12/06/2014 08:16 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2015

When Commerce Makes Us Want to Puke

I'm not so naïve or recalcitrant as to deny the fact that the surest way to wreck the American economy -- to take it from whatever point it sits at today and send it straight into the abyss -- is for us consumers to voluntarily go on a six-month austerity kick, a period during which we don't buy anything except stuff we actually "need." Not stuff we "want," mind you, or stuff that will make us materially happier or more comfortable, but stuff we truly need.

During this six-month period, we consumers would get our cars repaired instead of buying new ones; we would hold off buying new shoes, new shirts, new jackets, new toys for the kids, new jewelry, new gadgets for the kitchen; we would hold off buying better TVs, better stereos, better phones, and better computers. For a period of six months, we would stick with what we have; unless something was actually broken and no longer worked, we would make do with what we already own.

Basically, we would stop buying everything except food and necessary supplies. Then we would stand back in awe and watch the economy implode. Watch it crumble. Watch it crumble the way Tokyo crumbled when Godzilla went wild on its ass. Again, I'm just talking here. While I'm not so self-destructive as to want to see anything resembling this scenario actually happen, I confess that there are times when our devotion to naked, unbridled commerce makes me want to puke.

I was recently reminded of my gag reflex when I attempted to play a DVD I had received as a birthday gift. I've watched enough VHS tapes and DVDs to know that these movie companies won't allow you to fast-forward through their slimy disclaimers and ominous threats. You have no choice but to watch them.

Their threats are dire. They warn you that even if you do something as innocuous as make a free copy for your cousin, you lay yourself open to having Interpol put you in prison for five years, and fine you $250,000. I've come to accept the unhappy fact that the filmmakers have the right to force you to watch these messages, no matter how many times you've seen them; no matter if you've seen them enough times to have memorized them.

But the good news was that you could always fast-forward through the obnoxious advertisements that followed -- the previews for films available from the same studio. If you didn't want to watch half a dozen trailers for teenage horror movies that you had no intention of seeing, you could either fast-forward through them, one at a time, or jump to the menu and hit the "play movie" option. They could force you to watch the warnings, but they couldn't force you to watch the commercials. Until now.

My new DVD not only wouldn't let me fast-forward through the trailers or jump to the menu, the son of a bitch wouldn't even let me shut off the DVD and hit the fast-forward button with the movie not playing. In other words, as a slave to "commerce," I was being forced to watch these commercials. And this was a DVD that had been bought and paid for. It wasn't a rental. I owned it now. Yet I didn't have the authority to say no. It made me want to puke.


David Macaray is a playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor")