Zero-sum game

Buy Nothing Day Poster

You think you're saving money on Black Friday? Think again. Image:

When I was in college in Richmond, Virginia, there was a fabulous little hole in the wall of a bookshop called Carriage House Books. It’s still there, near the campus, and just as cozy.

Carriage House always welcomed browsers, even though it was crowded, pokey, and tiny. If you were particularly lucky you could snag one of those library-style step stools, blend in to a corner, and settle in for a good chapter from Sons and Lovers or Netochka Nezvanova. The waft of tea and incense could keep you mesmerized for hours. And missing class wasn’t such a sin, not if you were reading C. S. Lewis.

It’s here that I first met some of my dearest friends. Eccentrics like Camus, Derrida, Chomsky, Alan Moore.

Mind over matter

And it’s the place where I first found a copy of Adbusters, the Canadian media-criticism magazine known for upending mainstream media by using the tools of the MSM’s own hyper-saturation and messaging hyperbole against it. They rocked. And like all good college students who are susceptible to an anti-establishment message, I bought into it hook, line and sinker.

It helped that Adbusters could reference Foucault, Hemingway, and Tarantino in one essay. Or more economically, in one photo spread with an edgy caption.

Reading Adbusters was like pulling back the curtain on the man behind Oz. Innocence lost, perhaps, but not an innocence I’d want to have back. I’ve been a fan ever since, and the depth of their work has only grown.

Today Adbusters is the mind/art jester behind the worldwide phenomenon known as Buy Nothing Day, a culture-jamming, flash mob activist “event” timed to coincide with North America’s frenzied consumer death run, Black Friday. That would be…today.

Their argument is that instead of responding like Pavlov’s dog to sales pitches offering an EXTRA 10% OFF! if we’re at the big box at exactly 3am, we reject entirely the notion that we must stand ready in such a desperate posture, salivating for the gods of retail to bestow a deal that we simply can’t refuse.

We refuse it!

Proponents of Buy Nothing Day choose to give up shopping today, even if it means passing up an opportunity to trample to death the guy in front of us at Wal-Mart.

Ah, sacrifices.

The history of money unspent

Back in my college days, freezing, hungry, and always ready to culture jam for a cause, I was a big proponent of Buy Nothing Day. I have to admit though, that being broke offered a distinct advantage.

Back in my long days of hand to mouth single-motherhood, my course remained the same, buying nothing because I didn’t want to, and was too tired. Anyway, who could afford a babysitter? Talk about synchronicity.

Now I live in a slightly higher degree of relative comfort, but unlike other things that influenced me in college—cheap watery domestic beers, weed, tie dye—I’m still a fan of Adbusters, and still committed to Buy Nothing Day.

So today it’s nuked leftovers, the occasional e-mail, a walk (or more appropriately here, The Dérive), and movies, from The Madness of King George to How to Get Ahead in Advertising.

And for those who’d like to post in reminding me that using a microwave, computer, and DVD player will all cost money through electricity use—touché. Perhaps next year I’ll sit naked in a field from midnight to midnight on “Black Fried Nothing Day” contemplating literalism.

In the meantime, I’ll burn a candle for the cause, hoping that, praying that, Buy Nothing Day takes on more cultural force, perhaps changing perceptions about how much we really need to have to be happy, every day of the year.

It may be, after all, that less is more.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    Beautiful article! It reminded me of my own discovery of the movement, except my internal revolution started eight years ago when I stumbled upon Kalle Lasn’s book, Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge and Why We Must. After that, I was hooked to Ad Busters and the anti-consumerist message. I’m developing a new community to encourage buying less and sharing more. We can save money and the environment by encouraging reuse and sharing the things we already have. Exchango makes giving and getting free stuff easy. Check out

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