Paige Turner, a 29-year-old graduate of Grinnell College’s creative writing program, came to New York to start her life as a novelist. She got some gigs chronicling upscale Manhattan lifestyles for glossy magazines: “good background for my first socially conscious bestseller!” Things were going great — she was online most of the day, researching fashion stories. Then she started to feel “awful” from coming across videos and news photos depicting Palestinian civilians dying under Israeli bombings. Paige developed a massive writer’s block.
“Feeling all that pain and horror at the violent deaths of innocent mothers, babies, students, old people? And Israel calling this ‘mowing the lawn’? I started phrasing all my observations as questions? I think that’s because I kind of basically wanted to sort of criticize, uh — Israel?” says Paige, tossing back a latte at her neighborhood Starbucks.
“Normally, when something upsets me I write it all out and then feel better,” Paige explained. “But this time, I shut down because I was afraid of being called anti-Semitic? Thank god for reparative shopping. Now, when I feel unfathomable grief about the slaughter of innocents, funded indirectly by my tax dollars, I just go out and buy myself something cool.”
Paige caught the activist wave. She stopped mourning and organized Shoppers Without Borders, a consumer action group sporting the motto, “Consumer, Heal Thyself.” SWB represents a new breed of savvy trendsetters who claim their inalienable right as Americans not to feel bad about atrocities in which their government has a hand. According to its Facebook page, SWB now boasts 997,000 members and counting.
Careful research has shown that buying something “cool” is the best way to recover from media-inflicted war wounds. For Paige — at least this week — that something cool happens to be the MacBook Air.
“I can’t wait to hold that sweet little laptop,” says Paige, seeming to relish the return of her ability to form declarative sentences. “It’s so light, so thin! With that $899.00 pearl of techno-wisdom I’ll feel like I’m about to write all of Mark Twain‘s novels! I can see myself now, using the Pages application to put the final tweaks on books like The Jungle or The Grapes of Wrath. You know — real fight-the-power, change-the-world shit?”
Of course, since the dawn of capitalism, people have bought things to cheer themselves up. In fact, argues SWB, the urge to buy cool stuff is possibly the only thing humanity has in common. Hence the group’s militant chant, “THE WHOLE WORLD IS SHOPPING!” As Paige observes, “Buying cool stuff helps me feel equal to the best part of humanity. The part that has a lot of cool stuff.”
Shoppers Without Borders believes, contrary to humanity’s high ideals, that people are not basically humanitarian. “Group hugs notwithstanding, people naturally hate each other,” says Stubbie Nebbins, Manhattan psychotherapist and SWB treasurer. “So, to get along, let’s all just buy things, given that I think you suck.”
Stubbie is one of many who joined Shoppers Without Borders to get over their dread that the United States is destroying planet Earth in its lust for oil and empire. He says SWB helped him lose his anxiety about renewed U.S. intervention in Iraq by giving him the emotional support to go ahead and buy that Mini Cooper he’d been wanting. “No better way to fight global warming,” observes Stubbie, “than with a new fuel-efficient car!”
Paige Turner, approaching the Apple Store checkout counter, agrees. “We gave Peace a chance, you hippies,” she quips. “Buying is where the love is. When you add on the two-year warranty for this magical product — assembled by anonymous, underpaid hands that also insert the Intel chip the BDS movement wants you to boycott — you feel that healthy sense of Self that says: Sorry, dudes, but it wasn’t me who bombed you.”
An anonymous fuddy-duddy from Doctors Without Borders took a minute from fighting the African Ebola catastrophe to email a critique of SWB: Wasn’t the main advantage of humanity’s (now passé) spiritual oneness that fact that it was free? And isn’t most of the world too poor to buy things that it really, really wants?
Stubbie Nebbins bristles. “Shoppers Without Borders provides standards,” he says. “Humanity can’t accept just anybody. The beauty part is, there’s no distinction based on color or creed — anybody who can buy cool things gets to be equal. Be they black; be they gay; be they multinational corporations. . .”
To test SWB’s colorblindness theory, St. Louis member Amos Johnson took his wife out for a fancy dinner at a five-star restaurant, and bought her several cashmere Uniqlo sweaters. Mr. Johnson’s local chapter had encouraged him to “spend big,” to lose his fear of “what might happen to my kids” after police shot an unarmed black man about a mile from his house.
“SWB made me see how lucky I am to live in this country,” said Mr. Johnson. “In the Mideast they wipe out whole families in a few hours. Here in our communities they just kill one person at a time. So I’m taking us out to a jazz club, enjoy some fine wine, maybe a little pie. That’s how I know we’re safe.”
Back at the Apple Store, Paige hugged her new MacBook Air. A salesclerk asked her how long her shopper’s-high might last. Paige admitted that she didn’t know.
“I’ll probably feel good until I actually sit down to write something socially important on this thing,” she sighed. “Then I guess I’ll have to buy the new iPhone.”
Susie Day is a writer. Follow her on Twitter @snidelines.