by Steve Raymond
I suspect it's a proven fact that the average human brain rarely peeks above the functional waterline. During the majority of the time, the brain is simply Snacking or Burping, furtively scratching at the food dishes of basic need. Enter the perfectly defined metaphoric filler: the wallpaper of want & buy.
Our heads tend to group images in binary cartoon shorthand; in this case, the counterpart to "Outhouse" is the well-worn "Sears Catalog." The Sears Catalog ranks majestically in the gutters of disposable literature, looming above newspapers, coupons, pamphlets, flyers, and normal junk mail as a seductively indispensible reference work of radical consumer potential. Eyes gloss over the endless nuggets of product, lost in the simple mesh of demonstrative photos and terse but enthusiastic! sales copy. No great intellectual committment required; the reader is situated in a landscape of delightfully shallow introspection.
Catalogs inadvertently spawn great insight, elevating the mundane to the symbolic. One second you're thinking, "Those drapes are so ugly. Even if they're cheap, who would buy them?" and it somehow limns into "I would burn down my home and everyone inside it for the insurance money if I thought I could get away with it." Not that any of these speculations ever really set off the old alarm bell. Coast and scan babyyou're on automatic, not overdrive.
It's about faith. Catalogs make promises and offer solutions, underlining the inviolability of American Free Enterprise and its younger twin sibs, Yankee Spunk & Ingenuity. Intertwined is the perverse consumer masochism of delayed gratification, the discipline of enduring the stretch between Order & Delivery.
This column is a celebration of the catalog. In turn, I would encourage all reactions to the subject, be they suggestions of particular catalogs, links, profound reflections, or even personal "moments" and "feelings." I'll be sharing my particular catalog experiences here regularly, so spread the word to other fanciers and let them know they're not alone. Tell them they'll never have to feel alone again. Without further ado: