When Walter Benjamin wrote in 1938 that one may understand the problems associated with a society through a reading of its consumer goods, even his best friend and fellow Frankfurt School thinker, Teddy Adorno, thought that he was taking the whole Marxism thing a little too far.
When Herbert Marcuse wrote in 1964 that advanced industrial societies thrive by creating false needs within the public in order to keep the capitalist machine chugging along, he received death threats and had to go into hiding.
When CNN anchor, Don Lemon, suggested last week that Mike Huckabee’s plan to impose a 26% flat sales tax might help to slow “Americans’ rampant over-consumption,” and Ali Velshi, a business correspondent, responded, “‘Americans’ rampant over-consumption’ keeps people like us employed,” no one around me – all running on elliptical trainers – missed a step, though most of us were watching CNN on our personal TVs.
This is because even the most milquetoast of us have come to take some once-radical concepts for granted – what were borderline-fanatical understandings of things like why we go to war (to pursue or protect business interests), why certain people are necessarily oppressed (because we have become dependent on ludicrously inexpensive consumer goods), and the nature of our news organizations (they are business entities that have a responsibility to their bottom lines), have all become commonplace. Radical is the new banal.
The CNN exchange still surprised me (and not just because a business correspondent suggested that an irrational behavior, which is harming many Americans, is advantageous to his lifestyle, and should therefore be perpetuated by him and his colleague).
You see, I’ve been watching CNN and MSNBC really closely and have been planning for a few weeks to write a post on the subversive nature of communications between anchors and correspondents. Okay, I’ve become a little obsessive, and to this point, I hadn’t been privy to such an open exchange about the nature of the news industry, and I was taken aback.
Most of what I had noticed was banter between reporters about the best places to shop, what expensive pair of boots was more practical for what kind of weather, and how dumpster diving is so “totally gross.” The important point is that none of this information was a part of any of the stories that were reported; it was all just innocent repartee. I was noticing the kind of messages you pick up on when you read a lot of crap for political theory graduate seminars – authors that make you worry about becoming the next Ted Kaczynski.
I acknowledge that most of this sounds like crazy-man-ranting, but I was recently exposed to one of the latest children’s fads, which sent me into an uber-anti-consumerist tizzy. I’m sure that those of you with kids have heard of the toy/game thing I’m talking about: Webkinz.
For those not in the know, Webkinz are sweet little stuffed animals that come with a password, which works in conjunction with a website-based virtual world. The long and short is that children’s play is rewarded with virtual currency, KinzCash, with which the little tyke supports his or her Webkin by buying it food, workout equipment, and furniture, among other things. I recommend taking the brief site tour.
Okay, I understand that in the real world people work to support themselves and their families, but isn’t it a little weird to so overtly train our children to become consumerist sheep? And the thing that really killz me is that parentz consider these thingz educational.
It’z me right? I’ve gone totally effing craZy…
I mean, people do seem to love their Webkinz.
Given my recent exposure to this evil-toy-ploy and my witnessing of the CNN admission, nothing seems too radical in predicting the future of our culture’s unflinching adherence to consumerist ideals. So here’s my nut-job prediction:
The American economy and political system will completely meld. Residents will have no federal income tax, but will be forced to spend a percentage of their incomes on goods and services. In exchange for the government’s support, corporations will directly fund the military. Other services will mostly be provided through private firms or local taxes.
Sound crazy? Paranoid? Radical?
With a completely consumerist economy, it makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes almost too much sense. How would people complain about taxes when they’ll actually get trinkets for their hard-earned money instead of stupid things like healthcare, education, or welfare for the poor? Just think of all the Webkinz they’ll be able to buy their kidz for Chriztmaz.
Yes sir, the future is looking more awesome than ever!