Have you ever been to Costco on the weekend? If not, you are missing a great opportunity to view a regularly scheduled allegory for American society.

On the weekend, sample trays and exhibits for a variety of foods and products are set up on various aisles throughout the store. From pot stickers to lime yogurt, from swiss cheese to coconut water, a diverse cornucopia of free food is presented to the public, intended to convince the public of what they should buy.

Who doesn’t like something being offered for free? In fact, many people eat samples of things they don’t really like simply because it’s free (“Aw, what the hell, I’ll try the green tea flavored seaweed crisp!”). It would be an interesting social experiment to set up a stand there offering samples of “Cardboard Quesadillas”, cardboard sandwiching melted cheese, just to see how many people would try it despite being fully aware of what it is.

There is a kind of hunter-gatherer thing going on with people at Costco, once they realize or remember that there is free food to graze, they’re casually spying around corners, cruising up towards a sample table as if they don’t need a free snack then snapping it up without making eye contact with the preparer. People are magnetically attracted, waiting in swarms for the next plate of samples to be offered. When the samples are ready, hands swoop in swiftly like eagles snatching up prey…with some bewildered eagles left momentarily hovering over the barren plain below.

Some folks act casually, as if it’s no big deal if they get a paper cup of scissor-cut chimichanga or not, others roll their cart past those waiting and just snatch a piece as they roll on (often older ladies). Some allow others to go first, others take several samples for themselves, leaving none for others.

Our Weekend at Costco is a ready allegory or at least sample of our consumer society, particularly when it comes to how people interact with the society around them.

Primarily, there is the ready consumption of whatever is freely offered. This aspect of consumerism isn’t necessarily confined to one type of product or another, whether at a sample table at Costco or on one’s television. For example, whatever the MSM offers as news to the public, is just as immediately consumed without much discernment. After consuming, the result may be, “That left a bad taste in my mouth” but no matter how bad that “byte” of news  was, it is still consumed and is still being digested.

So, the public consumes things sometimes solely because they are readily available. This can be bad for one’s physical or mental health as the old adage, “You are what you eat,” is quite accurate, as anyone who’s seen McDonalds frequenters who’ve squeezed their Big Mac shaped body into a bathing suit at the beach can attest.

Consuming something based on it’s availability instead of the quality of it’s ingredients or the reputation of its manufacturer necessarily puts the decision making of what one consumes into the hands of the entity that can make it most available. Such an entity may have little  concern for what substance is in what’s being consumed. In fact, it means greater profit for that entity to manufacture a product as quickly and cheaply as possible regardless of the value of its content. Investing time to improve the quality of a product, when the key selling point of that product is availability, would appear to most businesses to be a waste of resources and a loss of profits.

So, applying this to the MSM news industry, the cheapest way that they can fill their “sample tray” with tasty treats for the public makes the most sense. Analysis, investigative reporting and critical thinking invested before presenting the free news-nibblies for the public is seen by the corporate management as wasteful and they’re proven right each time the public devours their empty-caloried offerings. There is little incentive to produce a higher or more conscientious quality of news for consumption if what can be produced cheaply and of minimal quality is always gobbled right up.

Pundits seem to be most like the folks who cut lines to grab the samples ahead of others, selfishly intent on just filling their own bellies. They thrive on the cheapness of news, with so little substance or perspective in it, they happily fill that void with their own ego.  And the public is ultimately left to watch such self-centered people happily continue on while the public is left with nothing of substance.

The way people respond, individually and as a group, to certain stimulus can be consistent despite the difference in the specifics at hand. When it comes to consumption, of food or information, there are similarities in how people behave and are motivated to consume. The billions that have been spent over decades, through market research and through measuring the results of consumption through profits and ratings, have made the corporations that sell to you (as consumers and voters), experts in knowing what buttons are most effective to push to get the desired response from people.

The one thing that sabotages all of this is awareness. Once a person or the public becomes aware that their behavior is being triggered or exploited intentionally by others or they become critical of how they’ve allowed themselves to behave, they can retake the power that’s been robbed from them.

When it comes to news, one can’t watch nonstop coverage of Weinergate then complain about the media spending time on it instead of far more important and urgent matters. If folks choose to pass by the sample table when childish flirting “scandals”  were being offered and instead gathered around the Climate Change demo table or another table with something of more substance to offer, there would be tastes of more worthwhile things in the following weeks.

Consumers ultimately have control over what is sold to them based upon what they choose to consume…or not consume.

Just something to chew on…

103
Leave a Comment

Please Login to comment
18 Comment threads
85 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
21 Comment authors
polishlogicianoldpol2choiceladyKhiradKQuark Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
polishlogician
Member
polishlogician

Enjoyed the article, the tacit comparison of quality/quantity is always compelling. I’ve never shopped at Costco, but if I were offered a free sample, I’d first ask its ingredients. If the box/bottle/package were there I’d read it and then decide whether or not to graze in the commons of sampledom.

I’ve tailored my diet to the point where some verbalize their non-nutritional-based frustration with my selections. To them food is food. I disagree. And to fit your metaphor, sometimes news just isn’t news either.

Report this comment

SallyT
Member

I wish I was as disciplined as you. I know I should read more labels but I just get so in a hurry. You are right to do it and I need to work on that because the only one I am hurting is me.

Report this comment

KQµårk 死神
Member

The strongest point you make is those in the MSM and especially us at home should reject the unending sensational journalism. Face it the only reason these stories get legs is because American people love watching a car wreck. It really does not take to much to stay away from the media during these feeding frenzies if they go on too long.

Remember way back when, Moveon.org and KO’s pundit career were started off the fact that they refused to pay attention to Clinton’s scandal anymore.

It’s time to moveon again and focus like lasers on saving progress like SS, Medicare, Medicaid and the ACA or we’ll lose those in the 2012 election too.

Report this comment

SallyT
Member

KQuark, I don’t know if you care to know or not but Countdown/KO starts on Current TV on June 20th. You can find him now on their website Current.com now. They give you a look at his new newsroom. Nothing fancy and lots of young people. Same ole Keith, tho, incase you don’t like him or you do.

Report this comment

KQµårk 死神
Member

I’m sure I’ll check it out.

Report this comment

ADONAI
Member

But I’m a firm believer that if more people took time out of their day to watch Maury Povich, the world would be a better place.

Report this comment

choicelady
Member

Snark! I am not a fan because there are only so many desperately overweight, tattooed and toothless people who’ve screwed up their lives that one can handle.

They leave me with the burning question about whether this is the best America now can be? Are these “Palin’s America”? These are people who have no education, lousy jobs if they’re employed at all, and who live as if their lives were soap operas – perilous, always on the edge, fraught with fury. I realize that High Drama – disloyalty, betrayal, rage – are about the only excitement they get, but it’s exhausting to watch people make their lives worse and worse by the minute because they’ve no hope of anything better and have no ability to defer immediate gratification for long term improvement.

They are the highly marginalized, but they ape the upper class that does the same, just with more aplomb. The American appetite for watching the “car wrecks” of such lives, upper or lower class, appears endless.

And all the time we’re watching Maury – like the slavering crowds watching hangings or beheadings – the fat cats are behind us in the crowd picking our pockets and making our lives that much worse.

Report this comment

KQµårk 死神
Member

Costco is the new soup kitchen for McMansion owners I guess.

Report this comment

choicelady
Member

KQ – that is actually the truth. I’ve seen people, clearly down on their uppers, use the free food as lunch. Not at all a bad strategy, though you do have to shell out a membership, even if it quite predictably produces malnutrition.

I suppose it’s not much different from the “china nights” at the movies during the last depression – you went to the flicks and got cheap china piece by piece. Then there were the days of “free glass with a fill up” – I own some. One does what one can.

BTW – like your new avatar. Is that what you REALLY look like, stylized, of course?

Report this comment

oldpol2
Member
oldpol2

My son worked at Costco while going to college. School was expensive and those little food handouts were his favorite things. He would make the rounds at each break. it was a good company to work for.

Report this comment

SallyT
Member

Choicelady, I have the Jelly glasses from my youth and my “older” sister. I don’t know if you remember but they use to put stripped towels in laundry detergent. Oh, and have pillow cases of my mother’s made from flour sacks. Thanks for bringing those memories up in my mind today.

Report this comment

SallyT
Member

AdLib, I never thought of Costco and MSM having similarities but you certainly made me see it. I don’t go to Costco but maybe once or twice a year. I can’t get out of there without spending more than I should and buying more than I need because I can’t roll by the bargain, just to let most go to waste because I will never consume it all. But, I have a problem with Costco and especially WalMart for another reason. I feel they have costs us the small neighborhood stores and local employment and its development. Sure they hire people but not the same way and with the same relationship. And, the big stores get tax breaks and don’t give back to the town. Yes, we all want stuff cheap, no matter where it comes from. However, we cost us so much more in our here and now and all around. Wasn’t it nice when you could go into your local store and they actually knew you? I guess we can even find a similarity there, too, with our MSM. They don’t really care to know you or give you anything you really need.

Report this comment

choicelady
Member

Kes – I won’t shop WalMart because of their employee policies which are despicably rip-off, but Costco provides excellent wages and benefits. I don’t buy things there I could buy elsewhere, but they have items I can’t get in smaller stores, so I use them for that (oh, OK – I buy kitty litter there since it’s cheaper and the only one the kitties seem to like. And at 30 pounds per container, hefting it is my substitute for the gym. OTHER than that, no overlap.)

I do wonder – often – at why small business never seems to raise its voice at having to pay taxes to subsidize their own competition? Small business has a lot more in common with people on social programs who are their customers than they do with other businesses that seek the death of the small business.

Back in the last “Great Merger Movement” c. 1890s, thousands upon thousands of small businesses were driven out by giant conglomerates. My own great grandfather was a victim of Nabisco; his patented cracker, sold in rural Illinois, was driven out by the “loss leader” practice of underselling him until his market had narrowed to only his own immediate town. Those who support the “free market” don’t see that as predatory – claim it’s fulfilling consumer demand – except it’s not fair trade. Selling below cost to destroy competition then raising the rate after gaining monopoly is fundamentally NOT “free market” but is predatory practice. We have come “forward to the past” by letting that happen again, only this time with taxpayer subsidies.

It’s not government that curtails our freedoms. It’s the market practices. Our choices are narrowed not just in commodities we can buy but in our flexibility, our ability to develop creatively, our capacity to innovate, our ability to work and make a decent living. I don’t mind Costco because of its niche and its responsible employee practices, but big box stores that set out to end competition and destroy local control are a menace. And we think we’ve won something when they come to our town. Not.

Report this comment

SallyT
Member

Wow, Choicelady, you said it so much better. That was the point I was trying to make but no way as good as you. The small business do raise their voices sometimes, like I said about our neighborhood’s fight to keep HomeDepot out.
“Wal-Mart displaces local small businesses, it also typically reduces income and employment for local business — service providers, such as lawyers, bankers, accountants, printers, and newspaper publishers, since those services are centralized in Wal-Mart headquarters. Weakening small-business and professional networks further diminishes the community’s social capital, according to economists Stephan Goetz and Anil Rupasingha.
Wal-Mart has also quite likely reduced U.S. employment throughout its extensive supply chain, despite suppliers’ expectation that they would hire more people as Wal-Mart sold more of their product. But there are stories, well documented by Fishman and others, of Wal-Mart’s virtual dismantling of iconic supplier firms such as Huffy (bicycles), Master Lock (padlocks), Lakewood Engineering & Manufacturing (fans), and L.R. Nelson (lawn sprinklers).
In each case, Wal-Mart kept demanding a lower price, at times challenging suppliers to match the price of cheap imports. The companies improved productivity, cut corners on quality, and pressured their own employees and suppliers (who in turn tightened the screws on down the line). But eventually, Wal-Mart pushed these suppliers out of the country to China, Mexico, and any other place that could match “the China price.”
Taken from an article of American Prospect.

Report this comment

kesmarn
Admin

I appreciate the comments, c’lady, but I think you meant them for Sally, right? 😀

Report this comment

Abbyrose86
Member

Although I loved the analogy…I must admit, I don’t understand the obsession that so many have with shopping. Call me un-American if you must…but I hate shopping with a passion! And the bigger the place and the cheaper the junk the more I hate it.

I’ve never been in such a place as a Cosco and I never will…so some of the descriptions were lost on me.

But I did get the metaphorical connection to the whole of our society..especially with the media. The junk that passes for news and for that matter entertainment these days, is simply pathetic!

Seriously…what the hell happened to the idea of QUALITY and what happened to wanting to learn, and understand what is REALLY going on around us??

{sigh}

Report this comment

ADONAI
Member

What’s a Costco?

Report this comment

Khirad
Member

A Northwestern institution that is part of the secret plan to dominate the rest of the country (I’m part of the spy network staking out the Southwest, shhh). Apart from some of the ridiculous bulk items and the mentioned preparers I feel awkward around-having to frequently bark out what they’re offerings, it’s a pretty good deal. They’re not union in most places, but offer decent benefits, I think. So, you don’t have to feel that guilty.

Fun fact, Bill Gate’s dad is associated with Costco.

Oh, and by the way, I totally got the metaphor, it was not unfair. I also agree Cher and E’cat, the samples are traffic cloggers!

Report this comment

Abbyrose86
Member

I know…I’ve never been in such a place myself. 🙂

Report this comment

bito
Member
ADONAI
Member

There are Costcos here? Well now I gotta find that thing.

So what is it, like some kind of store or something?

Report this comment

SallyT
Member

Adonai, just look for the largest parking lot full of cars on Saturday and people pushing full flatbed carts out to their cars.

Report this comment

ADONAI
Member
ADONAI
Member

I see. Large parking lot, flatbed carts, SUVs.

The hunt begins!

Report this comment

SallyT
Member

Adonai, sweetie, Lowe’s will have more pickup trucks. Costco will have those, too, but more SUV’s.

Report this comment

funksands
Member

Soon the Costco Mariners will eliminate the need to decide whether to shop at Costco or go to a Mariners game.

Why not do both?

Report this comment

Khirad
Member

And yet they can’t help get a new Sonics stadium. 🙁

Report this comment

funksands
Member
escribacat
Member

I confess to being a Costco addict and only recently cleaned out my pantry, which was overloaded with jumbo packs of pasta and chicken noodle soup. And like Cher, this A-type hates those dang munch stations — to me they’re just traffic jams. I do realize that some people just go there to munch but I go there to see if I can get out of there for under $100. On the rare occasion I do stop to munch, I’m always properly embarrassed.

But I realize your post is actually not about Costco, per se. It’s about quality versus quantity. It’s about how we’ve lost a taste for quality in this country (if we ever had it). I believe Hollywood and TV-wood is going through the same thing. They are canceling their expensive programming in favor of much, much cheaper reality television shows.

It’s easy to think that we, as a nation, are in deep trouble because so many people don’t know who Joe Biden is or where England is located on the globe. It is frightening. But I’m not sure it was ever any better than this. Maybe right after WWII and the GI Bill sending so many young men to college? Who knows. Whether it’s new or not, I really don’t think most people know the difference between real quality news reporting and drivel.

I was talking to my niece recently about her upcoming application to an MFA program in creative writing. We were talking about her “Why I want to do this” essay, the type of thing everyone hates to write. I suggested to her that what the school is looking for is someone who wants to live the life of letters, keeping the love of literature alive in an intellectual wasteland. The same goes for politics and social awareness and involvement. That’s where we come in. There may not be many of us, relatively speaking, but we aren’t going away. We will always be here, demanding accountability and something better.

Report this comment

Haruko Haruhara
Member

I always tend to think of the 50s as a deeply uptight, repressed, materialistic, unhappy era. Maybe someone could convince me otherwise.

Report this comment

KillgoreTrout
Member

HH, the white people were happy. Everybody else? Not so much. As far as people being uptight and repressed, the Beat Generation went a long way to fix that.

Report this comment

Haruko Haruhara
Member

Not according to “Mad Men!”

Report this comment

SallyT
Member

Mad Men is more about upper middle class. The Beat Generation started lower and when the uppers got into it, well, they started the “Swingers”.

Report this comment

escribacat
Member

Haruko, how strange. My niece said almost exactly the same thing to me the other day. She mentioned the film ‘The Hours.’ I really need to see that.

Report this comment

Haruko Haruhara
Member

So help me, I like Costco. And free cheese.

They have these cool things in the Canadian plains provinces, called The Co-op, where the employees own the company. Pretty neat.[img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3336/3640977220_4a73651cc7.jpg[/img]

Report this comment

texliberal
Guest
texliberal

Love Costco. One of the few retail outlets down here that is unionized. People are friendly and seem to halfway enjoy working there. Quite unique for Texas.

Report this comment

Kalima
Admin

As you know I don’t shop at Costco, fuel for my jet is costly. 😉 We have something similar here in Tokyo. Problem is that you have to drive there, and I haven’t been allowed to drive for the last 12 years due to an illness with my middle ear. Long story short, when I get my dizzy attacks, I don’t know my right from my left.

I never eat anything offered in supermarkets for two reasons. One that I have no idea when the food was put out, I have a sensitive stomach, and two, I’m too busy trying to remember what I came for to feel hungry.

Years ago I had a friend from New Zealand here, he was a classically trained singer, and work was scarce. He worked as a male model sometimes, but that only payed the rent. When he was desperate, he would check out all the supermarket foreign fairs all over Tokyo, then set off on the trains to eat his fill. I was always amazed to see he survived his frequent hard times, yet relieved to know that he wasn’t exactly starving the few times I didn’t feed him at our house at least twice a week.

Like Cher, the congestion it causes is a problem for me because not being steady on my feet, I just like to get in and out. The possibility of someone, usually elderly ladies from out of town, mowing their carts into the back of my knees, increases the longer I am forced to be in there. Hubby on the other hand loves shopping, and will try just about anything within reason, even wine on an empty stomach when he’s supposed to be driving us home safely.

Conclusion, I dislike crowded places, which is amusing when you consider the number of Japanese in any one place at any one time of the day.

Great analogy post AdLib.

Report this comment

Haruko Haruhara
Member

Sometimes I can’t believe I actually lived in San Francisco for two years. How did I do it?

Report this comment

Kalima
Admin

Everyone must have been on vacation when we visited friends there years ago. I loved the trams, (like Europe) the hills you had to drive up and down, the people, Chinatown and Sausalito.

Report this comment

Haruko Haruhara
Member

It’s beautiful, yes, but 800,000 people crammed into 8 square miles. Now I live in state of 1 million in 147,000 square miles.

Report this comment

Kalima
Admin

Tokyo almost 14 million soon, I’d take SF any time.

Just checked and Tokyo is 239 sq miles.

Report this comment

Haruko Haruhara
Member

San Francisco is 8 miles wide by 8 miles long. I guess that actually makes it 64 square miles. Still pretty compact!

Report this comment

escribacat
Member

Kalima, your mention of the “middle ear” thing caught my eye. I think my brother has that. He has some very strange symptoms and of course no health insurance. He was over at my place yesterday and I’m a bit worried about him. I wonder if you would drop me a line so I could ask you some questions about it. I think you have my email as an admin…?

Report this comment

Kalima
Admin

Sure I’ll do that e’cat. I have something called Meniere’s syndrome, where liquid from a nearby lymph node has drained into the middle ear. The symptoms are often very severe, causing sudden dizziness which throws you on the floor, accompanied by vomiting. The weaker spells has you suddenly lying down until the room stops spinning. There are treatments available in different strengths, I only take mine if it continues all day. The down side is that you will eventually go deaf in the affected ear. My hearing has been lost by more than 50% in the 12 years I’ve had it, but I can still hear some things. They can make an incision at the back of the ear to drain it, but it usually comes back so I won’t bother with that. I suppose the best way to describe it is if you have ever been too drunk to stand up or walk, it’s very much like that, but without the hangover.

Sorry AdLib off/topic. I’ve packed my rucksack, you can move me any time. 😳

Report this comment

KillgoreTrout
Member

Very well done AdLib! I love the analogy. It’s absolutely perfect for our 24/7 cable news stations. I decide to watch a little TV earlier today, and every news station I turned to, they were going on and on about “Weinergate” and Sarah Palin’s Paul Revere interpretation.

Report this comment

bito
Member

There’s an old joke about the man who had a very meager income and 15 children. He was asked how does he feed all of them on his income and his reply was “I make a pot of food of something they don’t like and they get used to eating less.”

I have no doubt he had a recipe for those “Cardboard Quesadillas” and he served them as a Saturday treat.

We as a country are being slowly starved to death so we eat any morsel offered and think it a treat.

Once a person or the public becomes aware that their behavior is being triggered or exploited intentionally by others or they become critical of how they’ve allowed themselves to behave, they can retake the power that’s been robbed from them. [….]

If folks choose to pass by the sample table when childish flirting “scandals” were being offered and instead gathered around the Climate Change demo table or another table with something of more substance to offer, there would be tastes of more worthwhile things in the following weeks.

I neither know how this education/awareness can be accomplished or where the “climate change demo table exists. I fear if I set up a simple table of fresh garden vegetable snacks and you set up a fancy table of your “Cardboard Quesadillas” you would have more takers.

I have been struggling with this question for many years, how does one get others to know what is “good nutrition, what is best for their self interest and not eat ‘junk food” that only nourishes others while they suffer from malnutrition.

The freshest most nutritious foods foods exist (Remapping Debate, CAP…) but more people are at the junk food table (HP, Daily Caller….).

Report this comment

escribacat
Member

Bito, I grew up with four older brothers — all ruffians and lunkheads. (Not the sensitive types.) My mother used to buy ginger snaps because nobody liked them and she knew they’d last more than five seconds.

Report this comment

KillgoreTrout
Member

Bito, in regard to your nagging question, I think, unfortuneatly, that the only way these people will begin to learn, is if they get screwed by the people they support. Their personal, daily lives have to be deeply affected before they stop and start to actually rethink their earlier thoughts. Like a majority of alcoholics and addicts, they have to hit rock bottom before they start paying attention to those who wish to help them. And often, it is too late.

Report this comment

Chernynkaya
Member

AdLib–this is wonderful! It made me feel good personally, because I shop at Costco religiously every two weeks and I never eat anything offered–except if I am really thirsty and the sample is something liquid–even the omnipresent Acai berry weirdness. And I get angry at Costco for clogging the aisles with those sample ladies; it creates a clusterfuck of the carts. But I have to say, they know how to keep the accompanying men and children occupied while we ladies are hustling around. My husband will actually want to come to Costco with me JUST to eat! And my son made me laugh by reminding me of how my ex approaches those sample people: he acts surprised each time he sees the freebies. “Oh! Why thank you–don’t mind if I do!” As if he had no intention of ever getting a snack in the first place; as if he never expected to see free samples–which of course is a fiction.

But back to your premise–just as I eschew the free samples, I have become less interested in any TV news. I only watch Rachel and O’Donnel a couple of times a week, and usually on line. It really has become as tasteless (in every sense of the word) and as malnourishing as a mini paper cup of cut-up tostadas. (And that’s why I said your post makes me feel self-satisfied!)

But again, I’ll keep flogging this: Just as I am one of those pains-in-the-ass at Costco (I take the time to fill out those customer satisfaction cards when I am displeased)I also think that we have to do the same to the news outlets. I know–I am a pain in the ass, but what else can we do? (And by the way, my only big gripe about Costco is that almost all their paper goods are from Koch.) (Oh, and they are depleting our oceans’ fish–but that’s a different issue.) (Oh, just one more– their fruit and vegetable packaging is a plastic nightmare.)

I’ll shut up now!

Report this comment

kesmarn
Admin

Cher, it’s an amazing coincidence that right after I got home, but before I read your comment, I called a local radio station to complain about their programming.

It’s a station I rarely listen to, but since I was in the mood to unwind to some kinda hill-billy gospel (an occasional guilty pleasure) I tuned in to this Christian radio station.

Instead of music they had this guy on ranting about how we are all “already” living under sharia law here. His rambling speech was full of anti-Muslim sentiment with multiple potshots at the President.

So when I got home, I called and left a voice mail complaining about the program content and asking them to call me back with info on whether or not they were considered tax exempt. I told them that if they were, I was going to file a formal complaint against them with the IRS and the FCC, since they were clearly taking a political position in their programming.

We’ll see if they ever do get back to me…

See? I took your advice before I even got it! 😀

Report this comment