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Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole Hardcover – March 19, 2007

3.2 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barber returns to the clashing models of civilization of his earlier Jihad vs. McWorld, focusing this time on the expanding global culture of market forces he claims will destory not only democracy but even capitalism, if left unchecked. He warns of a totalitarian "ethos of induced childishness" that not only seeks to turn the young into aggressive consumers but to arrest the psychological development of adults as well, "freeing" them to indulge in puerile and narcissistic purchases based on "stupid" brand loyalties. The increasing drive toward privatization compounds the problem, generating a "civic schizophrenia" where everybody wants service but nobody wants to serve. His complaint is so broad that it occasionally edges into crankiness, as he blames infantilization for ruining everything from Hollywood movies to NBA basketball; even other liberal cultural commentators, especially Steven Johnson (Everything Bad Is Good for You), come in for much criticism. Barber recognizes that the "Jihadist" rejection of consumer culture is equally undemocratic, but still believes the system can be changed from within, citing the corporate responsibility movement and activist boycotts. His dense analysis can be a tough slog in spots, but the provocative attacks on capitalism's excesses will resonate with many. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Barber, the Gershon and Carol Kekst Professor of Civil Society at the University of Maryland, has devoted much of his life to the study of the effects of the consumer market on individuals and society as a whole. His hypothesis that consumer culture has turned adult citizens into children by catering to the lowest common denominator rings only too true, even if the sheer density and obsequiousness of this examination are likely to turn off much of the popular readership. Therein lies the conundrum of reviewing this impressive piece of work, wherein Barber proves his theory that the market imperative has conditioned us to lap up the easy offerings and reject hard, complicated works. This lifelong study of the effects of capitalism and privatization reveals a pervasiveness of branding and homogenization from which there is seemingly no turning back. With the call to arms of grassroots resistance, he does offer a glimmer of hope; despite the heavy weight, Barber's work deserves and surely will find its audience. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; 1 edition (March 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393049612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393049619
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,068,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Youngdale on August 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I see a number of other reviewers belittling the book because of some trivial factual error regarding sports figures or celebrities, but in my eyes those points merely underscores the point that Barber is trying to make. In the end the constant media focus on these types of people is in my eyes a mass distraction. Does it change my life one iota when a drunken celebrity does something stupid? Not at all, but the media covers it for hour on end, and people lap it up.

People defend popular culture such as Harry Potter or Shrek, but these are all pure escapism and have very little relevance to our daily lives. Reviewers of those films make tortured comparisons to try and prove relevance to daily life, but the sad fact is that many people have become conditioned to not expect more, and perhaps not even have the patience to view a more substantive work.

Other reviewers insist that they aren't manipulated and that they have free choice. To an extent that is true, but one can easily argue that many people are making poor choices because they have been so deeply conditioned by advertisers. How can you justify spending 50K$ on a car, and replacing it when it is 3 years old when an inexpensive well-made car will fulfill the basic needs of transportation and may last 5-8 years instead? How can you justify spending money on bottled water when tap water in most areas is just fine? And how can you justify accumulating tens of thousands in consumer debt just to acquire all of this stuff? There are countless such examples all over the place.

And finally, there is the paradigm that runs deeply through our society that having more money and having more material goods will somehow make you happier.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "Jihad vs McWorld," an earlier work published in 1995, Benjamin Barber made some prescient observations about the threats that Islamic fundamentalism and consumer capitalism posed for liberal democracy. The warnings went largely unnoticed until 9/11. At which point the book was republished for its insightfulness as to why Islamic fundamentalists were bent on destroying the McWorld created by consumer capitalism. Now Barber has written a follow-up: Not only does Jihad pose a threat to McWorld, McWorld is actually in the process of undermining itself as well as liberal democracy.

There is nothing new about fulminating against the excesses of consumer capitalism. Critics from Thorstein Veblen, to John Kenneth Galbraith, to Daniel Bell have done as much. Barber extols the productivist capitalism of an earlier era, characterized by hard work, discipline, and deferred gratification. This type of capitalism met "the real needs of real people." Today in the era of consumer capitalism basic needs are met rather quickly, leaving the consumer with lots of disposable income and many options of spending it foolishly.

It has long been known by marketing executives that the purpose of advertising is to make people buy what they don't really need. One wonders about the long term consequences of a lifetime of this kind of brainwashing. Barber breaks the process down into two stages. The first is the "consumerization of the child." This is done by inculcating shopping-centered behavior in children, training them to become habitual shoppers and even developing brand consciousness. The second stage is not to have the child develop into an adult.
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Format: Paperback
Barber is adept at observing and brilliantly describing the symptoms that face our society. But unlike a gifted medical doctor, he is not so competent at finding the source of the symptoms, let alone providing an effective cure. Yes, our society is a runaway train headed for destruction, but what can we do about it?

Having worked for years in the advertising industry, I can tell you that the manufacturing of envy, desire and wantonness is in full swing. Our culture cannot withstand much more of it. But the answer that eludes Mr. Barber is not found in the writings of philosophers or economic engineers, but on the hearts of our citizens.

Why do the messages of the advertisers work so effectively? I can tell you as a former copywriter paid to write radio, print and tv, we were never thinking about the products alone, supply and demand, or economic theories when we designed ads. We were concentrating upon the human beings to whom we were speaking. What were their fears? What were their struggles? What makes them feel better? What do they think in their daily routine? We would often spend hours listening to them in focus groups. We would write stream of consciousness monologues trying to connect with them and their needs.

The truth is, Mr. Barver's measurement of our culture and its ills, is razor sharp and accurate to the micrometer. But as he begins to discuss solutions to the situation, the heart of "Andy Consumer" is lost and he begins to pontificate upon the ideas of society and particular reactions of larger movements. Like many intellectuals, he misses the point that change doesn't begin with philosophers or kings.
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