Fifty years ago, consumerism, as we know it today, did not exist in British Honduras. The number one priority for us was that a piece of material, an appliance, a tool, that it be functional, above all. Secondary considerations were that the material, appliance or tool be clean and neat. Before the consumerism era, we believed that everything could be repaired, everything could be returned to functionality, and so those of our people who could repair things were held in high esteem in our country.
Let us say, for argument’s sake, that consumerism took control of Belize twenty-five years ago. It seems to us that the absolute priority under the rule of consumerism is that something be new. If the thing works, if it functions, but it is old, then it should be replaced. It is not that something should work well, it is that it should look good. But more than that, it must not seem to have been repaired. It must be new. That is how the owner achieves prestige – by buying and owning new things. In the consumer age, newness guarantees functionality. For a thing to be old, is to have it be condemned to the junk heap.
About fifteen, twenty years ago we saw an epidemic of consumerism sweep Belize with respect to male sneakers. Everybody wanted to be like Jordan. Every time the latest fashion in sneakers came out, which was every few weeks or so, the young men had to have it so that they could have prestige in the eyes of the young ladies. Young men were murdering each other for sneakers. You only used one pair of sneakers for two or three months, the most. After that, you had to change to the new deal. You had to be like Jordan. Trillions of dollars left Third World countries like Belize to enter the corporate coffers of Nike, Adidas, Puma, Fila, etc.
Today, the consumer rage in Belize is cell phones. The addicts are mostly young women. They simply must have the latest style and fashion. Some of these phones cost thousands of dollars. They are easily lost and very often stolen. Trillions of dollars are leaving Third World countries like Belize to enter the corporate coffers of Motorola, Nokia, and other cell phones manufacturers.
When it comes to cars and other vehicles, and many household appliances, their functional parts are computerized. If something goes wrong, stops working, you cannot get someone to repair it, as we did in the old days. You have to replace an entire computer board, which you must order from the foreign manufacturer. The cost is always hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars. In the case of smaller appliances, when they stop working for whatever reason, don’t bother with the repairman. Dash it away and go back to the same store where they sold you the original junk, and buy a new one. The same thing will happen with the new one down the road. But that is the world of consumerism.
They used to say in British Honduras that when you bought an iron pot, you bought it for your lifetime. More than that, you made sure to stipulate, before you died, who should get your iron pot. We used to patch clothes and repair shoes. No more. Only the people from the republics do that. We Belizeans stay on the buy.
The world economy is based on fanatic consumerism. In the United States itself, the number one economy in the world, the consumerism frenzy led to the abuse of credit opportunities. The American people bought too many consumer goods. They thought their credit would never end. Now that the Americans are mired in debt, they can’t buy so much any more. Companies all over the world which have been producing for the insatiable American consumer, now find the American consumer is broke. He/she can’t buy any more right now. All over the world, then, layoffs, unemployment and factory shutdowns. Recessions now, depressions later. The consumer bubble burst.
Belizeans would be well advised to cut down on our vanity and control our lust for all these pretty things, pretty things which are really flimsy at the core. Right now, we need real things, things that work, things that will last for a while. This is a conversation which should have taken place a while ago. Right now, it is absolutely urgent that our people be educated for survival. Absolutely urgent.