There is a moment during Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove when the Russian ambassador comments that his country "could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. At the same time our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines."
It's often commented that capitalism's victory over communism was partly the result of the former's ability to provide a baffling array of consumer goods. In short, more stuff was the hammer that, well, smashed the hammer and sickle.
More stuff was virtuous. But now things are spiraling out of control.
I'm not talking about how the 85 richest people now have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion. No, I'm talking about the $575 teepee.
Here it is.
Produced by Toronto's Parkdale Teepee Company, the small forts seem to be aimed at two target markets: Wes Anderson-obsessed hipsters who wear faux-native headdresses and the children of social-climbing yuppies who have more money than they know what to do with.
The Toronto company isn't some sort of outlier. Over Christmas, The Wall Street Journal devoted a lengthy trend piece to "The New Urban Hideaway: Where the stylish 7-year-old has play dates and story time." They're all over Etsy. Miley Cyrus has one.
First there are the questions of cultural appropriation and insensitivity. As some pointed out on social media Tuesday, teepees are a symbol of how First Nations cultures were nearly obliterated by the white man's insatiable desire for more land and more money. So, it might not be the best idea to, you know, sell them to white people who possess more money than sense.
For its part, Parkdale Teepee Co. says it's not trying to exclude anyone.
@brendan_a Hi. Sorry to hear you think what we are doing is racist. We strive to make stuff that anyone can enjoy regardless of age or race.-- Parkdale Teepee Co (@parkdaleteepee) January 21, 2014
But the company is missing the point. It's not that they're excluding anyone, it's that they're using the symbol of another culture, one largely destroyed by capitalism, to make money.
Then again, we don't get angry when white people make Chinese food.
What's more problematic for me is the way the $575 teepee symbolizes how insane capitalism has become. We're furiously mining every last resource on the planet, pumping pressurized liquid and gas into its darkest recesses, so we can fill our homes with more stuff we don't need. Stuff that mostly ends up in landfills.
Whatever happened to building a fort out of blankets?
Instead of worrying about missing out on the teepee trend, shouldn't you be worrying about whether your child will be able to see the sky in the future?
In China, where most of the world's future garbage is produced, they're already watching sunsets on giant LCD screens as the heavens are obscured by smog.
Just because you can imagine a product doesn't mean it has to be made. Instead we're squandering our resources building crap. All in the name of growth. Growth that has created a world in which 85 people are as rich as 3.5 billion.
Maybe it's time to learn a lesson from the people who invented the teepee and find a more harmonious arrangement with the planet.
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