Loot Bags

The looting in London happened in mobile phone chains, electric retailers, jewelry stores, and expensive clothing stores. The riots they say, were because young people wanted a taste of things they could not buy. And the unfulfilled desire- they violently resented. And so wreck what you can’t have. Better yet, sack them. Having those expensive gadgets made them more of who they were, or who they ought to be. They coveted that same feeling of affluence, of entering a lavish store, and impulsively shopping.

Streets and Billboards (photo fr. http://getrealphilippines.com)

Which brings me to the streets of Manila. We have that sort of looting everyday. Mobile phones and laptops snatched. Pickpockets. Cars stolen. We have riots in small doses. Who wouldn’t riot with the great divide between those with the Hermes bag and those bearing a knapsack? And who wouldn’t be tempted, with the in-your-face billboard telling you that luxury and fine things will give you beauty, a contented smile, and someone to hold your hand?  As though, “I have, therefore I am.  The measure of self is now determined by shopping activity.  Just look at all the malls we have. (Isn’t it weird, we have even named SM a city!)? And with the excess of cars, the lack of parking space has landed us a joke in David Letterman. Not only that, we are the travel junket for fake bags and shoes.

It used to be stress eating, now it’s de-stress shopping. I live in a world where people salivate over bags and shoes, and where bad quarrels and imperfections are settled by a shimmering stone. But really, has anyone been sated (permanently) by a Birkin bag? A handbag makes a woman like the shoes make the man. It doesn’t help that the champion of the masses’ mother proudly wears her Hermes bag like arm candy and flaunts it like sheer joy.  Suddenly, splurging $1000 on a little purse has become acceptable, even coveted in a country with 40 million living on less than P100 a day.   Shouldn’t we feel the worst for flaunting our excesses? How can we dole out coins to the beggars with the diamond on our finger? And aren’t we taunting them even more as we pervade every corner and every home with advertisements of “must haves?”
The looting in our streets may be the consequence of poverty. But it may also be a symptom of a deeper malady of conspicuous consumption. Of a need to have enough so you are assured of a fulfilling life, of social acceptance, of lifting a stigma of being “have-nots,” of status, of respect, of being afforded existence in a material world.

There is looting in Manila everyday. Pickpockets. Car thefts. Snatching. And an unchanging landscape may have anesthetized us to the malady in our streets. And so we go about our day, oblivious to the oddity of having security guards with guns in every corner or that our bags have to be checked for bombs. And we go about our day, clutching our handbags tight and making sure we don’t wear real diamonds on the street.

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