Saturday, October 14, 2006

Not the Gallic, but the American Shrug

I've seen it countless times, mostly in commercials but often enough in bad sitcoms and smug movies. It's the little hitch of the shoulders, palms up and a half-smirk on the lips. This American shrug--usually seen after the shrugger experiences the singular benefits of a consumer good--means "Don't blame me, it's not my fault I'm so lucky."

Advertisers deploy this sentiment because it connotes passive enjoyment of their product by the consumer. Advancing the shrug as an appropriate response to good fortune relieves the consumer of any potential doubts that might arise about the possible cost, pocketbook, moral, environmental or otherwise, that might result from their purchasing behavior.

This shrug has become so prevalent in commercials that I think it deserves special mention as a bellwether of our national mainstream psyche. For it isn't only in commercials where this response takes hold, but in our living rooms as well. Despite all the moaning and groaning we Americans indulge, we all know (unless we are especially dim), that compared with a huge percentage of the rest of humanity, we live in a perfect hog-wallow of riches.

Once recognized, this gross inequity implies a need for correction. The unthoughtful among us react as simple organisms, and seek a place where they can wallow more safely. Spiritually, that place is housed inside the shrug.

"Don't blame me--I didn't personally remove valuable resources from impoverished, unlucky, dictatorially-run, corporate-friendly nation-states; nor did I personally engineer their transformation into polished, relatively useless examples of material excess--I was just lucky enough to have been born into a circumstance where if I worked enough I would gain access to them."

Being able to say that to one another--shrugging our way to faux-leather oblivion--makes us feel better.


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