Lessons from a Shopaholic—The Power of Symbol
Yesterday, in order to “relax” I decided to watch a movie. I had the house pretty much to myself, so I decided to watch something I normally wouldn’t choose….a chick flick. I watch crime shows and military documentaries and most of the movies I like involve some kind of autopsy or explosion. But, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and channel that inner Girlie Side.
Okay, those of you who know me and are gigging, stop it.
I decided to watch “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” I think that it is good for writers to stretch, to read books and watch movies we normally wouldn’t choose. I believe we see with new eyes. This movie actually had a tremendous lesson about the power of symbols that I get to share with you guys today.
Rebecca Bloomwood (protag) is a shopaholic who has been funding her addiction with plastic. She has managed to keep afloat by juggling cards and paying the minimums giving just enough wiggle room to keep shopping. Her phone rings off the hook; dozens of collection agencies all trying to nail down Rebecca to settle her debt. She manages okay, until the inciting incident. She loses her job and must find a new one so she can still scrape by enough to fund her obsession…shopping.
On her way to interview for her dream job, Rebecca is distracted by a sale. She finds a beautiful designer green scarf. Various debacles ensue and Rebecca does find a job, but instead of landing the job writing for the fashion magazine as she’d intended, irony steps in and this young woman who is running from debt collectors lands a job as a columnist giving financial advice. She knows she shouldn’t have this job (that she is a fraud), but she needs it to pay her credit cards and finance her shopping (more irony). Out of guilt, she asks that she be able to have a mystery identity and her by-line be The Girl in the Green Scarf. The movie is really cute and fun mind candy with an adorable and likable flawed protagonist.
But, what caught my attention was the green scarf. To me, it was a fantastic representation of Rebecca’s journey…her connection with money. In the beginning the green scarf was a symbol of her problem–MONEY, or rather her mishandling of money. She is obsessed with shopping and buying more stuff and is in a very dysfunctional relationship with money. When she buys the scarf she has to use nine different credit cards, putting $20 on one $10 on another $5 on another. The scene where she purchases the scarf is hysterical.
Yet, when she lands the job at Successful Saving Magazine she has to hide behind her green scarf. Ahhhhh. Another use of symbol. She was bankrupting herself trying to look rich instead of facing her fears. By living in her fear, she looked rich, but was desperately poor. When hired to work at a financial magazine, Rebecca is forced into a position to have to understand and face her fears…her relationship with money. Why was shopping such an emotional experience? To her, expensive things held an almost magical power. This “power” was an artificial feeling she was seeking at the expense of what was real—love, family, friends. There was an artificial attachment to “things,” and thus it never lasted and therefore had to be fed and fed and fed. Rebecca owned stuff she didn’t even remember buying. Why? Because her relationship with money was a superficial fix trying to patch a much deeper problem that needed to be resolved.
By the end of her journey, Rebecca now has healed. She is no longer afraid and hiding in stores when she should be living life. She is no longer using shopping and using “things” as paltry substitutions for the deeper relationships in life—with her parents, her friends, and the love interest. She now has perspective and the attachment to the green scarf has changed. It is a symbol of love and good fortune and holds genuine sentimental attachment.
I thought the scarf was a brilliant use of symbol. Scarves are beautiful, wonderful, stylish. They can make us look fabulous. So can money. Scarves also are functional. They can keep us warm. Money is practical as well.
But, if we aren’t careful, a scarf can strangle us and be our undoing. So can money.
What are some great symbols in books or movies that you can think of? Maybe we will get to see an old movie with new eyes.
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Until next time…