Mass-produced madness

By Luiz Coelho

Nobody can resist the capitalist Christmas madness. After all, everybody loves presents (some love receiving them even more). Some, who have children, might be engaged in the well-known pilgrimages to different malls and department stores, with whole-page toys lists (which usually include the most expensive and recently released toys). Other, more fortunate, have the possibility of actually choosing what to buy and give to their beloved ones. In both cases, however, many of our Christmas gifts may bear the ubiquitous tag: “Made in China.”

All of us, especially in these times of economic hardship, have wondered why all of a sudden, every single manufactured good seems to be made on the other side of the world. However, such reality only jumped to my eyes when, right after doing some religious shopping, I realized that even the statue of the Virgin Mary in my hands was also made… in China.

Suddenly, several questions came to my mind. How was the plant that produced the statue set up? Who made those little statues? Were they Christians? Probably not. But did they have any clue of what they were doing? I am scared to admit the answer is once again: probably not. And this leads me to the striking conclusion that even objects of devotion that are so dear to us are now produced in the coldest way possible.

In the last three months, my artwork was focused mainly on studying the Baudrillardian concept of hyperreality, applied to the visual arts. Such exploration will probably go on for years, as I more properly dig into the equivalent contemporary visual arts style. As an initial result, however, this exploration led to two series of paintings that expose the overwhelming presence of mass made imports on our shelves nowadays.

One of them, composed of twelve 12 inch by 12 inch acrylic paintings on panel depicts random objects which can be bought at any supermarket or department store, with their tags “Made in China” exposed to the viewer. Most of them were really made in China, but some others had their tags deliberately changed, in order to engage the viewer with the not-so-unrealistic possibility of having such objects really made in an environment of mass-production. At the end, is it possible to realize with certainty where an item is made?


Allow me to relate such topic to our initial discussion: Christmas and other religious gifts. Not so long ago, gifts – especially fine ones – were still produced in a way that somehow honored their final purpose. Imported products were frequently of very good quality, and different regions and countries were known for their fine crafts. That was the way, after all, that designer brands started. Nowadays, however, even local businesses rely heavily on cheap imports, mostly from China, that cover almost every single type of possible products.

My point here is not to criticize China, or imports from China per se. In fact, for centuries, the West has imported high quality goods from China. What worries me is the kind of reaction we should have to ubiquitous cheap imported products – especially at a time it is very hard to find alternative options. These products generally come from far away lands, and often look better, and “more real” than their hand-made and unique predecessors. Nevertheless, they do not point to any real past, and are the mere sub-product of industrial plants built only a few years ago. Human rights concerns, and the depletion of local companies, which cannot compete against the cheaper imports, are also issues that must be addressed, especially by people of faith, who theoretically espouse values of economic justice.

I do not have any pre-conceived answer to this problem and I am pretty sure that any “boycott” can be easily be forgotten after listening to the plea of a child who dreams about the newest electronic toy. Even everyday shopping duties, and objects that are necessary to modern life (such as computers and cell phones) force us to “close our eyes” and not question the evil we might possibly be supporting. But is there a way of implementing more responsible shopping practices, especially at Christmas, when we feel so compelled to look for sales and cheaper gifts? And, in the long run, how can people of faith help change this scenario? Are we still relevant enough to do something? What would Jesus do in this case, after all, especially since this is his birthday?

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