Milestones in the Age of the Registry
Continuing in the vein of my graduation-related posts, Kermitthefrog mentions the existence of store and internet gift registries back in the previous set of comments. Registries are indeed trippy and weird things. Now you can sign up for wedding and baby gift-lists at a huge range of stores and price points, and we’ve gone from those clunky touch-screen displays for silverware in the corner of Macy’s which I remember from way back to little cordless price guns that you can run around with in everywhere from Crate and Barrel to Wal-Mart, shooting at bar codes everywhere in an ecstasy of consumerism. Amazon’s genius was in creating the Wish List, because not everybody is a bride or new mother but surely everyone deserves to get exactly what they want for as many consumer occasions as possible, yes?
And the notion of the gift has really changed recently ---- I know there have been wedding registries for at least 60 years, but at one point, the thought really was what counted. Hence all the stories of getting 12 gravy boats and not having any silverware, or hauling out an ugly vase or picture every time the relatives came over, only to banish it in the attic as soon as they were gone. (Thinking about it, this whole fifties-style “you must get an entire formal entertaining set for dining” expectation is also weird. My sister clashed a lot with mom over the whole “but you need a set of good china” thing when she got married --- she doesn’t do a formal entertaining style and wanted living room lamps instead; she never did get her lamps.)
But back to the idea of the gift ---- it used to be that people thought about celebrating you or some specific milestone, and thought about who you were like, and then bought something based off that. Now there is an expectation that whoever is getting the gift deserves to get what s/he wants, exactly. So the gift giver must either find the wishlist or the registry of the gift receiver, or give a “check card” or “gift card” so that the recipient can get exactly what is desired. ---- My mother, growing up in the 40s and 50s as she did, is still horrified by this development; she thinks it is tacky and low-class, exactly as if you were throwing a wad of cash at the person rather than bothering to pick out something nice and wrap it up prettily, an investment of time and thought and planning rather than a sheer commercial transaction.
She’s right ---- the gift card is money, just not money in the paper greenback sense we automatically think of. Stores use the pretty colors of that piece of plastic and its strategic placement by the greeting card section to distract us from that fact and sell it to us with rhetorics of convenience. But really, when it comes down to it, you could probably hand a wad of cash to the gift recipient yourself rather than introducing the store as middleman. The only thing the store is doing is providing a fig leaf over a money transaction. Which I guess was all it was doing in back in the instance of the gift as well.
Except I don’t think it was. Somehow that slightly older notion of the gift was more focused on a sense of relationship between giver and receiver, and on the moment of exchange, of unwrapping, of surprise and the theatrical moment of revelation (“Oh! So you got that for me!” “Yes, I got that for you!”) whereas, in the wishlist/registry model, all the emphasis is on the recipient. The giver almost drops out of the equation ---- in fact, ads have been pushing us to give gifts to ourselves for a while now. The “women should buy themselves diamonds” campaigns come especially to mind. In this new model, the emphasis is on the recipient desiring things and picking them out long before the occasion of the gift exchange happens, or desiring things and picking them out long after the exchange happens, in the case of the gift card. Where before the gift-opening moment was about recognition of the relationship between the giver and the receiver, now it is about pure potentiality --- the anticipation of whatever future purchases that gift card will become.
How to get out of this consumer trap, I don’t know. What this has to do with my graduation, I don’t know. I do know that I have been hassling my family both immediate and extended to come to the graduation, and behave in ways I want them to behave. Sure, it would be nice to get gifts --- especially because I’m not moving on from graduating into an immediate secure job (but most of the stuff I need to replace is big and expensive anyway so, meh) --- but what I’ve been pushing for from my family has been more about recognition: I want them all to be there and stand around while everyone takes my picture and pay attention to me with me being the focus of everything. I have a lot of specific demands for them and they all revolve around these ritualized, theatrical moments of recognition, and some of my family, which doesn’t like parties or crowds or these types of moments, has been reacting with “oh, do we really need to be there, do we need to do all of that, can’t we just send you gifts and you bring back the pictures” statements.
It’s funny --- I do know lots of people who didn’t attend their own graduation or walk in the ceremony because they “weren’t interested” or “just don’t care about that sort of thing” or who felt that any celebration they did would be private and more meaningful to them that way. It’s just odd that my whole family is like that except me, and I want the party and the nice dinner and the posed picture in front of the school mascot and the ceremonial hooding and the flashy whatever. I’m not really into the gifts (and yet I can be incredibly picky with getting gifts particularly regarding my family's bad sense of taste, so I can’t say I’m above the gift-registry mentality) and the idea of being handed money or gift cards in this situation squicks me out.
So, yes. Not filthy lucre but unmitigated adoration is what this cog desires, for she is a jealous Cog and requires many sacrifices of time and effort and offerings of photographs and silly hats. And dinner at that nice steak place, with a fancy dessert, that would be good too.