Thursday, November 15, 2007

Catalog Pollution

Text and photograph © 2007 by Julius Lester

Maybe I’m the only one, but I am starting to dread getting the mail every day. Not because of the bills but the catalogs! If the post office department ever started charging customers for how many pounds of mail they receive, I would be in debt within a week.

The first two catalogs I remember receiving were from Sharper Image and Victoria’s Secrets. This was back in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Both catalogs represented the beginning of consumer pornography. As a photographer I marvel at how the photographs in catalogs can make me want to buy things I really don’t want, not to mention, need. There is an entire field of photography devoted to photographing products, and there are an array of tricks product photographers, as they are known, use to make an object look not only desirable but irresistible. But capitalism as a system is built on persuading consumers to buy, and what we buy is almost secondary to the need of the system to keep us buying something. Remember how, after 9/11, President Bush exhorted us to go out and BUY!!

I am not opposed to catalogs, (though I do mourn the number of trees who give their lives for glossy photos). As someone who does not leave the house more than once or twice a week, catalogs are convenient, and I have purchased many things from them that I not only wanted but needed.

However, what makes me angry is the common practice of selling mailing lists. I bought my wife a present from the catalog of colonial reproductions sold at Monticello, the home of presidential slaveholder Thomas Jefferson. Lo and behold, now I am receiving catalogs from other places that sell colonial reproductions as well as catalogs from stores in the state of Virginia. My wife gave me a birthday present of fresh fruit from a company called Harry & David. Now I’m receiving catalogs from companies that are in any way food related.

Recently I reached a point of simply not wanting these unsolicited catalogs in my mailbox. If you are in a similar situation, I have a bit of information that may bring as much joy to your life as it is bringing to mine.

There is an organization called Catalog Choice. Click on the link and you’ll be taken to their website. Registration is free. Once registered you go to their very extensive database of catalogs, find the catalog you no longer wish to receive, click on it, type in the customer number from the catalog, if there is one, and that’s it. The organization takes care of the rest. They say it can take up to ten weeks to be removed from a catalog’s data base, and if you aren’t, you let Catalog Choice know.

Since Friday I have eliminated 30 catalogs from my life – Allergy Buyers Club,, Audio Editions, Betty’s Attic, Charles Tyrwhitt, Duluth Trading Co., First Street, Oriental Trading Company, Timepieces International, and What on Earth, among others. I’d never heard of any of these companies until their catalogs arrived in my mailbox.

Now I eagerly get the mail and rush to my computer, unwanted catalogs in hand. As odd as it may sound, I am looking forward to the day in the not too distant future when I go to the mailbox and there’re only bills awaiting me.


"Laissez-faire, noun, An economic doctrine which states that no act can be evil if it earns a profit."

Victor L. Cahn The Disrespectful Dictionary


Mailboxes, Alabama, 1966