Structuralism In Consumeristic Today

  1. a method of interpretation and analysis of aspects of human cognition, behavior, culture, and experience that focuses on relationships of contrast between elements in a conceptual system that reflect patterns underlying a superficial diversity.

I enter the home and am greeted by many familiar faces. They are my friends. People I see as my family, though we are not, but certainly my tribe.

There are also people I do not recognize or have only met in passing. There are children as well and I am lukewarm on children unless I know them, and I am even more lukewarm on children when it is a birthday party. But that is where I have found myself. My friend’s son’s birthday party. He turns 3 today.

The house is decorated like Skip and Joanna Gaines just left, though perhaps less farmy and more practical… and with Pergo floors–and to hell with shiplap. Not everybody that shit hidden behind sheetrock when their remodeling.

My wife and I put down our presents and mingle with friends. The kids all run about, too excited to say hello and too jacked on sugar to keep their voices down. I fix myself a little plate of snacks before remembering my wife and I have given up meat and I slide my sliced bit of salami over to a friend amid our little circle’s laughter.

Then it’s time to open presents.

The children cluster around the stack in the center of the living room. All of those who the presents aren’t for look on with jealous eyes, wanting what they can’t have. I remember the same feeling when I was a child and went to birthdays. I always wanted whatever it is a friend processed, even if I’d have never asked for the thing myself.

I missed the same event last year due to work, but my wife attended. Now she leans over to me as each present is unopened, cast aside and the little boy looks for the next thing to unwrap.

My wife says, “it’s interesting. Last year he wanted to play with each toy as soon as he opened it. This year he sees what it is and then wants to open the next one.”

Of course, the child has been taught to open all his presents. That is, after all, what people wanted him to do last year. Open the presents–then enjoy them later. But as I watch I see a tiny person who’s true joy is the opening, not the experience of the toys themselves. In a year he has been taught that the excitement and success of this event is the opening, the flitting from one thing to the other rather than the contentedness of enjoyment one may feel when one is focused on a specific item or action. Now that contentedness, that focus, is trained toward the action of opening presents. Never again will this little boy have the experience of opening a present, forgetting the rest of the unwrapped ones and wanting to play with the toy he has just discovered for the first time.

So, how is this connected with structuralism?

Structuralism, as a concept, is predicated on the idea that it is our social structure, our norms and influences dictate what we can believe in and/or accept as fact.

For instance, if you were a peasant or merchant in the year 1300, everything about daily life was so influenced by religious that you would inevitably come to believe that whichever religion was prominent in that area was, not only the correct religion but obviously the truth. You’d still be capable of conceptualizing a world without God or gods, but nothing in your lived experiences would naturally bring you to that conclusion.

Similarly, my friend’s son will never be content with the present he has just opened. Every time he opens a new present, the adults surrounding him laugh and clap and give him positive attention, then put another present in front of him. The excitement this 3-year old feels isn’t due to contentedness–instead, it is tied to the fleeting satisfaction of something new and the positivity he gets from those around him.

This is structuralism in a way, as the concept is based upon binary attributions to complex situations all based on cultural mythologies. The mythologies of birthdays being the mystery and excitement of the new. If this boy is deprived this in the future he will then view his birthday as a failure. Here, again is a sample of these binary attributes, i.e. success versus failure.

As I watch this little boy who I am quite fond of opening presents, casting them aside, and reaching for the next, I can’t help but feel a lurch of unease in my stomach. The structuralism of consumerism creates a mythology that is unsustainable, both environmentally and emotionally. The excitement flushing into this little boy’s brain will quickly fade and all the new things he has obtained from friends and family will quickly feel old, boring, and not worth his notice–only giving way to the next holiday in which he is rewarded with new items, which perpetuates the structuralism and mythologies we all share concerning consumeristic holidays.

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