Category Archives: Consumerism

sports go green

Here’s my new piece on the efforts of several professional sports teams to make their stadiums and arena more environmentally sustainable. It ran in this morning’s The Valley Advocate.

Ah, sports …


It takes the viewing experience of approximately one commercial break of a televised sporting event to observe 90% of what defines sports culture in America: bad beer, big trucks, and scantily clad women. With only so many 24-hour ESPN channels, regional Comcast Sports networks, websites, fan blogs, sports sections in newspapers (yes, still newspapers), radio talk shows and glossy-print magazines, it’s easy to surmise that there isn’t room in our daily discussion of athletics for anything else. Just don’t tell that to Alan Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist for the Natural Resource Defense Council.

“If you want to change the world,” admits the crusading environmentalist, “you don’t emphasize how different you are from everybody else. You go to where Americans are at.”

A little environmentalism with your sports spectatorship, anyone? Just remember to recycle your Miller Lite can after washing down your Viagra pill, please.

It may seem unbelievable, but Hershkowitz is intent on infusing America’s spectator sports culture with an environmental ethic. And as the Senior Advisor to the Green Sports Alliance, a coalition of professional sports franchises, stadiums and arenas in the Pacific Northwest, he is attempting to do just that. And the environmental efforts are being felt far beyond the snow-capped Cascade Range.

Read on … 


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Filed under Accountable Wealth, Activism, Community Investing, Consumerism

quote of the intermittent time period VII

More from Stephen Duncombe’s Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture:

“There is something about the critique of and resistance to consumption that fails to command respect. Unlike challenges to the quantity and quality of work – which have a long and noble history embedded in working-class struggle – the critique of consumption seems a privilege of the privileged. With so much of the world desperate to become part of the consuming public, the idea of criticizing consumerism or voluntarily doing without such products seems absurd. But we live in a strange world today, where in the United States at least, poverty does not mean being locked out of the consumer dream. People may not be able to afford decent housing, education, or health care; but the latest sneakers, video games, and soft drinks are within the reach of all but the poorest citizens. Consumption has been democratized.” – Stephen Duncombe

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Filed under Activism, American Dream, Class, Consumerism, Economic Opportunity

if it is broke … fix it!

“What were the results of a world dominated by large, inept, but powerful failures whose influence could not be avoided?” – Richard White

This question appears to concern the recent Wall Street debacle, bail out, recession, and so on. But it’s actually the central theme behind a new study of the Gilded Age, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, which was reviewed (“Too Big to Fail”) by Buzzy Jackson in yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe (why don’t I read the Sunday paper more often?).

“Richard White,” writes Buzzy Jackson, “has written a book that will entertain and outrage readers with scenes of corporate greed and mismanagement and the federal bailouts that enabled them.”

White, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and professor of the American West at Stanford University, has chosen a subject matter that, unfortunately, far-too-closely resembles our current socio-economic state, to show how corrupt businesses often succeeded not because of their avoidance of failure, but because of it.

“This is a story of the dark arts of accounting,” notes Jackson, “and the seemingly paradoxical fact that the transcontinental railroads were simultaneously” powerful and unsuccessful.  Continue reading

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the revolution will be commercialized

Most famous for the spoken word style of social commentary exhibited in his classic, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Gil Scott-Heron passed away last week, at the age of 62. While “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” has been lauded as a countercultural anthem for decades now, I was first exposed to Sott-Heron’s cultural legacy, disappointingly enough, by a sneaker commercial. So much for growing up in the extremely postmodern era of The Eighties, where inspirational ideas were often ruined even before they could be understood. (In a related story, I was first introduced to The Beatles song “Revolution” by a commercial by the same sneaker company.)

Interestingly enough, said commercial (released in 1995) stars (now-veteran) point guard Jason Kidd, who will be leading his Dallas Mavericks into tonight’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals, against the dreaded Miami Heat. The commercial features an updated spoken word soundtrack by KRS-ONE, who assures us that “The revolution is about basketball, and basketball is the truth.” (Obviously a pre-Paul Pierce NBA.)

So while The Revolution Scott-Heron spoke of in The Sixties was about Black Power, today it is about basketball (and buying sneakers, one would assume). (That being said, it’s a pretty good commercial, as far as commercials go.) (Even if it is painfully ironic that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was made into a television commercial.)

It is tempting to write off any commercialized effort of a cultural anthem as a rotten bastardization of an authentic creation. Then again, for better or worse or worser still, commercials do nothing if not expose people to their product/message/medium. Maybe it’s good that homage was paid to Gil Scott-Heron, introducing his music to a new generation.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t.

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Filed under Advertising, Consumerism

striking out sports sexism

As the weather heats up, the NCAA gets ready for next week’s Softball World Series, and the baseball season starts to hit its stride, I’m thinking of a TV commercial that regularly got air time throughout New England last summer, and lamenting the fact that I’ve yet to see such a promising ad so far this year.

A beer-gutted bunch of guys are getting ready for a softball game, when a young woman runs up to the huddle, hoping to join in the competition. “We already have someone who throws like a girl, right Murph?” one of them quips, as the rest join in with laughter at “Murph’s” expense.

And I’m reaching for my remote. To change the channel. To hit the mute button. Waiting for the televised production of that night’s Sox game to return from the all-too-familiar land of sexism in sports programming.

But then the commercial takes an unusual turn. The young woman returns (from the sports gear store, it is a commercial after all), shoves the man off the mound, and proceeds to strike out every one of the poor-swinging men. Turns out, she is Jennie Finch, US Softball Olympian and Gold Medalist. As the commercial ends, one of the men sighs dejectedly, “I wish I could throw like a girl.”

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Filed under Advertising, Consumerism, Social Change

a spot of tea for patriot’s day

Yesterday was Patriot’s Day. Here in Massachusetts, that means (Boston) Marathon Monday, the beginning of April Vacation, and the annual 11am Sox game.

But, social festivities aside, the day is, of course, named to commemorate the beginning of the American Revolution, which started with “the shot heard ’round the world” at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, back on April 19, 1775.

As we know (history geeks unite!), those battles were preceded and caused by the all-important Boston Tea Party, which, with the current Tea Party Movement hysteria, has drawn more than its usual share of attention of late. Today’s Tea Party heralds those early patriots for their direct action against overtaxation as the historical genesis of their own anti-taxation, anti-government ideals. But what if those at that original, infamous Boston Tea Party were not protesting against overtaxation, but performing a direct action against corporate tax cuts instead?

“The Tea Act,” states Thom Hartmann, “gave the world’s largest transnational corporation, the British East India Company, the biggest corporate tax break in world history. It was an actual tax refund on millions of pounds of tea they were unable to sell and were holding in inventory, and would have been billions in today’s dollars.”

Why was this so upsetting that it would lead the colonists to “commit a multi-million-dollar (in today’s money) act of vandalism”?

In the fascinating (history geeks unite!) video below, Thom Hartmann explains the largely unknown history of the Tea Party using a first-hand account, Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party, written in 1834 by George R.T. Hewes, who was an actual participating member at that infamous revolution-stirring event, “a survivor of the little band of patriots who drowned the tea in the Boston Harbor in 1773,” as Hewes himself phrased it.

  Continue reading

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Filed under Activism, Consumerism, Economic Opportunity, Fair Taxation

quote of the intermittent time period V

From Stephen Duncombe’s Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture:

“The history of all rebellious cultural and political movements is the history of the unavoidable contradiction of staking out new ground within and through the landscape of the past. But today this laying of claims may be harder than ever. No longer is there a staid bourgeoisie to confront with avant-garde art or a square America to shock with countercultural values; instead there is a sophisticated marketing machine which gobbles up anything novel and recreates it as product for a niche market … The underground is discovered and cannibalized almost before it exists.” – Stephen Duncombe

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Filed under Advertising, Consumerism, Lifestyle Economics

calvin and demand

Bill Watterson stopped drawing his Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in 1995. About fifteen years ago.

But this one seems a little more current, somehow …

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Filed under Accountable Wealth, Consumerism

spring (barely) skiing: a photo montage!

It’s been said that skiing is the art of catching cold and going broke while heading nowhere at great personal risk. And then there’s skiing / hiking / wandering about in the woods at a undeveloped semi-slope near you.

Here are some photos from my recent jaunt into a nearby state forest. The snow was corn at best, melted mud at worst. But completely enjoyable all the same.

It’s not knee-deep pow in the Rockies, but it’s easy, local and cheap, and so, in some ways, even more satisfying than big-mountain, big-lift line, big-expense skiing.

see the corn, ski the corn ...

... before it turns into the stream

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burton snowboards: for love and money

The end of the ski season. The all-too-quickly approaching MTV-style Spring Break media coverage. The observance of International Women’s Day. Seems an appropriate time to take a look at the porn-inspired “Love” line of Burton snowboards, which will not be produced next season.

The controversial series of men’s snowboards, called Love, which featured eye-catching images of Playboy Playmates, boosted sales for Burton, and ignited a debate about sexism and free speech.

Over the past couple of winters, new lines of Love were created, with each year’s series featuring newly-released (nearly) naked images of women. As coverage of the controversy faded away, the snowboards continued to sell extremely well, and Burton continued to pretend to be oblivious to what all the fuss was about. (Which is extremely doubtful. Jake Burton himself has an economics degree from NYU.)

So, why did they (have to) use pornography to sell snowboards?  Continue reading

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