The Collecting Dilemma: Consumerism vs. Collecting and the Experience of Collecting

When I was 14 I went to Disney World with my family and spent three hours with my mom in the Magic Kingdom. A typical Disney World experience except for the fact that the hours we were there were from 11pm to 2am, and only people staying at the Disney resorts could go. We rode Space Mountain five times in a row and rode a rotating teacup while shooting the enemies of the Toy Story characters with laser beams. I smile every time I think of that evening. It’s priceless. However, I smile every time I walk by my collection of antique books and 19th century fashion plates.

The argument against consumerism and the collection of stuff is that it’s bad for our environment and for our global neighbors. Good argument. Who wants to ruin our world and the people and animals we share it with? Yet, the answers to who we are and where we come from are found in the very preservation of the stuff of the past. So really, not throwing away stuff is also a good way to save the environment, ensure the safety of our history, satisfy a psychological need and create happiness in our everyday lives. Who knew being a collector could satiate so many variables in a single lifetime?

As Walter Benjamin was quoted in Leah Dilworth’s article “The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them.” At what point does the need to collect become like that of a serial killer? I hope I haven’t reached that point yet, but I do collect to fulfill a passion I have. Nicholas Cage sums it up quite perfectly in National Treasure when he tells his sidekick, Riley, that they were one step short of crazy. Riley responds that they were obsessive, while Nicholas Cage’s character calls it passionate. Is there a difference?

What about museums? Do museums fall into the realm of serial collectors? Are they obsessive in their endeavors to collect? Passionate? Wasteful? Where does the line fall between collecting for the public good and wasting? Is there a line when museums are concerned? Perhaps since the museum can provide that reminiscent smile that I have when I think of Disney World their collecting capabilities are more justified. Still, I’m not adding to landfills because of my collecting habits.


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