Vicarious Philanthropy: Are We Doing Good or Just Buying More?

08/12/2014 01:02 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2014

Pink ribbons abound at the retail level -- major events to garments to political fallout to cans of soda -- pink is everywhere as, evidently, it sells sells sells. Prime time television shows wring tears of joy from both the eyes of über-lucky, singled out recipients and couch potatoes who bathe in their own endorphins for having donated an hour of their precious leisure time to play benevolent voyeur. One-for-one marketing tactics place shoe after shoe on the feet of dutiful shoppers while promising to make the world a little better for one's consumption and the frank, fashion-focused insight as posited by Grant Van Sant in the Business of Fashion editorial, The Problem With One-for-One Models, triggers far more angry anti-commentary than agreement. His piece inspired me to weigh in with my own questions on a topic I have pondered for quite some time as I, fashion lover and collector, continue to explore the how's and why's of my/our day to day.

Truth is, the calling out of social truths is rarely a pretty thing, for we wonderful and complex beings are also base, excuse-driven survivalists and those proverbial rose-colored glasses are key accessories in our often unfortunate Game of Life. It does get really tricky when those who wear them deny the self-filtering or their susceptibility in having those glasses placed on their noses by someone or something else, for denialism, optimism and even blind faith can share similar skies.

I'm going to call this giving via getting Vicarious Philanthropy. When we as shopaholic Americans consume via do-gooder products and entertainment, what are we really doing other than lifting a corporation's bottom line? Is it okay if in doing so we only scrape bubbles off the simmering societal cauldron that are violence, poverty and unchecked procreation? In appeasing our seemingly endless quest for "things n stuff" do we set ourselves up to ignore the massive pot that is our nation's and world's issues? The underlying issues and their root causes are still there, the domino-effect problems will continue. What if these problems are as entrenched in our existence as are learning, love, the Arts and all things beautiful? The longer I live, the more I have to ponder that reality and feel rather bummed for the jadedness of a perspective I cannot quash.

If the inevitability of the ills of Mankind is indeed the case, do we create faux goodness for which we pat our materialistic selves on the back because it's all we can do or because we are just being dutiful, malleable consumers? Just how valid is the philanthropy in what was from the beginning a helluva marketing strategy launched by a for-profit entity? To be sure, the vast spectrum of sales incentive via giving ranges from token donated percentages to supposed one-for-one giving. Pulling heartstrings is a time-honored advertising strategy; might the posturing of charitable giving be a tad under-handed, being that at point of sale all is appearance-driven?

Because this is about advertising spots being sold and a gajillion products placed, because this is about celebrities born, full closets and happy, lethargic sighs when the credits roll, I have to wonder if the danger in all this is whether we full-bellied, well-dressed ones might be a little more truly aware, do a little more, live with a little less, just maybe possibly forge a better balance with the (rest of the) world if we did not so readily choose ez giving, this Vicarious Philanthropy, this trickle-down largesse driven solely on consumption?