Volume 74, Number 15 | August 11 - 17 , 2004

Talking Point

Et in arcadia shopping sum

By Andrei Codrescu

America’s new addiction is shopping. Five new shopping magazines with a mind-boggling circulation of 15 million have hit the newsstands. Compare that with 1 million readers of www.corpse.org, where there is nothing to buy and everything to lose (your mind). Shopping is nothing new in my experience in the U.S. of Acquiring, but old-style anti-materialists would be mistaken to assume that Americans are getting more simple-minded.

On the contrary: shopping is hard work, at least as hard as Latin, maybe harder. To me, Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Weightless Anti-Freeze Serum ($6 at drugstores) sounds much harder than In arcadia angelum simplissimus caveat, which is Latin for “the angels in heaven eat simply,” or Timaeo Danaos dona ferentes — “Beware of kitch-peddling Greeks at Olympus.”

One of the new shopping mags is called “Real Simple,” and it’s anything but. Just reading the side effects on an Allegra-D advert is harder than a whole chapter of Ovid’s “De Natura Raerum,” which was a treatise on the material world before there was any Allegra-D in it. To learn Latin you need maybe five years of study, but you need an American lifetime to be a savvy shopper.

Medical researchers have noted widespread MCI (mental cognitive impairment), which some of them think is a precursor to AD (Alzheimer’s disease). Everyone I know has MCI: we can’t remember names, acronyms, facts or what it is we went out to buy. The severity of the condition can be measured, Dr. Cohn tells me, by the depth of gratitude you feel when you finally remember. If hours later when it’s too late and you do finally remember what you forgot hours earlier, you sigh deeply and say, “Thank God! That’s what it was!,” that’s gratitude.

How deep it goes is how sick you are. Well, no wonder. In a world where everyone has to keep in mind at all times several phone numbers (home, cell, family), pin numbers (bank, credit cards), S.S. number, driver’s license, license plate, blood type, home and office address and 10-digit zip code, remembering the names of things that are not absolutely essential is no picnic.

The hard drive dumps things like Latin in a hurry, as well as the names of all the people you met at that party. Under these circumstances, if you’re addicted to shopping, only the intense study of shopping magazines can give you a semblance of functionality. A good American has the equivalent of several doctorates in shopping. Me, I’m still in kindergarten. Moles qualid sartirum quid parens — “The pale moles cannot parent a mall.”

Codrescu edits the journal “Exquisite Corpse,” now online at www.corpse.org

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