Whatever happened to 'small is beautiful'?

When Goldilocks wandered through the three bears' house long ago, she found three sizes of everything. From porridge bowls to chairs to beds, there was a Papa Bear size, a Mama Bear size, and a Baby Bear size, which for her was "just right."

Today, if Goldilocks were to visit 21st-century America, she might well be amazed at the predominance of Papa Bear sizes. Riding through cities, she'd see mammoth sport-utility vehicles lumbering through narrow streets. With macho names like Expedition, Explorer, Yukon, Voyager, and Pathfinder, some seem more appropriate for wilderness settings than for lone commuters or shoppers heading to the mall.

Passing through suburban neighborhoods, Goldilocks would notice oversized new houses, many built on undersized lots despite their turrets and faux-chateau pretensions. Real-estate brokers politely call the trend "mansionization."

If Goldilocks ate at fast-food restaurants, she could watch customers wolf down "super-size" meals and chug-a-lug 32-ounce drinks. At Starbucks, she'd find that the smallest size is "tall." And if she headed to the mega-plex, she would discover that even movies have joined the bigger-is-better club. Emboldened by the success of the three-hour "Titanic," producers are turning out more films that stretch to 180 minutes.

Goliath lives, and maybe Paul Bunyan too. Call it the upsizing of America, a measure of king-size bank accounts and giant-size expectations to match. Alas, the only downsizing occurs in human capital, as some employers thin their ranks to fatten their bottom line. And the only miniaturization involves computer technology, feeding a hot market for tiny cell phones and Palm Pilots.

These he-man sizes may be perfect for Papa Bears everywhere. At the same time, they have the effect of subtly masculinizing the culture. Rightly is it called a bull market. If bigger is better, the prevailing attitude goes, biggest must be best of all.

This Goliath complex isn't likely to moderate anytime soon. Giant houses call for giant possessions to fill them. The tag on one couch reads "Jumbo sofa." Jumbo, indeed, with its 100-inch length and its cluster of oversized pillows masking its considerable depth. This is furniture on steroids. Even an average-size customer can feel like Lily Tomlin's little-girl character Edith Ann, who is dwarfed by the oversized chair she sits in. For those living in Mama Bear-size houses, Papa Bear objects just don't fit.

Similar size inflation prevails in bedding. Many mattresses have more than doubled in thickness. Some beds are now so high that owners must use step stools to climb in, as if conquering their own private Everest every night. One salesman predicts that in five years, sheets for regular mattresses will be hard to find. Mama Bear loses again.

As Detroit began unveiling new models at the North American International Auto Show this month, the message was clear: Stand back, folks, for an invasion of more SUVs and especially more trucks. Known as "concept vehicles," they bear he-man names like Avalanche and Equator. What a perfect way to carry groceries home from Stop & Shop.

But wait. A new study from the Transportation Research Board suggests that SUVs contribute to traffic jams. Because they take up more space and accelerate more slowly when a light turns green, fewer cars can get through on each light cycle.

As further evidence of mammoth expectations, consider the hugely popular quiz show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Fox TV is reportedly planning a spinoff program called "Do You Want to Marry a Multimillionaire?" Can the first billionaire show be far behind?

Mansionization vs. miniaturization. Papa Bear vs. Baby Bear. Big vs. small. Scale still matters, and "all things in moderation" remains good advice. The three bears had the right idea. Just ask Goldilocks, and anyone else yearning for balance and a return to a scale that seems "just right."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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