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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Cost and Effect

What’s so disturbing about a little piggy bank?

The high profile wave of bank collapses and housing foreclosures has recently bombarded the US with reality checks about the unsustainable nature of its credit-based economy. Our collective psyche is saturated with omens of fiscal dread and consequences deffered. In such a context, the void of an empty piggy bank is filled with obvious metaphoric meaning, but it absorbed an additional significance on our own campus this semester.

Last month, UMB’s Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement (OSLCE) hosted a fundraiser in the Campus Center that encouraged passers-by to decorate ceramic piggy banks. Part of “Free Fun for Everyone,”a monthly series run by the Student Arts and Events Council (SAEC), the intent was obviously to raise awareness and funds for a (still undecided) local children’s charity while promoting a campus atmosphere of creativity and, well, fun.

Sounds like a great formula, but there is in fact a hitch. Though OSLCE and SAEC’s hearts were undoubtedly in the right place, they overlooked a logical fallacy embedded in the very name of this event — what exactly is “free” and who exactly is “everyone”? — and that’s not all they overlooked: on each of the not-so-blank piggy banks, a sticker informed whomever was interested: “MADE IN CHINA.” Retailing for less than $4 each on CraftsEtc.com (where they were purchased in bulk with SAEC money), these props clearly came from a labor context that was, to say the least, not fun for everyone.

This isn’t to call out these organizations as flagrant hypocrites or willful opportunists. To the contrary, they are prime examples of how even pure intentions backfire in a global caste system so naturalized that we barely see its structure. But good intentions notwithstanding, we should beg to question how any good-sized, imported porcelain craft costs less than a round trip train to Salem. And the answer — that others are paying the difference from their quality of life — should inspire us to finally settle up.

As the holiday season of gift swapping approaches, all UMass Boston Beacons can reject the privilege of charging Bliss to a platinum card of Ignorance. We, as individual consumers and an intellectual community, can cut that card by asking ourselves: Where do these products come from? How and by whom were they made? What is their real monetary, moral, and environmental cost — from collection of raw materials to assembly, transportation, distribution and eventual decay?

The good news is OSLCE and SAEC’s call to fun, charity and inclusiveness still stands. They key is acknowledging that warm-fuzzy feelings will always be cheapened by ethical inflation unless and until we think beyond the price tags that appeal to our personal piggy banks.