“Consumer” History

Google has been digitizing books by the million.

One result is a new tool allowing us to see how often words or phrases have appeared in books across the decades.

Naturally, your humble TCT editor ran the corporate capitalist slave-word “consumer” through the machine.

The results (click the image for a large, readable view):

consumer ngram small

Observations?  A few that strike my eye:

1. Not surprisingly, the high water mark for use of “consumer” rather precisely overlapped the self-confident, more functional-looking phase of post-democratic market totalitarianism in the USA, i.e. the years from 1980 through 2000.

2. “Consumer” is now used roughly 3 times more often than it was in the 1920s.

3. “Consumer” made major upward leaps in both the 1930s and the late 1960s.  This speaks volumes about the confusion and failure of the American left, which contributed to the tragedy via Pyrrhic gestures like Consumers Union and dead-ends like Herbert Marcuse and his progeny of tail-chasing “consumer culture” and “consumer society” theorists.

4. Most recently, “consumer” has experienced its first drop since it entered the public lexicon.  A hopeful sign?  Are some people starting to sense the slander and smell the rat?

5. Note the spike that happened shortly after “consumer” received its first use outside capitalism’s doctrinal priesthood, a.k.a. professional economics.  This happened, as I’ve said before, in 1898, in none other than that year’s Sears and  Roebuck Catalog.  Is this more evidence for the TCT claim that “consumer” is nothing more than a biased capitalist neologism for people using products, an unrecognized (until now?) linguistic symptom of the greedy, heedless, wildly unrealistic delusions of our overclass and its market totalitarian epoch?

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