Friday, November 7, 2014

Let's Go Shopping (Like It's 1988)

Hey, kids! Today, we're going to visit 1988! What do people do in the late 80s? They go shopping, of course!

Hooray! Fertilizer!

Like most children's book publishers, Western needed to update their core titles every decade or so. This one was performed by writer Steven Lindblom and artist Kathy Allert, who illustrated many of these 80s Golden titles, and worked on an extensive line of paper doll books.

...and sometimes Daddy locks her in the closest until her medication kicks in...

This is a beautifully rendered, but truly horrifying, document of the values that were meant to be instilled in Generation Xers, pastels and all.

Five cans! That's more than your daddy!

For the most part, there are no workers illustrated in these wonderful layouts. Just aisle after aisle of sterile, repetitive consumer goods. It's as if this family lives in a Dadaist art installation. There is no high-interest credit, no low-paid labor, all these things just EXIST  in some sort of Platonic shopping mall.

Poor people have it so easy with their empty carts!

The shopping trips are also interestingly divided among generic sexual lines. Daddy takes our Punky Brewster clone to the hardware store, bookstore, and auto-parts store, buys oil and a canoe paddle at a department store, and then stops to buy "flowers for Mommy." Mommy gets to go to the grocer, the candle shop, the pet store, the clothing store and the shoe store. Then, Daddy goes to the "farm store (!)" and takes his daughter shopping for a toy for her brother. The brother who doesn't exist in this world of shopping.

"No dear, we just had guinea pig for dinner last night."

Now I don't know about you, but I never found shopping to be a fun childhood experience. Even in 1988, with computer registers and extended shopping hours becoming fairly common-place, it was still a grueling marathon of marching and waiting in line for long periods of time. Still, it was understood that part of this process was the consequence of having to spend the least amount of money in one place.

So many pre-determined sex roles to choose from!

Treating shopping as a magical activity just makes things worse all around. Unless you are one of the few who really can buy anything you want, whenever you want, there is a whole world of responsibility and consequence that children should be learning about. A world like the one talked about in this 1958 Golden Book:

In the 1950s, even dogs were well-educated consumers.

Which brings us to an interesting cultural point. In the space of one generation, Americans turned from Eisenhower-era fiscal responsibility to Reagan-era credit spending. Now that my generation has to deal with the consequences of their parents not paying for things, who is going to stand up and take the blame?

"Have a balloon America, don't worry about who's steering the cart."

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