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Word on the Street: The Great Realization

Steve Campbell

OK class … there’s a new teacher in the room. I’d like you to listen to what he has to teach us. This is Mr. Covid, and he is about to teach us all about our past and our future.
Before we continue, I would like you all to watch a brief video called The Great Realisation (because it’s British, and they don’t always spell things the proper Canadian way).
So tune into this first (it’s enjoyable, not painful). I’ll wait here while you watch it, and listen to my hair grow. And wash two weeks of dishes.

Welcome back. That was a brilliant piece casting a new light on what Covid-19 has been teaching us, presented in a rather engaging way. It’s a brief pause – which we’ve suffered for months now – which can expose some glitches in our fairy tale of mankind’s glory.

I’m a student of history, going back centuries before I was born. As a kid, I enjoyed the old Buck Rogers movies on TV, which guaranteed us we would all have flying cars by the year 2000. The funny thing about history is that it does not move in a straight line. It does not go from 1953 Buicks to flying cars. There’s lots of zigs and zags along the way.

The odd thing is: We always accept what we do as being ‘normal’. Even when it changes.
From World War 2 on, we embraced an incredible new world. Iceboxes were replaced with refrigerators, electricity and telephones became available to everyone. Everyone was encouraged to buy, buy, buy – radios, televisions, cars which got bigger and bigger. Gas guzzlers, but who cared? Gas was cheap and people started to travel.

I know this sounds like the opening theme for Big Bang Theory, but the point is: Employment was back, money was flowing, and we became ‘consumers’.
Big business jumped right in, and convinced us that we were not ‘normal’ if we didn’t buy their products. Lifebuoy told us we had ‘BO’ (Body Odour), and Scope told us our bad breath was the reason we weren’t popular at work (though that may have been because your personality stunk), and Tide told us our clothes were filthy and, if washed by anything other than Tide, would still be filthy. And Secret could propel a junior female worker like a rocket into the CEO’s chair. Full of confidence, sweatless and smelling great! That’s what everyone looks for in a company president.

I personally like Shreddies, but now I refuse to buy it because they have a series of stupid commercials with twins and a fake laugh track, and audience applause. Now I feel I would be letting down the intelligence of the human race if I bought it.
So, from the ‘50s into the ‘60s, we consumed like crazy. We liked it, and the new normal was a comfortable as could be. Meanwhile, the corporations were making loads of money, and in desperate need to make much more – obscene amounts of money.

By the 1990s, the corporations’ lust for money led to a new, new normal. It started with outsourcing, and Canadian workers were laid off. Then globalization came along, and it was an outsourcing dream! Poorly paid workers (at a Levi factory in the Philippines, 10¢ a day) meant huge profits, since their logo was bringing in huge sales in North America.
And we said, “Sure! We’ll pay $75 for your jeans, and up to $300 if someone took a razor to them and made them ‘fashionable’.”

And that brings us to today. We created a situation in which CEOs make millions of dollars, and workers – if you can find them – are dispensable dead-weight. We rant about ‘wage inequality’ but we handed it to them on a platter. Now a small percentage of corporate leaders hold 90% of the wealth. I don’t care how amazingly brilliant you are, you don’t deserve a million dollars a year.
Big corporations started buying big corporations, who owned other big corporations, and we funded it all.

But we carried on, because we could, and no-one shopped locally anymore. The handful of grocery shops in Picton we’re replaced by supermarkets, and they were replaced with big-box stores, which are now threatened by Amazon and Wayfair – another bastion of invisible sweatshop workers who give you what you ordered, fast, to your door. Once again, we chose not to care about the people who created or forwarded the goods we wanted to consume.

Then, it was time to stop. Covid dragged our consumerism to a stop. Sure, we could still order from Amazon, and still get take-out and curb-side pickup from local shops, struggling to survive.
But did we get the awakening that Covid has brought to us, free of charge?
Covid stopped the world from spinning. Our routines were shattered and, for the first time in a very long time, we had to slow down and take stock of the things that had real meaning for us. We re-connected with our families, and so far there are no reports of spouses going crazy and burying corpses in their backyard.

We looked around and realized we don’t need to consume at the rate we do. We don’t always need restaurants and bars and live concerts. We can reach out in other ways. I’ve talked to my family more times than ever before, via computer.

People are learning new skills – baking, pickling, writing, facebooking. In the circles I’m in, we’re looking ahead to whether The Great Realization will become a new model for our future.
During these times of isolation, I hope everyone has asked the same question: What do we really need?

If you have looked around your place, taken a good look at the people you love, and seriously look at what you have acquired in the way of material possessions, then I hope you have had a realization of your own. What do you want, because we have been indoctrinated as consumers, versus what we need?

I look around, and I find I have what I need. I want to see a day when my buds can gather once again at the Waring House Pub, after a good night of playing music before a real audience. And that will happen, when the time is right.

Maybe this virus has taught us some lessons, and perhaps we should listen. Maybe this virus gives us a chance to see where we have excelled, and where we have failed.

Those people who own most of the country’s wealth? They’ve convinced us we need to keep consuming, at an enormous rate. Capitalism is a great thing, but it is a monster when it is run by greed.
And maybe someday our kids will tear themselves away from their cellphones, and just run around outside. And maybe discover the world we used to know, just by poking a stick in an ant hill.

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Doris Lane says:

    Marvellous video
    A great lesson for all of us

  2. Valarie MacDonald says:

    Right on Steve.
    As usual.

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