Rebel without a brand

I tried to become a political consumer - and found it took either too much money, or too little consumption.

Consumerism is the new politics, so we are told. But how do you go about being a political consumer?

I turned to two of America’s bestselling anti-consumerist books to find out.

The McDonaldization of Society (1), by George Ritzer, advised me:

  • Avoid living in apartments or tract houses. Try to live in an atypical environment, preferably one you have built yourself or have had built for you.
  • Never buy artificial products.
  • Seek out restaurants that use real china utensils; avoid those that use materials such as styrofoam that adversely affect the environment.
  • Go to no movies that have roman numerals after their names.

My bank didn’t take too kindly to this, especially when I asked for a loan to subsidise my new custom-built house and china diner regime. The ban on artificial products ruled out my favourite chocolate bars - along with deodorant, washing powder and soap (my friends weren’t too happy about this, either). And I was prevented from watching The Godfather Part II.

More frugal advice was given by Juliet B Schor, in her sternly titled The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need (2). She said:

  • Stay away from malls and upscale shops, knowing that such exposure inevitably creates desire.
  • Consciously do less socializing with… shopaholic friends.
  • At Christmas time, consider ‘limiting the number of gifts’, ‘making rather than buying tree ornaments’ and ‘devoting your annual Christmas letter to issues of “stabilizing” consumption.
  • Participate in Buy Nothing Day, the annual day-after-Thanksgiving ritual of zero shopping that is fast becoming an international movement.

My bank was far happier with these proposals, but I wasn’t. And my family were nonplussed by my homemade Christmas baubles and incoherent letters about stabilising consumption.

I’ve decided that I will never make a good consumer activist. I am too poor for the ethical products, and too fond of fun for the ethical abstention, to storm the barricades with a shopping trolley.

Read on:

Why consumer activists should pack their bags by Frank Furedi

spiked-issue: Anti-capitalism

(1) George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society, California: Pine Forge Press, 2000

(2) Juliet B Schor, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need, New York: HarperPerennial, 1999

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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