I don’t mean to complain. I mean, you are much nicer than Feudalism. But seriously, Capitalism, we do not need this many kinds of toothpaste.
Last night, I emptied out a tube of toothpaste. I went to get another tube, and when I opened that one, the contents had separated into a gritty paste and a viscous blue liquid that smelled and tasted funny. I understand that toothpaste expires eventually, and this mishap was probably due to this tube being the last one in a Costco 144-pack of Colgate that I’d been working my way through since I was eleven years old. So, I went to Target this morning to get a single new tube of toothpaste, to discover with great awe that there was an entire aisle devoted completely to different kinds of toothpaste. I thought: verily, this is a great country.
The aisle was half Crest, half Colgate. I entirely bypassed the Crest half, since I’ve been brushing with Colgate as long as I can remember. (I’m sure lots of marketers would like to figure out where that brand loyalty gland lies in my consumer brain, and how to access it. It appears that only Colgate has found its way to it, for I do not have particular allegiances to any other kind of hygiene product. I am, for example, a total shampoo slut, switching brands with every new bottle.) I was confronted with a stunning panoply of Colgate products, all in graphically similar but subtly variegated packages. Clearly, toothpaste technology had evolved since I last picked a tube (it’s been a long time; I usually just get whatever kind of Colgate Costco has, and it is always the same). There was Colgate Whitening, and there was Colgate Clinical Whitening. There was also Colgate Sparkling White. Then there was Colgate with Baking Soda Whitening Bubbles. Then there was Colgate Tartar Protection with Whitening. Colgate with tiny strips of breath freshener leavened right into the paste. Colgate with little globules of mouthwash hovering in gel. Colgate Max Clean with Smart Foam (look the fuck out for that shit, it threatens “an intense sensation,” the package copy guaranteeing that the paste will absolutely explode in your mouth into rabid quantities of froth sure to clean the fuck out of your teeth so thoroughly that your teeth will be too scared to ever be dirty again–won’t you, punks?! The experience of this product must indeed be X-treme.) and even Colgate Luminous, if you’re more into getting ineffable religious ecstasies out of your toothpaste. Also, Colgate that comes in a little bottle instead of a tube. Every single choice iterated in both paste and gel forms.
Capitalism, I appreciate the effort, I really do. I really try to believe in what our patriarchs call the wisdom of the free market. I looked at numerous Colgates, trying to gauge which one would be the best for me, since you were considerate enough to provide me with so many choices. After a while, this started to hurt. After a while, I considered the idea that maybe one kind of Socialist Standard Issue Government Toothpaste in a blank gray box would not be oppressive but rather restful. After a while, I flipped the boxes over to look at the “active ingredient” in each. Strap in, Capitalism: the “active ingredient” was the same in all the tubes. It was also present in the same dosage in all the tubes. All that patter and flash and all those copywriters coming up with slightly differently-worded promises of gleaming whiteness and cleanliness–indeed I could choose to have my toothpaste talk to me in the reassuring tones of a clinician or with the effervescent pep of a caffeinated cheerleader–all that choice to discover that the actual products contained in all those seductively colorful tubes at all those slightly different price points were all one and the same.
I grabbed a tube of exactly the same stuff Costco carries, the same stuff I’ve been using for years, and made a quick exit because I was thisclose to having a full-blown existential meltdown right there in the aisle. Capitalism, I suspect that maybe you have something to do with why our nation suffers from the most mental illnesses despite the fact that it is possibly the most comfortable place to live in the world. Capitalism, I suspect that maybe you have something to do with our fragmentation, with the slow erosion of collective experience, with our chronic loneliness, with our nameless fears, with our emptiness. You are giving us too much; instead of making us expand in welcoming openness you are making us contract in overwhelmed terror. Our hearts and minds may be shrinking in the face of that much choice, tightening ourselves around a few familiar things that are disappearing in our death grip because they are being translated into ever new and improved and varied versions by the wisdom, by the infinitely outward spiraling wisdom of our beloved free market.
Capitalism, please, we do not need this many kinds of toothpaste.