Sunday, January 29, 2017

Understanding My Life-long Fear of Materialism

An Eerie Disquiet

I don't remember how old I was the first time I felt it. Maybe eight or so? Maybe a little older. I was in a video store with my parents. This was in the early days of movie rentals. You know, DVDs did not exist, so the shelves were lined with VHS cases, but only the cases, so you could easily see what movie you were grabbing. The actual cassette was in a black plastic case with the video store's name written on the front. These cassettes were kept behind the counter to prevent people from stealing them. And video rentals were for one night only. It was the one night rental that made the experience so poignant.

I saw a little girl, maybe four years old, trailing behind her mother. The mother was holding a stack of movie cases, more movies than anyone could possible watch in a single day (this was before binge-watching was a thing), then turned to her daughter and said, "So you want to get all of these?" The little girl nodded and I felt like my world was collapsing around me.

Why? I didn't figure that out until just a few years ago. At the time I explained it away by saying, "I really don't like greed." I didn't know of any other way to say it.

Feelings of Disgust

The reaction was even stronger when I watched the movie Labyrinth for the first time. Well, really every time I've ever watched Labyrinth I've felt it. The scene in question is right after Sarah eats the cursed fruit and forgets that she is looking for her baby brother. She stumbles into a junkyard where she meets a woman who hands her her favorite teddy bear and says, "Is this what you're looking for?" Sarah nods. Then the woman takes her to a room that looks like her bedroom and starts handing her all of her favorite childhood toys. Sarah sits, saying nothing, as the woman piles more and more stuff into her lap. Finally she begins to remember, and says she has to go, but the woman says, "Everything you've ever cared about is right here." I have always hated that scene, and it is still a hard one for me to watch. I just feel so...I don't know...gross whenever I watch it.

Again, I didn't figure out why until much later.

Moved to Tears

I always hated westerns as a kid. The first one I saw that I actually liked was Young Guns II. You should know that I was eleven when that movie came out and probably on the cusp of being sexually aware, so I think it was all the attractive men that made me like it so much. I became absolutely obsessed. It was odd that I felt that way because when the first one came out just a couple of years before I wouldn't even watch it. It was a western. And it had the world "guns" in the title for crying out loud! It was not a kids movie and certainly not a girl movie, so I just dismissed it off-hand. Then my mom talked me into watching it one day and I had to admit it was every bit as good as its sequel. But there was one scene that really bothered me.

The scene is near the end. It's when they have gone to their friend Alex's house to warn them of an impending assault, but it turns out to be a trap. So now they are all in the house, along with Alex and his wife, fighting for their lives. Alex decides he has to get his wife to safety, so he starts to pull her toward the door, but she has been filling her arms up with a collection of dishes, and protests when her husband suggests she leave them behind. As she is struggling with him, she keeps saying over and over, "I want my dishes!"

Oh my goodness...that was always the worst scene in that movie for me. Actually used to make me cry. But I wasn't crying for the poor woman whose life was falling apart. I was crying because, while her life was falling apart, she only wanted her dishes.

What It All Means

It took me years to figure this out. Like I said, it didn't come together in my mind until fairly recently. What I've realized is that I am profoundly disturbed when I see someone using material things to fill a deep emotional need. The mom in the video store was probably trying to ward off tantrums and buy herself a few peaceful hours in her home. Sarah felt deprived of her father's love and clung to her toys as a way to ease the pain. Alex's wife (I'm sure she had a name, but I don't remember it) was watching her world crumble. Her very life was in danger, as was the life of her husband. She was hanging on to her dishes as the one thing from the life they had built together that she could take with her.

Apparently I knew at a very young age, even if it was only on a subconscious level, that material possessions do not fill emotional needs. They do not make the pain go away. They just clutter up our lives with useless junk, which only adds to our stress.

I think I also see in these situations a warning. I am an introvert. I like to be alone. There are times when I would rather be with a book than with other people. But I have to be with people. I have to come out of the books some time, otherwise I'm using a material thing (a book) to fill one of my needs (companionship). And some small part of me knew this when I was as young as eight years old.

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