Consumed offers a disturbing and thought-provoking look into the consumer capitalist system that dominates American society. In bold brush strokes, Barber paints a global economy that is oversaturated with goods and must, therefore, have as its primary goal the manufacturing of needs as opposed to goods. After all, there have to be enough shoppers to consume these products. In this new form of manufacture and market—as we’ve seen already in Susan Linn’s Consuming Kids and Juliet Schor’s Born to Buy—children become targets while adults are infantilized and then seduced into buying what they now believe they “need.”
Drawing on current box office numbers, pop trends, Google search statistics, new social values, economic trends, and much more, Barber reveals a world of consumerism that encourages grown-ups to be “kidults,” to remain as infantile and self-centered as possible, while at the same time priming children to consume at ever younger and younger ages.
Exposing the dark side of these market trends, Barber illustrates how the freedoms of the free market economy have undermined the freedoms of the thoughtful adult citizen. In place of the Protestant ethic, which encouraged restraint, preparation, protection, service, and self-sacrifice for children and community, we’re continually seduced into an “infantilist” ethic of consumption: we’re programmed to prefer what’s easy over hard, simple over complex, and fast over slow. While Consumed is not addressed to overshoppers directly, it raises such relevant questions about problem shopping as these: In a society already plagued by the impulse to overshop, are we raising a generation of shopping addicts? If so, where can we begin to make changes? How can we bring our impulses as consumers into line with our convictions and values as citizens? And how can we safeguard our diversity when every sphere of life seems to be taken over by the marketplace?
Carrie Rattle is a Principal at BehavioralCents.com, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence.