A local radio station is having a “rewind weekend” wherein they play songs from the 80s and 90s. So, as you can probably guess from the title, I heard “Material Girl” by Madonna. (Fittingly, I was on my way to buy a couple of Tim’s Christmas presents.)
Since I was in elementary school when the song came out, I never listened too carefully to the lyrics. Really, I only knew the refrain. I always assumed it was a catchy but crass tune about wanting sugar daddies and to have lots of baubles.
So one line really caught my attention when I heard it this time, “Only boys that save their pennies/Make my rainy day.”
Maybe I’m reading too far into it, but men who “save their pennies” really aren’t the type to spend tons of money to keep a shallow woman in their lives. The line really didn’t fit my idea of the song.
When I got home, I looked up the lyrics. First of all, there were more plays on words that I’d never noticed, like guys giving her “proper credit,” another said they have to “raise [her] interest.” Not exactly things that I’d think a kept woman would worry about.
Of course, maybe the songwriters were just enjoying wordplay. But I don’t think so. Especially since the last part of the song includes the lines “Experience has made me rich/And now they’re after me.” So now she’s the one potentially being used for her money.
Overall, I think this song is a lot more tongue-in-cheek than I ever gave it credit for. It seems more like commentary on societal values than a little peppy tune about going after rich men. More of a critique than an exaltation of materialism.
After all, the ’80s were supposedly all about conspicuous consumption. Plenty of people like my parents weren’t terribly worried about such things. But the overall sense I get is that it was a pretty shallow time period where everyone was worried about showing off their wealth.
Which got me thinking about just how far we have and haven’t come in our attitude toward buying, living extravagantly and overall materialism.
On the one hand, the nation spent the last few years cutting back and paring down. But only because of a severe financial crisis in most households. It took the threat (or reality) of losing the house and never getting out of credit card debt to get the average American to shape up, financially.
How different were the attitudes of the ’80s from all the flashy, overnight millionaires in the dot-com boom? Or the people who bought McMansions that stretched their budgets to the limit? Or the people who used their home equity to finance their spending?
Sure, plenty of Americans have been doing penance lately. But I also recently read an article that stores are predicting the best holiday sales in the three or so years since everything went to hell. Which is saying something, since plenty of $200-300 consoles got sold in the past few years — consoles that require $50-60 games.
So, really, I’m not sure our attitudes about money and spending have gotten much better in the 25 years since this song came out. In fact, I thought, Madonna had no idea just how crazy things could get.
Today, everyone has cell phones — $60-100 a month for the privilege — and $200 MP3 players. The cell phones even allow you to all-too-easily spend a couple of bucks on a song or some funny application you found that is utterly unnecessary. Or maybe it is necessary. Either way, we’re spending.
Let’s also not forget the cost of a plasma or LCD TV, home computers, monthly Internet fees, ever-evolving technology to watch movies at home, and $10-13 tickets to watch a movie on the big screen (and maybe in 3D).
And to play games? You have MMORPGs that have ongoing monthly fees. Or $50 video games that have no replay value. And plenty of households have more than one console. Then there are the trading card games that pop up everywhere.
I say all this knowing full well that Tim and I pay for a lot of these items. We both have cell phones, though no data plans, and we chose phones that were free with contract. But there’s also Tim’s iPod Touch. Plus, we have an Xbox 360 and a PSP. The PSP was free with GCs from rewards programs, just like the PS3 will be, but we still have to pay for games and any peripherals we want. Of course, we have a laptop and a DSL Internet connection. And I won’t even get into the expense of Magic the Gathering.
We spend for all those things, but we still spend less than the majority of the people we meet. Which says quite a bit about America’s attitude toward spending.
Despite a recession that included rampant unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies, Americans still buy millions of smart phones, computers and other pricey technology. But if you ask anyone, Americans have really pared down, cut back expenses on nonessential items and are being more careful with their money.
In terms of materialism, the 1980s had nuthin’ on this new millennium.