Thank Mr. Bean Before Consumer Culture Eats You
When you move as many times as I have (more than 30 to 8 different states), you collect and dispose of arguably tons of stuff. The reasons I hold on to some things are more perplexing than why and how I originally got them. One such curio is a plastic mask of Mr. Bean I got for Christmas when I lived in Detroit in 1994 (pic).
I loved Mr. Bean (played by British actor Rowan Atkinson) when he debuted on US TV in the 1990s. I worked in television at the time so I figured a mask of him would be splendid fun for Halloween. Tragically, at the only costume party I wore it to, I was mistaken for Richard Nixon. While the prospect of being known as “Tricky-Dick-or-Treat” was personally entertaining, I imagined any Republicans at such a party I attended, consequently the host, would not be similarly amused. I never wore Mr. Bean publicly again. Until the other day. Then the rest hit me like Jim Carrey in “The Mask”.
I’ve inexplicably kept Mr. Bean with me over 25 years of moves to Michigan, Vermont, Illinois, Massachusetts, and finally Utah. Sometimes I’d hang him on the wall of my home video studio like a trophy head. But he usually remained carefully packed in an unmarked box crammed into whatever space I could fashion and so as not to look like I was concealing a severed head. That’s why after all these years, Mr. Bean looks as flawless and clueless as he did when I first put him on.
There were times when I considered trashing him, usually coinciding with new women friends. But I always came up with an excuse to keep him. First, I’ve always thought of him as “him”. Second, I can’t look at him without thinking of the classic “The Trouble with Mr. Bean” episode. I could be having the worst day of my life and simply thinking about this show makes me laugh.
I’ve never considered myself a zombie consumer as reliant on capitalism-driven culture for happiness as much as it’s dependent on my money. But I’m probably as glad I’ve kept Mr. Bean as America is. Not only is he the quintessential zombie consumer. But my ability to keep him after abandoning countless appliances, clothes, cars, homes, jobs, and relationships says much about what “value” really means, and not in the consumer sense.
What I realized, like Linus’ blanket and Mr. Bean’s own teddy bear, is I don’t know what value is, or maybe more accurately, know what or whom is valuable, until I build a relationship with them. Whether the relationships are close or distant, new or old, mutual or one-sided, we’ve all had them and been in positions where we needed help or support from them. This is one of those times for me and maybe for you too.
As hard times and growing societal inequality render fewer of us able to endlessly purchase new things to fill our emotional vacancies, the absence of real value in our unsustainable consumer culture is revealed — like a money-filled lake receding to reveal nothing but the wreckage of its unwitting victims. At the same time, the ravages and isolation of COVID-19 strain our interpersonal relationships down to the threads.
Mr. Bean has taught me that it’s the relationship I have with anyone or anything that has real value. Our current, fraudulent, ironically incomprehensible age makes me want to embrace all the wonderful relationships I’ve carried with me all this time, remember why I held onto them, and once again allow them to make me inexplicably happy.