Paul Andersen: Will there be furs under your tree?
When the economy takes a hit in Aspen, it is not felt equally. Some businesses seem immune to the downward trend that has rippled through this resort like a tsunami. It is an embarrassment that the fur trade is among them.
Last week, the city of Aspen released sales tax figures that described a decline in spending in Aspen in 2002 compared to 2001. Generally, Aspen is off about 3.7 percent, with the biggest drops felt by tourist accommodations (off 4.5 percent) and clothing stores (down 11.5 percent).
Looking across the board at Aspen’s financial picture, the losers include restaurants/bars (-2 percent), sports equipment (-4.4 percent), liquor stores (-2.8 percent) and general retail (-6.2 percent).
The big winners were art galleries and fur stores. Belying the recessional fallout from 9/11, galleries in Aspen were up 56.6 percent and fur stores were up 36.1 percent.
Art money was spent as investment and to decorate the homes of those unscathed by the downturn in the national economy. Fur money provided image and status for those unscathed by the taint of blood.
While art may be considered a good investment for some, furs are purely a luxury fashion statement. The naive fur wearer still pretends that furs provide an image of wealth, comfort, refinement and urbane sophistication. For any sensate being, furs are a symbol of savagery.
The rise in fur sales in Aspen’s stores is in keeping with an international trend. “Boom in fur sales boosts pelt prices,” stated a recent headline from the Anchorage Daily News. Because of demand, Alaskan fur trappers are eager to harvest their blood crop.
“We’re having a banner year,” cheered one Alaskan furrier. “People are bringing me in pictures from Vogue and asking can I make it. We’re getting tremendous calls from all over the US saying, ‘Whattaya got?'”
The article states that fur sales in Russia, Korea and China are stronger even than in the U.S. Otter pelts, red fox pelts and Arctic wolf pelts are bringing premium prices. Today, demand for killing animals for the sake of fashion has exceeded even the profligate 1990s.
The rising tide of fur has brought prices back from lows in the 1970s when animal rights activists launched an effective campaign calling attention to the inhumane fur trade.
As a result, wearing fur became a mark of callused brutality, a stigma that bore directly upon the unenlightened wearer.
Apparently, the message didn’t sink in. We have plunged recklessly back into the dark ages of cruelty, where furriers and their feckless customers sacrifice compassion to the false god of status.
In Aspen, the fur issue has been a recurring theme for decades. Ever since Albert Schweitzer graced this town with his saintly presence in 1949, Aspen has been challenged to live up to great ideals.
Schweitzer, the ultimate humanist of his age, spoke to the sanctity of all life. For Schweitzer, wearing furs would be like hanging Christ from the cross.
That is why former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling did in the late 1980s what few elected officials dare: he put his beliefs above political expediency and waged a campaign to ban the sale of furs in Aspen. Judging from the reactionary uproar, one might have thought Stirling was advocating for legal prostitution or cock fighting.
The fur industry backed a powerful lobby that challenged the Aspen fur ban on the pretext of freedom, as if the slaughter of animals for fashion is a fundamental right. Furriers feared that if Aspen adopted a fur ban, it could spread and become an international cause. It should have.
Just as the current city council balked last week at supporting a declaration of peace with Iraq, the Aspen community failed under Stirling’s leadership to acknowledge Aspen’s humanistic ideology with a ban on the sale of furs. When the votes were tallied, fashion and economics prevailed over ethics.
Wearing furs and patronizing the fur industry is a matter of choice based on consumer discretion. That choice reflects the morality of consumers who hold a life and death judgment in their hands. Will there be furs under your tree this year?
[Paul Andersen believes there is no choice, only indifference. His column appears on Mondays.]
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