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Seasonal Fads

I've been doing a lot of wandering around Harvard Square on my lunch hour lately, various factors having combined to remind me that it's time to start thinking about Christmas shopping. There's a Discovery Channel store that moved into the area this past year, and for some reason every time I pass it I seem to be drawn into the place.

Part of it is just habit—I liked the store that used to be in that space—but part of it is fascination with the new one. It serves as an excellent example, I think, of the faddishness that is the root of far too much of the US, and the endless scavenging off of others that we do in the search for that prize above prizes, novelty.

The front of the store is particularly instructive. For this holiday season (I know it's the holidays because they have a rack of Christmas ornaments shaped like endangered species right up by the doors), Asia seems to be the biggest thing going. Books on feng shui, tiny Japanese-styled teapots (they're also selling sake sets in the kitchenware section of the hardware store now), "karmic" candles, Buddha statues, huge ropes of incense, lanterns shaped like dragons, bookends shaped like Tibetan statuary... the list goes on.

This has pushed out last month's end-of-summer fad, which had to do with mind-body fitness. Yoga videos, meditation pillows, resistance ropes, and—what I found more than a little horrifying—an array of magnetic bracelets, anklets, headbands, what-have-you. I was of half a mind to march up to the counter and ask why they weren't ashamed to be selling those last items, which give every indication of being marginally less useful than snake oil.

Before that it was The Crocodile Hunter, that loopy Australian half the country has gone ga-ga over. I admit that I'll watch him myself if I happen to pass the show on a channel circuit, but for a while you couldn't go anywhere without seeing his cheery grin beaming at you. I saw him on a FedEx commercial the other day, which (I hope) means that his fifteen minutes are just about up. I mean, he seems like a nice guy, and he's obviously got an admirable level of dedication to his job, but I'd prefer he concentrated on catching crocodiles rather than following in the footsteps of Paul Hogan.

All imports that we've fixated on. In the space of three months we went from an Australian naturalist to mostly-Indian exercises to mostly-Japanese housewares and Chinese schemas for arranging our furniture. We sigh and remonstrate over the fact that every Christmas there's a new "must-have" toy decimating the wallets of parents everywhere, and never blink an eye at the fact that we have our grown-up versions, which are often even more expensive (those little teapots cost a pretty penny).

Which is not to say that these things do not have their place; I like the teapots, I do yoga myself, I have boundless respect for Buddhism and no real opinion on feng shui (the magnets have to go, though). But that place should be the comfortable, unremarked position of items that belong in their world, not a spotlight where their main value lies in the fact that they're different from whatever we bought last year. If one assumes that objects, as human artifacts, acquire something of human spirit, then this endless grubbing after the new may be a rather messy form of spiritual scavenging, and makes me uncomfortable as I look over the shelves.

Of course, all of the above may be ridiculous; feel free to let me know if you think so. I'll be trying to decide if I want to get my mom one of those dragon-shaped lanterns.

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Except where otherwise noted, all material on this site is © 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson