Michael Luo had a poignant article in this past Sunday’s New York Times about the 40,000 leap in the number of families with children in homeless shelters across the country since the current recession began. The article has a lot of interesting information about a group that has seen their American Dream dissolve.
But Luo couldn’t just give us the information. He had to use the news that more families are losing their homes as a platform for reminding us that living the American Dream revolves completely around buying things in malls in suburbs.
Like many journalists writing about the impact of the recession on people, Luo begins his story with a case history. Now he might have selected a family new to living in a homeless shelter who can’t get used to going to the library instead of buying books. Or a family that takes two buses to take their kids to Little League practice. Or a family of immigrants who are learning how to make old country specialties on a hot plate.
Here is the story that Luo selected to tell:
“For a few hours at the mall here this month, Nick Griffith, his wife, Lacey Lennon, and their two young children got to feel like a regular family again.
Never mind that they were just killing time away from the homeless shelter where they are staying, or that they had to take two city buses to get to the shopping center because they pawned one car earlier this year and had another repossessed, or that the debit card Ms. Lennon inserted into the A.T.M. was courtesy of the state’s welfare program.
They ate lunch at the food court, browsed for clothes and just strolled, blending in with everyone else out on a scorching hot summer day. ‘It’s exactly why we come here,’ Ms. Lennon said. ‘It reminds us of our old life.'”
Yes, their old life when recreation meant shopping for more stuff in a suburban mall.
Luo had his choice of 15 families at the Rhode Island shelter at which he found the Griffith-Lennon family. He also could have chosen to feature a family at another shelter.
Or he might have tried to highlight another aspect of the Griffith-Lennon family life, maybe what they’re telling their two young children about what has happened to them.
But Luo selected this particular family and this particular aspect of its life because he wanted to transfer the symbolic humiliation of losing one’s home onto the broad ideological imperative upon which the mass media thinks we should build our lives: the commercial transaction, that is, buying something, is the basis of all relationships, celebrations, manifestations of love, respect and all other emotional states, and every other emotional component of life.