likes. These kid’s “rock stars” were you and I, normal middle class Americans.
This is the part where I’m supposed to thank my lucky stars for my condition and realize that there are starving kids in China or your choice of down on their luck 3rd world countries. Instead, I wonder to myself, “why us? why me?”. It occurs to me that I’m the rock star version of a citizen. I am the embodiment of the middle class American. My life is the dream of every impoverished person on the face of the earth. As stated before I live in a 2000 square foot house and honestly that is kind of small. I own two vehicles, one to commute to work with and one as a family vehicle. That one is a big SUV that gets about 17 miles per gallon. We have a computer and television in pretty much every room in the house. An assortment of household appliances, living room set, a bedroom set for me and the misses and both of the boys, all of which we completely take for granted. I’ve never gone hungry a day in my life. I’ve got it made compared to most people in the world.
The average American household has over $7000 in credit card debt. They spend as much as 27% of their income on homes and vehicles. Of the people who have credit cards around 40% claim to pay their bill in full every month. That is a lot of money being spent, no actually, its a lot of money being earned, but at what cost? Employed men average 8.3 hours a day at work and another 2 hours a day slaving away at home on household activities such as housework, cooking or lawn care. This is not even counting the average of around 100 hours a year spent driving back and forth to work. Accounting for an average of 8 hours a night sleeping that leaves around 5 hours of leisure time.
How do we spend that leisure time? Americans adults on average spend around 3 hours a day watching television. An average of 6 hours a day is spent on social networks such as Facebook. I guess somebody is using the internet at work for personal use, yeah I’m looking at you. Other popular activities include sports and computer games. By contrast only about 2 hours a day are spend in leisure activities with children. Most of us know our work colleagues better than our own children, or at least we spend more time with them. More and more our children are being raised by teachers and baby sitters.
Is this after all the “good life”. Are big houses, multiple vehicles, computers, iPod’s and smart phones worth a life zombied out on the television. Do all these gadgets make our lives better or do they merely take our mind off of the fact that we spend so much time affording them. That is if we can actually afford them, the average credit card debt amount suggests that we cannot. Are our children getting a good education? Are their prospects better than ours were after graduating from college? In my experience college usually just means more debt which is how most of us ended up in the rat race in the first place. How exactly does one determine someones prospects? Is it based on potential earnings? The real question is are we really better off?
Quite obviously, there are certain standards of living which can effectively be considered necessities: a nutritional diet, adequate shelter from the elements including reasonable housing and clothing, an education and the freedom to participate in social environments. The economic value of these necessities is no where near the national median earning of somewhere around $44,000 a year. It should be very obvious that the more luxuries we own, the more time we have to spend working to pay for them. We’ve become so accustomed to buying a new car every few years and owning the latest Iphone or Dell Laptop that we can’t imagine life without them. This is all true despite the fact that in our own lifetimes things were not this way, or at least I don’t remember them that way. It’s not hard to understand how the statistics above materialize.
Would you half the size of your house for more time with your kids? Would you give up television and electronic gadgets for a 15 hour work week? Would you give up your car and ride a bicycle for a more peaceful life? Is it possible to modify our priorities in life so that we valued the quality of those we spent it with more than how well we kept up with the Jones? Isn’t it enough to eat every day and have a good bed to sleep in? The answer is obviously no. To achieve our goals most of us dream of making more money not less, no matter how unrealistic those prospects might be. Just like the eccentric movie star, we would love to have a different life but are unwilling to give up the luxuries to achieve it.