I updated this note and certainly invite you to read this brilliant essay! More bibliographical notes (click here)
Barber, B. (2007). Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole, W.W. Norton and Company.
5: On the potency of adolescent culture, liberals and conservatives agree. Writes Robert J. Samuelson, a moderate liberal:”We live in an age when people increasingly refuse to act their age. The young (or many of them) yearn to be older, while the older (or many of them) yearn to be younger.
7: infantilization -not second childhood but enduring childishness – is much more than just a mesmeric metaphor. A new cultural ethos is being forged that is intimately associated with global consumerism. Those responsible for manufacturing and merchandizing goods for the global marketplace, those who are actually researching, teaching and practicing marketing and advertising today are aiming both to sell to a younger demographic and to imbue older consumers with the tastes of the young.
8: Meanwhile the young are big spenders way before they are even modest earners.
10: “Corrupt” and “inefficent” Third World governments are punished; the kids starve, fall ill, and die. In war and poverty, in natural disaster and man-made genocide, they are most often the first victims and the last to benefit from capitalism’s otherwise voracious appetite for consumers.
33: The misuse of normative terms like autonomy and empowerment to rationalize selling to children far too young to possess either liberty or judgment (the two key components of real choice or self-determiing power) is typical of an infantilist ethos that reinforces consumer market ideology by providing corporate predators with an altruistic ethic to rationalize selfish and patently immoral ends.
38-39: At the beginning of the sixteen century (…) two great waves of change swept across Europe. The first was protestantism: (…)cleansing spirit of ascetiscism in the face of a corrupt and worldly Catholic Church. The second was capitalism, (…) a new gospel of entrepreneurship and prosperity in the face of a stagnating feudal economy and a rigid mercantile ideology (…).
When (…) the Puritans sailed for America, they took with them this powerful cultural ideology manifesting the new ethos -this fresh and vibrant ethic capable of assuaging the yearning soul even as it succored the striving body.
41: Much of the pop cultural literature apes Puriasnism’s mood even as it debases its currency. It preaches sobriety (twelve-step programs) while encouraging indulgence (advertising and marketing), calls for temperance of character (conservative cultural critics), even as it molds behavior into a consumerist mold (conservative support for market capitalism.
42: In the new gospel of consumption, spending is holy, as saving was holy in the traditional gospel of investment.
65-66: WEBER’S RATIONAL CAPITALISM.
CALCULATING INVESTOR AND PRUDENT BOOKKEEPERS
Jacob “The Rich” Fugger: At the very moment in 1517 when Martin Luther was pinning his ninety-five theses on the doors of Wittenberg Cathedral, Jacob Fugger (“Jakob der Reich” or Jacob the Rich) was deploying a family forture that came to rival and then surpass that of the Medicis (who controlled the Renaissance supercity Florence) on the way to domeinging Europe from Rome and Madrid to London and Vienna, casting its shadow across the widening world as far as Chile, Peru, and the Orient.(…) Jacob Fugger was using his fortune to help the Papacy sell pardons -the Fuggerei, and institution conceived by Jacob in 1505 that survives into the modern days as both the oldest continuing settlement house in the world, and a landmark in the development of the idea of charitable activity as a responsibility of great wealth. “Gain, save, and give”, which was to become John Wesley’s Methoist gospel, seemed already to be permeating Jacob Fugger’s Catholic soul.
77: We can be glad Carnegie built libraries, glad that the Gateses are battling AIDS, but inequality will not end because billionaires give back some of the spoils of monopoly.
116: As the Protestant ethos once shaped a culture conducive to work and investment, the infantilist ethos today shapes a culture conducinve to laxity, shopping, and spending.
210: Still more recently, English paywrite Tom Stoppard, reflecting on middle Europe under the communitsts, has observed that it was far easier to feel free in composing samzdat works of protest against a communist regime than in composing uncontested works of dissidence in a free brougeois society where anything goes, praise or protest, as long as it earns a profit. Vàclav Havel, the Czech Republic’s theater guru cum president, has drawn similar conculsions based on his experience as poet and politician.
Yet a historically appropriate theory of liberal rights useful in freeing men from Tyranny is not so easily converted into a theory of civic participation useful in justifying democracy and grounding justice in societies hat have long been free, at least in the formal legal sense.
But nowadays, the idea that only private persons are free, and that only personal choices fo the kind consumers make count as autonomous turns out to be an assault not on tyranny but on democracy.
125: Tocqueville was worried about tyranny of the majority that could be associated with democracy, but hte psychological reality he captured beings with the fact that constraint itself is aimed not a tthe free body but the liberated consciousness. The modern typrant hopes to impede our aims, divert our purposes, and refurmulate our goals. He is not the democratic majority or the public good, he is the enforcer of consumer capitalism’s need to sell. His instrument is not the sate but the very market about whose vaunted liberty he boasts.
132: In the arena of education (…), the defects of public schooling are thoughts to be remediated by the virtues of parental choice.(…)
What do we get? The incomplete satisfaction of those private wants through a fragmented system in which individuals secede from the public realm, undermining the public system to which we can subsribe in common. Of course no one really wants a country defined by deep educational injustice and the surrender of a public and civic pedagogy whose absence will ultimately impact even our own private choices. (…)Yet aggregating our private choices as educational consumers in fact yields an inegalitarian and highly segmented society in which the least advantaged are further disadvantaged as the wealthy retreat ever further from the public sector. As citizens, we would never consciously select such an outcome, but in practice what is good for “me”, the educational consumer, turns out to be a disaster for “us” as citzense and civic educators -and thus for me the denizen of an American commons (or what’s left of it).
135: We mutter our wan complaints about a violent and salacious pop culture, even as wecount its economic blessings and (with a wink) enjoy its enticing products.
145: Parks, schools, and other formerly public institutions find it difficult to withstand commercialization. (…) Park users may welcome the improvements, and write off the advertising as a necessary cost; but the cost is “necessary” only because private users refuse as citizens to pay and appropriate taxes (the way the French do, for example) to keep up the parks publicly.
166-167: Capitalism in its late consumer phase, preoccupied with selling goods to cusomers who may never need nor desire what is for sale, is well served neither by the forms of identity embodied in the Protestant ethos, nor by the cultural identity politics of the last forty years. Hence, consumerism has attached itself to a novel identity politics in which business itself plays a role in forging identities conducive to bying and selling. Identity here becomes a reflection of “lifestyles” that are closely associated with commercial brands and the products they label, as well as with attitutdes and behaviors linked to where we shop, how we buy, and what we eat, wear and consume.
167-168:the course of the 1970s and 1980s, these new commercial identities have been to some degree generationally defined by a succession of time periods with commercial signatures. The postwar baby-boomer generation was defined by the fecundity of its defining reproductivity, but in time it reappeared in a language that defined its critical relationship to culture and consumerism- the “spoiled” Sixties generation known variously as “hippies”, the “Woodstock generation”, and “flower children”. These earlier generational categories at least referred to cultural attitudes and behaviors or demographic facturs (the “counterculture”). The following generation went temporarily unnamed, but it was eventually dubbed Gen X, it found itself defined more by commerce than by culture. Pointing to those low-birthrate offspring of the 1960s who some called self-indulgent slackers, it actually defined a generation that in cultural historian Paul Fussell’s description wanted to “hop off the merry-go-round of status, money and social climbing” that had characterized the baby boomers of the previous generatin. Gen Y succeeded Gen X and was intended to portray a generation almost entirely in terms of consumption. (…). In Japan, GenXers have been called the “thumb generation” -because those under twenty-five are defined not by the “content of their character” but by their affinity for mobile text-messaging by thumb (…). In India, young entrepreneurs identify themselves as “Zippies” (…)
168-169: These evolving demographic caategories quickly found their advertising counterparts in explicitly commercial slogans such as “the Pepsi generation” or “the Wired generation”, or by association with strong lifestyle brands(…). Branding also comes via surrogate identity television shows such as Cheers (…); Sex and the City (…), The Sopranos (…) and Desperate Housewives.
213: In the first decade of the new millenium, consumers find themselves trapped in a cage of infantilization, reinforced by privatization and an identity politics -call it an identity antipolitics- of branding.
214: Consumers are not citzens, and when a system pretends that they are, peculiar and even perverse things happen to decision making and to democracy, as well as democracy’s commitment to diversity.
The Enlightenment had created workds of liberty, privacy and tolerance unknown to earlier societies. The new liberal ideologies that helped emancipate eighteenth-century men and women were oppositional (their targets were absolute monarchy and an authoritarian church).
216: The new culture industry, purveying the myth of what I have called consumer empowerment, claimed
That standards were based in the first place on consumer’s needs…(a)circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger”(Adorno, T. W. and H. M. . (2002). Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford, Stanford UP. p. 121)
260-261: Changes will come from the inside out but also from the oustide in, much as a successful therapy does. It will require action by reengaged citizens as well as by resisting consumers. The restoration of a healthy pluralism in which human values are multiple and material consumption but one in a a cornucopia of human behaviors will in fact quite precisely require a social therapy that treats our defining civic schizophrenia -a civic therapy that restores the balance between private and public, giving our public civic selves renewed sovereignty over our private consumer selves and putting the fate of citizens ahead of the fate of market. This involves both a restoration of capitalism to its primary role as an efficient and productive way of meeting real economic needs, from supply (or push) back to demand (or pull), and a restoration of the democratic public as the sovereghn regulator of our plural life worlds -of which the marketplace is just one among equals.
261: (Forms of Resistance worth exploring) These dialectical reactions include three quite specifically cultural responses to consumerism that grow out of consumerism itself. I will discuss them under the rubrics cultural creolization, cultural carnivalization and cultural jamming. They include two market-side responses that pursue public goods in privatge market ways, namely the twin strategy of corporate citizenship and civic consumerism, discussed in the final chapter.
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