Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
America: The World's Greatest Fire Sale
An old proverb claims, "The best things in life are free." But when you are a citizen of the United States of America, you know that a dozen deep-fried Twinkies are some of the best things in life, and they are certainly not free. You also know that if you get cheap on your upcoming wedding anniversary (again), then you will have to revive your E-Harmony account and lower your standards. The great American promise is this: the more money you have, the greater your life will be. Just ask Lil' Wayne, Drake, or any other rapper in the music industry. Money brings you women, success, fame, and more women. But money itself is rarely ever free of responsibility and expectation. Murders, shootings, and other violent crimes are committed because of money every day. In times such as these, monetary value outweighs the value of life. In his short essay, "Too Much of Nothing," Charlie Creekmore poses an important query: "What is it that really counts?" In the 25 years since he posed this question, America still cannot agree on a definitive answer. Creekmore argues that endless advertising, increasing demand, and conflicting values make us blind to what matters most.
Living in America, we are interminably assaulted with puffed-up promotions and false promises: "Never diet again! Lose 20 pounds fast with this new pill!" "The zombie apocalypse is coming! Are you ready for it?" "The technology you have is extinct! You need an upgrade!" The list of things that you absolutely, positively cannot live without is never-ending. In addition, advertisers have caught on to this country's secret anxiety disorder, which is why most promotions belittle and patronize consumers, convincing them that they are nothing without this miracle product. Creekmore claims, "[a]dvertising is a good barometer of the American psyche[.]" The content that is promoted is a direct reflection of our society's wants, but not necessarily our needs. Any media broadcast shows clearly that America wants sex, violence, food, and drama. But these things are not the only essentials for our survival, especially in the oversized amounts that we consume on a daily basis. We forget about the air we need to breathe, and the loving touch that lets us know that we are loved, in favor of the cigarette we want to smoke, and the flat screen TV we want to buy. We confuse want with need, not realizing that the trivialities we pay for offer us nothing but artificial comfort. Nevertheless, advertisers promise that all we need is more in order to be happy.
Creekmore states that as Americans, we are conditioned to "expect more and more and more." Any fast-food menu or department store lets us know that bigger is best. All meals are super-sized, and America's most popular shopping spots are the ones with three stories or more of merchandise. Even the amount of weight on a person can be measured by Creekmore's advertising barometer. In every cartoon, political or otherwise, the "one-percenters" are always depicted as crude, gluttonous, and overweight. The other "99 percent" are thin and bony, showing that their poverty is more than just social status. This "more, more, more" mentality Creekmore describes is precisely why a thin and wiry CEO does not have the same psychological impact as an obese CEO. "[W]e are constantly conditioned to purchase our pleasure," and everything that we are "amount[s] to the material that we have accumulated throughout our lives" (Creekmore). People with a true appreciation for nature or something that is not man-made or store-bought are demonized. They can be called anything from a hippie to a communist. This mindset is the reason advertisers can get away with subliminally demeaning their prospective buyers because blunt force is preferred over calm suggestion. In America, image is everything, but what is on the inside is what truly matters.
The contradicting values portrayed through media do nothing to provide an answer to Creekmore's question. "Our government and society constantly pay lip service to traditional values[,]" he claims. True, there is always an allotted amount of space for traditional values in every political speech. The old proverb "Money can't buy happiness" is passed down through generations in every household. But, Creekmore points out, "at the same time, our government and society are set up to perpetuate another ideal entirely. Buy.… Purchase all those products…that promise to make us happy, truly happy." In today's fast-paced society, traditional values are dismissed as antiquated: "old school." Is traditional really better? Who knows? Values have been so thoroughly twisted that differentiating modern from traditional is near impossible. Similarly, the definition of happiness has also been obfuscated. The government says that happiness is ignorance-a pill taken once a day. Mass media claims that happiness is the newest iPhone, along with a shiny new Lexus and a steak dinner. Happiness has become simply another item to sell, and its value depends on how much is in your bank account. Simply put by Creekmore: "We are lost."
Creekmore asks us, "What is it that really counts?" Counting is a national obsession. American life thrives on quantity, despite the fact that there are only two denominations: "more," and "bigger." On occasion, you may get "extra," like that thirteenth Twinkie in the dozen you paid for. And that may make you happy for a while. But nothing lasts forever, and once you run out of things to buy, what will you have left? The unquenchable thirst for more. Creekmore's essay is a warning to all of us that unless we put down the plastic and unplug, we will die without ever knowing or appreciating things like grass beneath bare feet, a true friend, "the ability to create in [our] own way" (Creekmore): the things that never cost us a single penny.
Creekmore, Charlie. "Too Much of Nothing." Chico News & Review 22 Nov. 1988: n. pag. Print.