The Minnesota State Fair is the biggest fair in the country (okay, so now Wikipedia is telling me that Texas’ might be bigger. Whatever. Suck it, Texas). And it always opens on or around my birthday, and I always miss it because of stupid school. So this year I said “fuck it” and went home for the weekend. Anyway, the point of this story is that I met Al Franken, otherwise known as the best senator since, like, Paul Wellstone, at the Fair. I think it probably speaks to the modern (scary) political climate that a very middle-of-the-line, Clintonian bro is the most progressive senator in Congress, but that is a rant for another day.
But this column, like all of my other columns, is about me. After I met Al Franken (or, you know, waited in line to take my picture with him) my mom and I started talking about Target. Here’s the thing about Target: Up til now, it’s been a pretty legit corporation, as far as corporations go. Most notably, it’s known for its gay-friendly policies. Which is why everyone and her mom (geddit? My mom?) got real angry when Target gave a bunch of money to the GOP candidate for Governor of Minnesota. I mean, it’s not that surprising. Target is, after all, a big corporation that doesn’t want to pay taxes. But Tom Emmer, the Republican Tea Party candidate, is exceptionally awful, especially on gay rights issues.
Anyway, the point of all of this is that my mom is boycotting Target.
But it is really hard not to shop at Target in Ithaca, especially when you don’t have a car. I’m lazy, is what it comes right down to. And, you know, a hypocrite. I didn’t boycott Target after its last snafu, when they decided to let its pharmacists deny women the morning-after pill. I go to chain stores all the time. I am a great consumer. I consume like nobody’s business. I wax poetic about Emma Goldman and eat at McDonald’s. I’m not even that good of a recylcer.
Okay, I’m not completely evil. I don’t shop at Walmart, and I don’t wear Nikes. I’m not even entirely sure why. I know that those are companies that do bad shit. Anti-union, sweatshop labor bad shit. But every big company does bad shit. Capitalism is inherently evil. Look at me, getting all Michael Moore with it. Seriously, though, I think part of the reason it’s so easy for me to, like, “act in accordance with my moral compass,” or whatever, is that I never really patronized them in the first place. It’s easy to avoid stuff you don’t use. I lived in Scotland last semester, and my computer died. I would actually have killed someone for access to a Best Buy (hyperbole is my middle name).
Big Box stores are as American as apple pie, and I know they’re bad, but they just make everything so easy. They also make everything so cheap. Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary: Do I shop for value, or do I shop according to some nebulous concept of what’s “right?” And more than that, how do I choose which issues are important to me? I mean, American Apparel is (was? Has it gone bankrupt yet?) sweatshop-free but also riddled with sexual harassment lawsuits. And, as I’m sure someone from ILR could explain much more competently than I can, sweatshops themselves are not necessarily pure instruments of the devil.
And I know that it’s a sign of my own privilege that I have an “ethical” alternative to big chain stores available to me. Being a ‘conscientious consumer,’ is expensive business. People buy what they can afford. The availability of cheap goods leads to a vicious cycle (see: my previous Michael Moore comment).
Maybe I should just move completely off the grid. I’ll grow my own food and make my own clothes. I’ll be a modern folk hero. “Elana,” they’ll say, “she was so sustainable.” But probably I’ll just keep trying to navigate the grey areas as best as I can. Growing my own food might not work too well, since I can’t even keep a houseplant alive. I guess it’s being an active member of society for me, then. Being middle class is so hard.
Elana Dahlager is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Nutshell Library appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.