"The Consumer Trap" by Michael Dawson is a brilliant analysis of big business marketing and society. Drawing on the pioneering work of Thorstein Veblen, Mr. Dawson breaks new ground by unmasking the class basis of consumer culture. Positing that marketing functions as a coercive force that is wielded by the wealthy for the purpose of exploiting the working class, the author helps us deconstruct the logic of capital and imagine how a truly healthy and democratic society might come to pass.
Mr. Dawson discusses how marketing has thrived as a result of class stratification, where the inequal distribution of profits forces capitalists into fierce competition for relatively scarce consumer dollars. Importantly, Mr. Dawson demonstrates how marketers utilize sophisticated techniques to manipulate the behaviors of target audiences in order to attain corporate profit objectives. This insight helps Mr. Dawson debunk the ideological notion that marketing functions merely to align the forces of supply and demand in a competitive, free market economy; rather, the author explains that products such as automobiles, cigarettes and junk foods demonstrate that the well-being of consumers and the environment are less important than the prerogative of producing predictable and reliable returns to shareholders.
Mr. Dawson further contends that marketing exerts a "Piranha effect" where thousands of subtle psychological commands combine to exert significant changes in human behavior; that these advertising messages convince humans to engage in self-destructive behaviors is but one manifestation of the phenomenon. Mr. Dawson vividly describes how corporate-controlled processes have succeeded in subsuming the masses to a highly commodified and consumerist lifestyle. As this culture spreads through globalization, the author contends that the working class experiences an increasingly dangerous, deskilled and degraded existence while a relatively small number of investors reap huge financial rewards on a consistent basis.
Interestingly, Mr. Dawson theorizes about how those wishing to develop a Democratic/Socialist alternative to today's market totalitarianism might do well to coopt the tools of the capitalist overclass. Imagining that a political movement might coalesce around the public's growing resentment of the social and financial costs imposed by the consumer trap, Mr. Dawson believes that it might be possible for the public to utilize market research techniques to more efficiently allocate resources towards the production of socially-beneficial products and services. While acknowledging that the realities of corporate power makes it very difficult to nurture such a movement, the author believes that a Democratic/Socialist society could help inaugurate an era of peace, egalitarianism and environmental sustainability for all.
I highly recommend this exceptionally well-researched, imaginative and original work to everyone.
This is a lost classic - a brilliantly formatted, tough-minded exploration of the corporate capitalist supersystem. Dawson illuminates its doings with style, commendable organization, and admirable clarity. His is not the end word on any of these momentous events of our time, and he may have left this kind of accessible acadamic scholarship behind, but you will be grateful for having found this gem. I continue to enjoy my CDs and not the wobbly LPs I gew up smashing, but I'll never look at our product usage society in the same way.
Though I am highly educated, I found the book's tone to be too formal and academic to make it an enjoyable read. It might be difficult to digest if you are not used to reading texts full of big words and complex sentences. I also did not like the author's point of view in that it seemed a little too one-sided in its anti-advertiser stance. I only made it through the first chapter because I found these aspects of the book to be a turnoff. Though the book does contain interesting information, I think that there are a lot of more enjoyable reads out there on the same or similar topics.