Do affluence and advertising stunt creativity?

I noticed an article posted to a friend’s Facebook status this afternoon that sounded worthy of reading. It’s titled Letting the Joneses Win and addresses both American affluence and, tangentially, creativity. Meredith Whitmore wrote the article to talk about her reentry into the United States after five years abroad in East Africa and China.

    Living life outside the reach of American advertising, for example, was much more serene. It was also freeing since I had space to ponder things beyond how my abs look, the kind of car I drive or the clothes I wear. In fact, I’d been living in areas where many people wear the same clothing almost every day—without their friends (or Stacy London) staging an intervention.

    So reentering our consumer-driven, image-mindful country felt like jumping naked into a glacial lake. (Well, at least my shock and audible gasping were probably pretty similar.) I came home to American friends who were ashamed to carry the same attractive, perfectly useful purse for more than a few months — forget about wearing a sweater twice in one week.

    As terrible as it may sound, during my first days back I wanted to smack several people and yell, “Get over yourselves!” Instead, you’ll be relieved to know I bit my tongue and tried to smile a lot . . .

    But in parts of the Third World with few resources and even less income, I have watched boys play with Coca-Cola bottles for an entire hour. And they didn’t feel at all deprived. Resourceful to the core, they could have fun and be creative with lots of things we wouldn’t even consider in the West.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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