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Chelsea Green Blog

How many handbags does it take to buy a solar hot water system?

Rob Hopkins, author of our forthcoming book The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, has a great inquiry into the insanity of American consumption culture. Rob being British, apparently wasn’t fully aware of the heights of lunacy that some parts of our society have reached. It took an American film that celebrates this lunacy to open Rob’s eyes. And yes, of course. It was Sex and the City. From Rob’s blog:
I had a rare visit to the cinema the other night, not with anything in particular to watch but just to see what we might fancy. The only thing that wasn’t a horror film or a children’s film was ‘Sex and the City’, so we went to watch that. I haven’t watched any of the TV programmes so I was a bit lost, but really, what a load of rubbish. I have never seen more product placement, more vacuous people and more costume changes in a single film in my life. Anyway, that, in essence is my film review, but the one thing that stuck with me about the film was something that came as a deep shock and which I thought was quite extraordinary. In the film, the main character hires a PA, who is a poor (well compared to the rest of them who seem to be eyewateringly wealthy) but is as obsessed with fashion and labels as everyone else in the film. Anyway, the PA has a handbag, which is some revolting designer handbag, designed by Louis Vitton or some other designer person, of which she is extraordinarily proud. As the film goes on, it emerges (oh the shame) that she can’t actually afford such a handbag, and that her handbag, because she is poor you see, is actually RENTED. Rented. This is all remedied in the film because the main character takes pity on her and buys her her own handbag, a deeply emotional moment as she now has her own £2,000 handbag. What I was left with though, was this new knowledge that in New York there are companies that rent out expensive designer handbags. How all pervasive and pernicious is this consumer culture that these ghastly handbags, made in some grisly sweatshop somewhere, designed with any sense of taste locked firmly in a box, have evolved in such a way that one’s sense of self esteem and identity requires a handbag rental service? No sense of living within one’s budget or means, rather you simply MUST HAVE a designer handbag or you are nobody. I guess this ties back to the discussion we were having the other day about solar panels and food gardens becoming the next ‘must haves’, and whether or not we can harness that same sense of desirability. I was impressed the other day with reading about a crowd in Cornwall called ‘Rocket Gardens’ from whom you buy pre-planted salads in a funky box, they come in the post, you pop them in the garden, and hey presto, instant salad! Anyway, I struggle to draw any intelligent observation from the handbag thing, I think I am just still in shock about the whole handbag rental thing. Did you know such a service exists?
To read Rob’s blog, visit transitionculture.org. And now, just to illustrate Rob’s point…some Louis Vuitton hysteria:   


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