Holiday Shopping: Monkey See, Monkey Buy

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Humorist Brian Unger points to the holiday weekend consumer frenzy as evidence that avarice and advertising have now completely obliterated the traditional and religious aspects of the Christmas season. Shoppers are willing to trample each other like wildebeast to get at a shiny bauble — now that's intelligent design...


A little more on business now and on the retail shopping season. In today's Unger Report, the rush to buy has Brian Unger asking: When did Christmas shopping become the Running of the Bulls?

BRIAN UNGER reporting:

The latest challenge to America's dignity is the retail stampede, the phenomenon of holiday shoppers knocking, tackling and trampling one another in hopes of bagging a DVD player, a laptop computer or any appliance that warrants stepping on someone else's head, leg, back. It's your basic game of tackle football without pads, or wildebeest at the water's edge standing atop the females and young to get a drink.

(Soundbite of "Here Comes Santa Claus")

UNGER: In Washington state, a woman injured her back and a 13-year-old girl her knee after a 5 AM melee to snag discounted goods. In Florida, a woman was knocked unconscious and had to be airlifted to a hospital. Her sister described shoppers as `a herd of elephants.' And in Kentucky, another woman was taken away in an ambulance after she was pummeled, scratched and bruised by a crowd of shoppers she also described as elephants that knocked her to the ground. Connie Bumpers said there was 500 pounds on her back; bargain-hunters as elephant herds.

(Soundbite of "White Christmas")

UNGER: This is a big setback for proponents of intelligent design. Instead, this just may be the missing link in the theory of evolution, the clearest evidence yet that human DNA has only marginally mutated from that of our trunked brethren, the elephant, and the another marauding species who will sacrifice their own for, say, a cricket or a banana.

Are we nothing more than a pack of hyenas willing to kill for a $29 DVD player? No. Far more developed than hyenas, we're monkey see, monkey buy. Advertisers compel us with sexy, colorful, cool images and soundtracks that create emptiness, promote need and offer fulfillment all at the same time. In the season of giving, these messages combine with religion and tradition to be so effective, so convincing, shoppers are willing to wrestle each other to the floor. Now that's intelligent design.

The stories of consumer frenzies and what Americans want this year--the Xboxes and MP3 players--contrasts so starkly with all the things Americans need this year, things Santa can't possibly pull in his sleigh. Thousands don't have a home for a DVD player or even a city to call home. Most of the 150,000 troops in an unresolved war won't be coming home this holiday. Millions won't have jobs this year.

So what kind of advertising would create a holiday stampede to rebuild people's homes, to give a soldier the armor he or she needs, to help people get into college or to see a doctor? No one likes a Scrooge. It just seems this year, perhaps more than any other, what Americans need doesn't fit under a tree. And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Alex Chadwick.

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