Monday, November 10, 2014

Response to Ms. Vargas-Cooper

This is written in response to an article by Natasha Vargas-Cooper published here at The Intercept.

Dear Ms. Vargas-Cooper:

The more I think about it, the more I have found your article to be less than satisfactory. 

First of all there was this:  “We should disabuse ourselves of old ideas, especially this hold-over notion from the baby-boomer generation that somehow social institutions can be jammed, subverted, reformed, or overthrown through buying stuff.”  Aside from boomer-bashing, you offered not one reference to support your contention or put it into context.  Was this somehow a resolution passed in a Boomer Congress I wasn’t aware of?

Does ‘buying stuff’ matter?  Another way to reframe the question is to ask: ‘Does the way we spend our money make a difference?’  Throughout history, consumer activists have answered “yes.”  A scholarly book by Lawrence Glickman, published in 2009 explores such activism, and is reviewed here .

You have not mentioned political activities which have impacted women’s rights, which in an election year might seem an obvious thing to do.  Of course there are varying viewpoints, even among feminists, so I’ll just suggest a few starting points for further reading and investigation.  My own state of NJ has elected its first African-American woman to serve in Congress!  Here’s a roundup of some critical issues that were up for votes across the country.  I confess I don’t know how all of them fared, but those curious can do a search, I’m sure.  Here’s a look back at the mid-term elections.   And here’s an alternative view.

I think almost everyone would agree that grassroots, people-by-people activism has declined.  But I truly believe it’s way too simplistic to “blame the boomers.”  What about examining societal forces that have fractured such efforts?  For example, there was the throttling of the Occupy Movement.  What about the way protests are greeted?  The Intercept and other outlets have detailed the sometimes overly harsh reaction to protests in Ferguson, MO.  Fast food protesters were often met with riot police – and not a whole lot of media coverage.  And what of the ramifications of the rise of digital communications which has enabled “connections” online?  How has this affected face-to-face organizing?  And then there’s a big question: with the economy as it is, is it any wonder that so many are just too tired or stressed from making a living to be activists?  Many posters at The Intercept and also The Guardian have made that observation.  Here are some articles related to the number of hours worked by Americans:  ABC News article, detailing Gallup poll results, and this one, comparing us to a few other countries.  It seems as though there is some evidence which might support those posters’ suppositions.

Then there’s the matter of toys.  Do the toys we buy our children (girls, specifically) make a difference or not? Your argument is that they do not.  But not everyone sees it that way. Here’s one researcher  that does not.  Now this leads me to conclude that whatever side one might favor, the issue is worthy of thoughtful consideration – and debate.  Certainly not a “Shut up.”

That leads me to my final problem with your article.  I found that ending by telling your readers to “Shut up.” was both rude and condescending.  Not to mention it was no way to encourage me, at least, to your viewpoint.  I would think that as a journalist, you would encourage readers to be vocal on the issues. 

All in all, I felt the article fell far short of the quality I would have hoped for.


  1. Very thoughtful reply. I, too, was particularly confused by the following:

    “We should disabuse ourselves of old ideas, especially this hold-over notion from the baby-boomer generation that somehow social institutions can be jammed, subverted, reformed, or overthrown through buying stuff.”

    I'm of the boomer-gen and, like you, missed the memo saying that buying stuff will reshape social institutions for the better. I do recall Bush telling us all to "just go shopping" after 9/11, but that was decades later. Perhaps I'm missing the nuance here. But in effect the premise of the article leaves one rudderless as to how to decipher the rest of it.

    All in all, for me the article was a rant rather than effective rhetoric - unless you consider the thoughtful replies it did generate, such as yours - which, by the way, I think you should consider posting in full (it's really not that long) at The Intercept site (from whence I came).

    Regards, Sillyputty

    1. Hi Sillyputy -

      Thank you for your nice reply. I enjoy your stuff on TI. Thanks for saying I should put it up on the site - but it has so many links... and now with the other stories up, it may not be worth it. I did seem to get a lot of page views, though, so I'm thankful for that!

      If you read this, maybe you have a thought. With the last 2 articles by Vargas-Cooper and today's by J. Thompson, I'm wondering if TI is losing it. I even said that in response to Thompson's article. I THOUGHT TI was to present 'fearless journalism.' I can't say as I think those 3 articles were that at all. I'm wondering that TI will indeed start losing credibility when people run across such articles.

      Anyway, take care and stop back often :-)


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