Rebel without a brand

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

Sandy Starr

Topics Politics

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

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Topics Politics


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