Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#27, February 2, 1999


by Marylaine Block

After the deluge of Super Bowl advertising, I am reminded that the prevailing message of television is "More is better." If we can only buy a little more stuff, win just one more Super Bowl, we'll be happy. It's what all the ads play into, this feeling that we've ALMOST made it, we're ALMOST happy, and all we need is just a little bit more.

If we live in an apartment, we need just enough money to buy our own home. If we own our home, all we need is a swimming pool and hot tub, or maybe a time-share condominium in Florida or a summer vacation home on the side.

If we can't afford to go anyplace except grandma's house on vacation, we'd be happy if we could only go to Disneyland, or Hawaii. If we've been there, done that, then we yearn to go first class, because those too-cramped, squeezed-together seats in coach take so much fun out of traveling. Life will be better if we can only stay at a Marriot instead of the El Cheapo motel.

If our car doesn't do much more than haul us around, we yearn for one with more pizzazz, maybe one of those expensive convertibles that, judging from the ads, are equipped with long-haired, long-legged blondes. Or maybe a rugged sports utility vehicle (I call them yuppie tanks), that caters to our longing for complete freedom.

When we've just gotten our first real jobs, we celebrate by moving from MacDonald's to French restaurants, from Big Gulps to margaritas.

The trouble is, this cultural game of "more" is a con game. It's awfully convenient for business and advertisers that we always fall for it, and that we always, always pick the wrong shell in this 3 card monte game.

You see, "more" is NEVER going to be enough if we aren't already happy -- there will forever be something a little better over the horizon. And there's only so much you can do with money, because, as the Yiddish proverb has it, "with one rear end, you can't be at two circuses."

You'd be happy if you won $10 million in the lottery. But after you'd done the obvious sorts of things -- gone to Hawaii, bought a new car and house, maybe bought a house for your mom -- what would you do with the rest of it?

Most of us can't even dream that big, because we're used to dreaming at the level of "just a little bit more."

A couple of years down the road, most lottery winners aren't happy. They've found out the hard way that they're not living their normal lives plus money; they're living entirely different lives. They can afford evening gowns and pearls, but can't wear them to the bridge club or their favorite coffee shop. The new stuff virtually requires them to go to the symphony and junior league events to show it off.

The money virtually requires them to have classier friends. If they stop playing on the public golf course, but join the country club, their old buddies can't follow.

But they wouldn't anyway, because the old buddies still believe in "more." You got it, they didn't. Not because you're smarter or harder working, but because you were lucky. They're bound to be a little jealous.

Some friends will ask for a handout. If you give them something outright, they'll resent being in a one-down position. If you don't, you're high-hatting them. If you want your loan repaid, you're a cheap bastard. None of them will be your buddies anymore.

The biggest myth of all may be that "more" equals freedom. And yes, money does mean you can say "take this job and shove it."

But when you know everybody else wants what you've got, you start to worry about keeping it. You might buy a home protection system and a vicious dog, and start being alarmed by unfamiliar people in the neighborhood. You might decide to move to a secure, gated community, surrounded by rich folks just like you. That ain't my idea of freedom, folks.

My idea of happiness isn't "more." It's deciding what circus you truly want to be at, and parking your one and only fanny there.

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