Shopping habits of the not-so-average pseudo-American family…

We watch the news.  Depressing as this exercise is, we do keep up with what goes on in the world…and then we take an antacid.  To alleviate the stress and tribulation that actual news broadcasts give us, we augment the experience with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.  I guess you could say that we are “bleeding-heart liberals,” but we prefer to think of ourselves as thoughtful people who put a lot of effort into making an educated decision before casting a vote in any election.

If you are unfamiliar with either one of these shows, they are basically well-informed political satire conducted by intelligent men who happen to be ridiculously funny.  My husband, who is an old-school Reaganite, enjoys the way Stewart and Colbert satirize the Republican Party as much as I do, and my husband’s Reagan-years were very different from my Reagan years: upper middle-class kid with a homemaker mom vs. blue-collar family with white-collar mom.  My dad spent a great deal of the 80s on strike while my mom cooked blocks of frozen chicken that, to a box, fed us for a whole week.  Choctaw Maiden was the brand…I still cringe when I think of what it looked and tasted like.  Mind you, my husband did not live in the lap of luxury, but the economy in his household was a little less “the waves and wind are going to make us crash into the roooooooooooooccccc….” than it was for us.  The differences don’t stop there: my dad is a socialist-agnostic who married a conservative Catholic; his parents shared ideology and theology.  I will gladly boycott, protest, fire off an angry letter, stand on a soap box…you get the picture.  My husband is more laid back, passionate about what he believes in, but I’m more likely to get arrested for civil disobedience than he is…

I’ve made him more of a liberal and he’s made me less of a “hell no we won’t go” looney.  (The word looney is entirely affectionate.)  Between the two of us we are trying to foster something more than just walking into a booth, casting a vote and saying “but I thought he/she seemed like a nice choice.”  We make The Great Gonzo watch the news; we ask him questions about what’s going on in the world and, with eyes rolling, he gets ready for the “informative session” if what he says sounds ludicrous.  Yes, it’s fun growing up in this household.

SO…Stephen Colbert did a piece on Wednesday night’s segment The Word about the information retailers know about their customers.  Here is the link:—surrender-to-a-buyer-power

After the show, my husband and I sat for a while sorting laundry into baskets (making sure J’s red scrum cap and Rasta hat were easily found, and that his green cargo pants were on the top of the stack of hangers) and talking.  If you watch the video I’ve attached you’ll understand why we were laughing so hard.

My husband’s take on what Target knows about us: “we buy baby wipes, but no diapers or baby food…we buy shaving cream, shavers, men’s deodorant, cream for athlete’s foot, and Dora the Explorer DVDs.  We are constipated, but insist on eating massive amounts of cheese…  We never have enough bookshelves, but we never buy books.  DVD players are disposable in our household.  We go through tubs of Vicks VapoRub, have a sugar addiction that is quelled only by the consumption of massive amounts of Pixy Stix…the Slinky is self-explanatory…”  We couldn’t stop laughing…the kids worried about us when they came in to grab their clean laundry and found us rolling around on the floor.

Here we are, worrying about what people who SEE us might think, what they might glean from J’s appearance.  The video says they send coupons and sales announcements to customers based on the information they gather from your shopping habits.  We have never received one.  Somewhere in the corporate offices for Target there are employees who just STARE at the data collected from our sales receipts, and they are scratching their heads…possibly developing a drinking problem in the process.  Oh, George Orwell…you were a little ahead of schedule, but you were so right!

I come home from the grocery store and find, with my sales receipt, coupons for menopause supplements, acne medication, fiber-rich foods.  The store thinks it knows when my cats are running low on litter, food and deodorizer.  The store can’t quite make out why I shop the way I do.  Big Brother must be asking “why the baby wipes?  She’s starting menopause any day now…they haven’t bought any single item that might indicate they’ve adopted a child or babysit one.  Someone in that household…GASP!!!!…has a hairy ASS!!!!!!!!  OMG, OMG, OMG, TMI, TMI, TMI!!!!!”  Big Brother, than overly informed cyclops that peeks into our existence with such zeal that he wants to anticipate any allergy we might develop when spring rolls around, is running around his office screaming and bumping into walls.

If we look weird as we enter the store, a little band of interesting looking people equipped with boxing gloves and Slinky, what must we look like to analysts who try to determine our shopping patterns?  What must the bank think?  I have sometimes asked myself why the debit/credit card terminal at the register doesn’t ask some significant questions:

Terminal displays: Sales total is $45.38.  Is this correct?

You can choose YES or NO

Why doesn’t the terminal jump in and display: Really?

You can choose: Um, yes or Uh, maybe

The terminal displays: Last I checked you spent too much money last paycheck and were scrambling about to make it through to this week.

You can choose: so what?  It’s my money or How do I say to the cashier that I’ve changed my mind?

The terminal responds: well, either you change your mind or you’ll be eating ramen noodle for a month.

The truth is the terminal doesn’t care.  The bank is enjoying this while you writhe in horror once you notice you forgot to subtract that ONE transaction that will push you over the edge.  The store, well, it’s just scratching its head wondering if you’re pregnant or if you just bought your sanitary napkins elsewhere or it’s trying to determine WHO has hemorrhoids among the four of you that show up…

If I don’t laugh thinking about these things…well…they’ll know I buy and need a lot of Kleenex at around 6 PM every evening as I watch the news.