The “Consumer” Insult & Its Costs

The word “consumer” is a rank capitalist bias. First used in the realm of early bourgeois economics, it debuted as a proffered substitute for the neutral term “product user” in a telling place — the 1898 Sears & Roebuck catalog (see Oxford English Dictionary).

Since 1898, “consumer” has spread like wildfire through our mental world. The effects have been insidiously devastating to rationality.

A typical illustration appears today on the independent socialist website MR Zine, in the form of a poem:

The New Monastics
by Dennis Brutus

Tall black-shadowed cypresses
slender beside arcaded cloisters:
thus were monastic enterprises:
now with our new doctrines
secular-consumerist we bend
with similar devoutness in service
to our modern pantheon —
Bretton Woods, its cohort deities
— World Bank, IMF, WTO —
diligently we recite
We have loved, o lord, the beauty of your house
and the place where your glory dwells”
“Amen” we chorus in unison
as ordered by our Heads of State
obediently we traipse to our slaughterhouse
directed by our Judas-goats
Mbeki’s herds tricked out in shabby rags
discarded by imperialist gauleiters
who devised our Neepad subjugation

ActionAid Economic Justice course,
Kenyan School of Monetary Studies
Nairobi, November 26, 2007


This poem by Dennis Brutus was posted to Debate, a discussion list of the independent left in Southern Africa, today.

I replied at MR Zine as follows:

Here you see the logical effect of the word “consumer.” It turns the problem into “we,” to the complete delight of the overclass, who disappear in its generalizing, mis-directing wake. Every time somebody chalks corporate capitalism up to “consumerism” or “consumer culture” or “consumer society,” a Robber Baron laughs his/her ass off… “Consumer” is an insult, a capitalist bias run rampant and roughshod over our discourses. It blinds us. The correct term, if and when you need to denote the targets of corporate marketing as such, is “product user.”

If humanity survives the twenty-first century, the triumph of the word “consumer” in the twentieth century will be seen for what it was and is — a consequence and key indicator of market totalitarianism.

The Last Black Friday?

retail run

People camping out to save $100 on made-in-China plasma TVs, the better to watch “Survivor XVII: Mesopotamia.” In one of the finer unwittingly double-edged metaphors established by our corporate capitalist press, this “traditional” display of loss-leader marketing from above and petty neurosis below has come to be called “Black Friday.”

One wonders though: Will such provoked insanity still be possible by The Holidays® 2008? Considering the state of the nation, with its winners-took-all pseudo-economy, its howlingly venal “bi-partisan” “leadership” stratum, and its subsequent denial of the whole damned Peak Oil world, Black Friday 2007 makes me wonder how 1929 must have looked from the vistas of Xmas© 1928.

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans may want to save their sleeping bags for some rather different, if somehow familiar, reasons to hit the pavement. The times, they are a-changing…

bank runfood run

fuel run

Pierre Tristam on the Economics of U.S. Survival

Pierre Tristam is my favorite newspaper journalist. He has a great piece on his blog. It explains how expensive life has become in our ultra-commodified, automobiles-ueber-alles, corporate capitalist society. [Note: Tristam’s numbers do not include the costs of paying credit card bills and other modes of servicing past cost-of-living deficits.]

Big Business Marketing’s Simple Methods

Big business marketing was a trillion-dollar-a-year juggernaut by the early 1990s. It is almost certainly now a TWO-trillion-dollar-a-year juggernaut.

Big business marketing provides almost all the money for commercial television, which remains far and away the #1 shaper of people’s “free time,” mental databanks, and worldviews in the United States.

Contrary to academic jibber-jab about the complexity of “reading” advertisements, ,as a communications-maker, big business marketing operates almost exclusively via these 4 classic coercive behavior alteration tactics:

1. Lies (of both commission and omission)

2. Flattery

3. Threats

4. Brain-Conditioning (think Pavlov and his use of repetition and titillation to reform mental agendas)

Marketing is now so dominant, these tactics have come to govern not just the ads and promotions, but the actual TV shows, as well. These days, very few prime-time TV shows are NOT 100% intentional button-pushers, with underlying dramatic designs taken wholly from corporate marketers’ radically shriveled and demeaning approach to audiences.

Marketing and the Thoughtless Society

If I were asked to choose the word that best describes the quality of daily life in corporate capitalist America, that word would be “thoughtless.” Ordinary people here aren’t often really consciously hostile to one another — just as they aren’t often conscious of real political and historical facts. Instead, they are simply heedless of anybody and anything that doesn’t reside or resonate within their bubbleworlds of home, car, workplace, and cell phone PIM.

The lion’s share of the blame for this rests not with ordinary people, but with corporate capitalism. This socio-economic order performs its function of further enriching the already rich by the constant growth of marketing and commodification. As this process unfolds, corporate media and messages, all of which are anchored in profit-making, increasingly crowd out non-commercial activities. As a result, the stuff of salesmanship — flattery, encouragement of navel-gazing and the acquisitive attitude, fear of a “mean world” beyond the supposed safety of packaged entertainments — increasingly erodes the social-psychological basis for thoughtfulness.

Sometimes, this crowding out is literally physical. Take the ongoing decline of automotive turn-signaling. This safety device (within our insanely unsafe corporate capitalist/autos-first transportation regime) is losing ground not just to continuing marketing-induced cognitive and ethical impairment, but to the cellular telephone itself, which, despite its peddlers’ denials, is now part and parcel of driving for growing numbers of ordinary Americans. The task of holding a steering wheel and a cellular phone simply leaves no hand free to flick the turn blinker.

Raymond Williams called this whole crucial process of decline “mobile privatization,” and knew it stemmed from the normal operation of modern capitalism. Alas, thoughtlessness is not just a core symptom of mobile privatization, but it serves as a very effective vaccine against criticism of it and resistance to it. It takes thoughtfulness to care about thoughtlessness!

Funny, isn’t it? In this supposedly “religious” society, institutional normalcy is killing the very basis of all but the pettiest, most selfish, least ethically relevant kinds of caring.

Hall of Shame: Axe Body Spray

Capitalism only invented modern marketing in the 1910s, and only began to make it king of the management arts after World War II. In earlier days, the products it sold were mostly common-sense responses to rather obvious natural needs. As corporate capitalism has marched forward from the “marketing revolution” of the 1950s, however, natural needs have receded and laboratory concoctions increasingly rooted in marketing psy-ops have become the new norm.

Exhibit A: “Axe Body Spray,” a perfume sold by the Unilever Corporation and targeted at teen and young adult males. This crap is a naked attempt to fund the bottom line by commodifying young-male insecurities and fantasies about sex. It is as pointless and pathetic a product as ever existed, and one look at the ridiculously large and ridiculously packaged “product line” says all you need to know about the wasted ecological and monetary resources involved:

The Axe Fell Here

For a first-rate commentary on how this appalling junk gets sold and affects youth culture, look at today’s post from The Hater.