Affluenza: ’tis the Season

Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough

Do you feel it yet?  Are you showing the symptoms?  I am.  I’ve got it bad.  Affluenza.  I’m sick and I know it.  Worse, it’s a chronic case.  Immedicable.  No known cure.  No joke.

How can I be certain?  Because no matter how much I bolster my resistance, no matter how many critiques of western-strand capitalism I imbibe, the aches and pains keep returning: the sinking certainty that I should be feeling better, looking better, and that there must be something out there, some ready remedy for what ails me.  And then—Sweet Jesus!—it hits, the sudden urge to go shopping.  It’s as bad as a recurring case of ringworm, an outbreak of adult acne, the worst kind of itchy eczema that just keeps showing up—usually when the timing couldn’t be worse.  It strikes without a moment’s notice, at any time of year—like right before your birthday or anniversary.  And most especially at this time of year—the winter festivals.

An over-reaction, hypochondria, you suggest?  I wish.  Only consider the specificity of my symptoms (maybe you’ve got some of them too): I want white teeth; it’s not sugar plum fairies that populate my dreams, but visions of a personal Siri ™; I’d like George Clooney hair; I fret over the diagonal width of my flat screen TV; worry that the technology of my Prius™ is sadly out of date.  I crave designer eyeglasses (of the kind Gregory Peck wore in “To Kill A Mockingbird”©).  I sometimes worry that I might not smell as good as Justin Bieber™ or David Beckham™.  And, oh yeah—I catch my breath at the sight of an Audi TT RS™!  Any of those—not so much the particulars, as the parameters—sound familiar?  If you answered yes, then you’ve probably got it, too.  Like I said, ’tis the season—the Affluenza season.

And it is a highly contagious disease.  No surprise in that considering the tsunami of contagion that washes over us daily—never more than come the holiday season.  Consider this bit of viral evidence, one you’ve probably been warned about before: we are each exposed (depending on where you vest credibility) to between 300 to 5000 advertisements daily—eye, ear, and nose ‘Infectonators’™ intent on transforming us all into walking-talking zombie consumers, intent on convincing us that there’s a product, a brand name just waiting to make us better than we’ve been convinced we are.  And not just that, but better than the person sitting across from us, those losers down the street, the pseudo-celebrities strutting their stuff on Entertainment Tonight™ and Access Hollywood™, the folks who live in the next city, the next state, that other country.

Face it.  Unless you’re a hermit, your exposure is certain.  That is because the virus is ubiquitous, lurking on every surface—and washing your hands won’t help.  Make contact with an iPad™ touch screen, pick up the remote to your Sharp HD Aquos™ TV, cruise the billboard-infested highways, purchase a ticket to The Twilight Saga™: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (where you’re sure to encounter a score of potentially blood-sucking product placements), take a bus ride, or pick up a copy of USA Today™, The Sun™, Le Parisien™, and you’ve been had.  Incubation periods vary, but unless your emotional/psychological immune system is burly beyond-belief (or you hail from another planet), infection is all but certain.  However, never fear, the Doctors of Consumer Capitalism are prepared to offer placebos aplenty.  Simply whip out that prophylactic Visa™, that therapeutic American Express™ and head off to the mall or the local Walmart™.  Pretty soon it will all be better.  For a while.  Maybe.  Probably not.  That’s because, as the divine Joni Mitchell has decreed, these days “doctor’s pills/ give you brand new ills.”©

So what’s a sick-o to do?  I expect it helps to know you’re infected and to do exactly what the disseminators of the disease hope you won’t do—i.e., practice a bit of metacognitive isolation therapy when the symptoms strike.  Affluenza is, after all, that kind of illness—one that infects your thought processes, feeds your depression, makes you whine that your skinny jeans aren’t skinny enough, exhorts you to work too hard, tells you that your hair lacks bounce and shine, picks away at your scabby feelings of inferiority.  Maybe thinking about the mythology behind the sickness can mitigate the early-stage symptoms—or perhaps something as simple as avoiding logos and slogans?  Could be it will help to remind yourself (over and over) that it’s the illness talking when that urge to Just Do It strikes; when the impulse to Have It Your Way™ seems irresistible, when Don’t Leave Home Without It™ rings like a new age mantra, and you’re just so certain that You Deserve a Break Today™.  Perhaps thoughtful resistance is the best anyone can do in such a fevered state—those terrible times when fulfillment seems as simple as Buy it, Sell it, Love it™?

You think?

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About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in southern California.
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