Sunday, October 26, 2014

Caught up in the surge

This is my column today, October 26, 2014.


This will probably shock or disappoint some people and probably amuse others, but I say this with a great deal of honesty:  Up until last week, I didn’t have the faintest idea what H&M was and why the opening of their first store in Manila would represent The Second Coming to many.  I didn’t realize that my existence was incomplete or that I was not sucking enough marrow out of life by not being familiar with the global clothing brand.  It so happened that I had a lunch appointment in Megamall on the same day the store opened and witnessed for myself the extent to which many people would go to attain that distinction of having been among the first to have bought goods from the latest global franchise to open in Manila.  I was blown away by the dogged determination and commitment of such people.  Apparently, there is some pride to be had in having in one’s possession clothes that were bought on the opening day of a particular store, or at the thought of having bought something ahead of everyone else. 
I was informed there were actually people who stood in line for more than 24 hours just to be first in line when the store’s doors would open; that close to five hundred people patiently queued for hours under the heat of the sun, not leaving their respective slots in the line to grab a quick bite or even to use a bathroom.  Obviously these were not the same people who use the MRT or the LRT, or take other forms of public transportation on a daily basis.  Unlike ordinary mortals in this country, they weren’t ranting about having to wait in line for hours.  They seemed consumed by a lofty goal.
To be fair, the store was supposed to have announced the granting of freebies, discounts, and gift certificates to the first hundred or so customers and presumably many of those who braved the long queues were motivated by the prospects of getting merchandise for free.  I am not sure that getting a five hundred peso discount is worth the sacrifice of controlling certain body functions for almost a day, but then again that’s just me.  I’m probably an ignorant barbarian oblivious to the joys and delights of commercialism.
Okay, so perhaps am not really the target audience of all of these global brands.  I cannot and will not be able to identify the provenance of a particular shirt – say, if it’s by Zara, Topman, or Muji - even if my whole life depended on it.  As far as I am concerned, a plaid shirt is a shirt with intersecting lines and a sweater is a knitted top and their value is dictated by the way these fit or suit the persons wearing these. I don’t really care how much it costs, where it was made, or whose name is etched on a footwear - it would still be tsinelas to me and would still be inappropriate for Church or to a wedding.
But I seriously would like to know:  Do these global stores really need to occupy that much space in our malls?  One such global brand occupies almost a fourth of the second floor of the Mall of Asia, which up until recently, was supposed to be the biggest mall in our continent.  No wonder they charge an arm and a leg for the merchandise that they peddle given the size of the space they rent and the other overhead expenses that they burn on a daily basis.   And seriously, folks, is the hyperventilation over the opening of another clothing store really justified?
Of course these global brands insist on the supposed superior quality of the materials that they use and the supposed craftsmanship that goes into the production process.  But we all know that most everything that is sold in the world emanates from China anyway so how much different can they really be from the other goods that are sold at nondescript stalls for a fifth of the price?  (Here’s an interesting aside.  I once passed by a Japanese store with a friend who happened to speak and read Chinese.  The Japanese store was one of those that sold, well, supposedly  Japanese products at a supposed friendly flat rate of 88 pesos per item. My friend was aghast to discover that most of the goods sold in the store were in fact manufactured in China and the markings on the products were in fact, Chinese, not Japanese as presumed by those who couldn’t recognize the difference between Japanese and Chinese characters). 
Anyway. We all know that heightened commercialism and the propagation of materialism even among the young are but some of the consequences of globalization.  One wishes, though, that we try to temper the surge with campaigns and advocacies that promote certain values that push altruism, nationalism, or even just a little bit of self-discipline and concern for others outside of the self such as the environment.  But then again, who are we kidding?  I would bet my last peso that many of the influential people in Philippine society including elected officials and government leaders were there in Megamall last week.  Our leaders are more than happy to worship at the altar of commercialism so why shouldn’t everyone else do so, right?  There is no one standing up for values that temper the surge of commercialism and this is something that we will have to pay dearly in the near future.



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