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The other day I was walking through a store and came across something lying on the floor next to a display. It was a book of stickers, the kind you buy for kids and had either fallen from the display of numerous stickers or been dropped and rudely ignored by some customer or unattended child. Whenever I find this kind of mishap I always pick whatever it is off the floor and put it back, partly because I consider it a small courtesy I can easily practice, and partly because I just don't like messes. Some people consider either reason an indication of a serious character flaw. I consider either one a sign of good manners and public spirit. Or, alternately, it could be some kind of mental illness. Who knows.
When I picked up the sticker book I noticed that it had an American bald eagle on the front, all red, white, and blue and spangly. It was very patriotic in a viva Las Vegas kind of way. There were all kinds of similarly spangly patriotic icons in the book, flags, stars, stripes, Uncle Sam, Don't tread on me stickers, freedom get the picture. When I turned the book over I observed that it was made in China. The irony was not lost upon me.
Spangly, shiny, glittery representations of patriotic things is not my bag. I think that making these kind of things look like they might have been stuck on show girls, strippers, or Liberace's piano lacks dignity. The bald eagle, certainly, instantly lost whatever regal standing it might have had in the animal kingdom with all that red, white, and blue glitter. The eagle in this sticker book would have been laughed at by sparrows. Poor Uncle Sam was reduced to looking like some Las Vegas magician with a beard. I also am not crazy about sticking our flag all over anything and everything. It's our flag, not a fashion accessory. I'm a veteran and have hoisted and lowered more than a few flags and we always did it with solemn ceremony and dignity as it should be. I don't stick flags on my car or anything else. If you do a little research you will find that all of that stuff is actually technically illegal anyway. Seriously – try Googling it and see.
Aside from the look of the stickers, I got to thinking about what the overworked and underpaid Chinese people who made them might think about them, if they think about them at all. Do they find them puzzling or ridiculous? Do they look at them and wonder what kind of people we are? Do they wonder why an American company producing patriotic stickers would have them manufactured in China? I know I do. It is really just too absurd. An American company makes sparkly patriotic stickers and has them produced in China to maximize their profits and avoid paying any actual Americans a decent wage to churn them out. Is it just me, or does anyone else find this both ironic and kind of wrong? Or maybe I'm just out of touch with the modern global economy where everything in America is for sale to the lowest bidder. Even patriotism.
In the end I don't suppose it really matters all that much. It is what it is and probably will stay what it is far into the future. Chinese people will go to work every day making sticker books of patriotic icons, farm animals, dinosaurs, princesses with blue eyes and golden hair, race cars, and whatever else they are given, undoubtedly in lousy working conditions and for tiny salaries. Dangerous clothing factories will continue to fall down or burn down on workers who are making cheap clothing so that everyone can have a closet full of outfits.
It is hard to be a minimalist in a world where consumption is king. The pressure to acquire things is acute and if you don't own certain things you are considered something of a freak. We have become a people who are no longer able to distinguish between what we need and what we want. It all is just a giant mish-mash of what we desire and what we refuse to live without. People tell me that they would absolutely be unable to function without their cell phones. Young people cannot even imagine how anyone managed at all before they were invented. How did we communicate, keep track of our kids, deal with emergencies? Was there actually life before texting?
Welcome to the Brave New World. Just remember to charge your phone.
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