You’re likely familiar with Dr. Seuss’s best-known eco-fabble, The Lorax, about the little sort-of-man who lives in the woods and speaks for the trees (for the trees have no tongues). But you may never have read The Sneetches. It is–supposedly, technically–about race, religion and bigotry. I beg to differ.
In it, the Sneetches, who live on the beaches, sit moping and wishing their bellies had stars–except for the Sneetches who have stars upon thars. They’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches, and host frakfurter-roasts and marshmallow-toasts–No Plain-Bellies Allowed! Then arrives Sylvester McMonkey McBean with his wonderful Star-On Machine, who (for a mere paltry payment of three dollars each) gives every Sneetch on the beach a star upon thar.
The original star-bellied Sneetches are outraged: who had them first? We’re still the best Sneetches, and they’re still the worst! Not to worry, my friends, says McMonkey McBean–I’ll invite you into my Star-Off Machine!
From then on, as you’ve probably guessed,
Things really got into a horrible mess.
In again, out again, on again, off again,
Through the machines they raced round and about again,
Changing their stars every minute or two.
They kept paying money. They kept running through
Until neither the Star- nor the Plain-Bellies knew
Whether this one was that one … or that one was this one …
Or which one was what one … or what one was who!
And when every last cent of their money was spent,
The Fix-It-Up Chappie packed up–and he went!
And he laughed as he drove his car up the beach.
“Ha ha! They never will learn. No, you can’t teach a Sneetch.”
Not that I want to tell Dr. Seuss what he meant–although he’s not around to be offended–but I find this a much more apt metaphor for modern consumer culture.
Now everyone can be a Star-Bellied Sneetch! Only the Old-Money Star-Bellied Sneetches can’t stand to lose their superiority, so for a greater payment, they buy their originality again, no matter how absurd it is. And on and on it goes, as those who want to be cool and accepted continue to buy their way into the club while those who want to be exclusive and distinguished buy their way out of it.
Shades of designer purses and watches, anyone?
iPods? Designer shoes? iPhones and Blackberries? Indie bands? Houses, appliances, neighbourhoods? Country clubs? Burberry?
Even first names, especially girls’ names, show the trend: Tiffany and Brittany were wildly popular amongst upper-class and high-earning parents until the very moment the hoi poloi caught on and used them for their own daughters. Now they’re untouchable.
Being humans, we have perfected our star-scrutinizing skills, and can tell at 20 paces whether someone’s belly-star is this year’s or last year’s, and if they were born with it or if it’s a cheap knock-off that was plastered in place by a Star-On Machine. (Is her blonde hair a $200 salon job or a $15 clairol job? Is it a real Coach bag?) The lengths the Star-Bellied Sneetch-Persons will go to to distinguish themselves from the Fake-Star-Bellies can be enormous (and unintentionally hilarious–witness the photographs, or young people now dyeing their hair grey simply because no one else is doing it ).
And just like the Sneetches, we keep running through, until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew whether this one was that one or that one was this one or which one was what one or what one was who! And when every last cent of our money (and time and resources) is spent, the Fix-It-Up Chappies will pack up and … uh … went. Along with the planet’s livability and our children’s future.
But the Sneetches have an edge on us: Despite Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s derision (and who was he to snub the Sneetches with a goofy name like that?), the Sneetches did learn that Sneetches were Sneetches, and no kind of Sneetch was the best on the beaches.
How much do you spend trying to get the Star-Bellied Sneetches to invite you to their frankfurter-roasts?
Frances loves this story and the short movie, which we have on DVD, so I have had many occasions to ponder its deeper meanings. I hope that her love and familiarity will make future conversations about consumerism and peer pressure a bit easier. To wit:
Me: Dear girl, buying those jeans for $200 instead of these ones for $50 is just trying to buy a star for your belly.
Frances: I need the star! No one will love me without the star! No one will invite me to the post-game frankfurter roasts when their parents go out of town without the star!
Me: Then you need friends who understand that Sneetches are Sneetches, and no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That’s a recipe for success, isn’t it? At least, until…
Frances: Mom, you’re just trying to pretend to be a plain-bellied Sneetch who doesn’t care about the whole star thing, but you put plenty of effort into cultivating a purposefully starless belly that looks like it could have a star if you only wanted one.
Do you think we could just … stop?