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Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole Hardcover – March 19, 2007
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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. The problem is that these desires can never be satisfied - there is always something more, and there is always someone else who has more. In the end all of this materialism leaves people feeling empty, and the only tonic that they know to try and fill the void is to go out and shop some more.
On the other hand, if you can reach a point where you are content with what you have, you may find that many of the things that you do have are completely superfluous and can be donated to Goodwill or sold. Get rid of enough stuff, and that McMansion will seem empty, and a more modest and affordable house may meet your needs quite nicely.
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. Marketing executives seek to infantilize adults, so that they have no deeper understanding of themselves than the brand names that define them. Even though this critique of consumer culture sounds harsh, there is some truth in it.
There is also some truth to the claim that it is undermining the public sphere. A society of adolescents or infantilized adults focusing primarily on their private needs has, according to Barber, led to a decline in public participation in democracy as well as a decline in public institutions. He fears that the increasing privatization of the the public sphere that has been going on for the past decades will be the undoing of democracy.
Although Barber proposes some "remedies" to "redirect capitalism," they're not even worth mentioning because they are futile. When the excesses of consumer capitalism reach a point where they are no longer sustainable, capitlaism will redirect itself. When infantilized adults find that their quality of life is not improving with the consumption of more useless goods they will then decide to grow up.