We are passing what people broadly call the holiday season now, being about a week into the new year, which, among other things, tends to get me thinking about how people regard “the holiday season” these days. For one thing, I am not one of the people who treats Christmas as being over sometime in the evening of December 25th, after beginning a frenzy of the strange ritual of retail commerce Consumer consumption of Consumers consuming sometime in September or something. I actually have my tiny bit of Christmas decoration, some lights inside, that will stay there for a while, into the winter.
I will not rehash the same silly arguments people have about Christmas, about whether it’s all about the birth of Jesus or an extension and adaptation of old European pagan observations of the Winter Solstice (it’s both). What seems to me to be more significant, in an unfortunate way, is the whole retail commerce frenzy. As soon as the calendar gets anywhere near Christmas, you can count on corporate retail business hauling out all the Christmas routine procedures of the decorations and advertising exhorting “Consumers” to get out there and get spending.
Many, if not most people, existing below a sort of upper-middle class financial level, will be familiar with hearing people around them in day to day life talking about Christmas as a financial burden of a large chunk of expense in fulfilling their assumed retail consumption obligations, with all the joy and warmth of the tradition of gift giving being perverted and distorted into something grim and unpleasant, driven by worries that they might not be considered to be good Consumers. Just the idea of gifts has been warped, as it has been clear for a very long time that many people seem to have lost the plot about the idea of gifts, looking at it as a trade, a business deal, with expectations and obligations of exchange of “gifts” of comparable value, with unpleasant feelings revolving around a mix of resentment, shame, jealousy, and who knows what, if there is some perceived failure to complete an equitable trade in these exchanges.
All that should obviously raise the topic of how so many people have swallowed the whole notion shoved in their faces for decades about how American people are not people, not citizens, but rather “Consumers”. Just listen to radio and television news and count how many times people are referred to, not as people, not as citizens where that would would be appropriate, but as “consumers”. Even in news discussing the subject of news itself, people end up being referred to, in a bizarre twist of language, as “consumers of news”.
Talking about that sort of naturally raises another whole subject of the use of language as time moves along, in all kinds of subjects and areas of life.
As we have the whole Christmas as consumption ritual going every year, one item that crosses my mind is the saga of Sears and what has happened there. Where I live, a substantial size city in the Great Lakes region, there had been one Sears store for decades that closed around a year and a half ago.
(By the way, speaking of language problems, a written news story on the website of a local TV station announcing that closing included the sentence: “The stores will remain opening during a liquidation which will begin next week.”, a sign of the problems of current American “news” including not only serious problems with the scope of reporting and getting facts right, but problems with people not even being able to write properly and having no evidence of proper proofreading and editing.)
It appears that Sears might be heading into a final dissolution and dismantling as we head into the new year, a truly tragic and mystifying story. I do not have any particular attachment to Sears, but they have always been very useful to have around, and the downward spiral and evident imminent demise of Sears is a very bad thing, made worse by how completely baffling it is. In short, there’s nothing wrong with Sears, although saying that, I realize that should be modified to saying that there was nothing wrong with Sears, before it began the strange and sad deterioration that became some kind of negative feedback loop.
They were pleasant enough places of the sort that became known as department stores, where you could find a large variety of all kinds of different types of products. What they sold all seemed to be good quality stuff, in all the different kinds of things sold, which, significantly for me, and many people, included Craftsman tools. Just one aspect of the tragic decline included the news, some time ago, that, in just one example of corporate mismanagement stupidity, Sears was selling the Craftsman “brand”, in a short term move to grab some cash and help kill off the value of their stores, in what has become a regular feature of American corporate business management. That is, regarding a “brand” as a thing unto itself, acting as if the name and some logo design is the value, and in this case, selling the “brand” to Stanley, makers of some of the shittiest tools made.
My experience was not just what I just said, but also that the prices were perfectly reasonable, too. I saw nothing wrong at all with Sears, until they began declining and I would go to the local Sears and find the place inexplicably dead, very few customers and a small cluster of cars in the parking lot even at times when you would expect the place to be busy.
I had planned to write about this in beginning the new year, and by coincidence, I see that James Howard Kunstler raised the subject in the new installment of his Clusterfuck Nation blog, mentioning that the K Mart store around the small upstate New York town where he lives was beginning a shutdown process with a liquidation sale, in a place where there is very little available in terms of retail commerce to buy a great many different kinds of things.
That, of course, is part of this story, as K Mart merged with Sears some years ago, something I never understood, and it is noteworthy to consider this, as it seems to me that it was right about that time that I began thinking there was something profoundly wrong with the management of Sears, something reinforced by observations that Sears seemed to be starting to go seriously wrong right around that time.
That probably gets us into a whole topic of American corporate business mismanagement, the whole epic of corporate executive management that looks at mergers and acquisitions as their main activity, rather than, you know, doing their actual business purposes well. They play those games, and obsess over things like share price, and all kinds of financial games, and ignore the core focus of the actual business that made that business a successful entity in the first place. Right there is another whole subject of its own, with examples like General Motors getting into serious financial trouble as they seemed to completely lose the plot of making good motor vehicles and got into the business of finance including becoming some sort of house mortgage finance operation, which blew up in their faces over the course of 2007-2008 when the whole epic farce of “mortgage backed securities” and financial derivatives imploded.
I do not spend a lot of time pondering the fortunes or misfortunes of corporate business, but the deterioration and apparent imminent demise of Sears really is a loss, and an indicator of much broader problems beyond no longer having a Sears store in my area.