Thursday, November 03, 2005

Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic

By John De Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor


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Yes, our national politic is infected with the disease of Bushism, a cancerous tumor that eats away at democracy. But, politics aside, our economy and national character is ingrained with another pathology: "Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic."

This nifty book, in its second edition, goes to the heart of how we are driven by advertising and marketing to consume products and brand identities that we don't need -- but that we are "persuaded" we must have to feel fulfilled. If Madonna was the "material girl," she only represented a culture and economy that is fueled by the need to latch onto the next product that we think will make us feel better and more content.

But, in the end, this book will argue, it is an unsatisfying cycle of failed promises, like eating junk food and never feeling fully nourished.

Fortunately, this is an easy and even fun book to read. It is not weighed down with philosophical arguments. We'd even call it a bit campy, beginning with the book's cover: a pink television set from the 50's perched atop a pile of junkyard debris. Inside the TV screen is a pastel-tinted photo of an Ozzie and Harriet type couple raising their Martini glasses.

Treating Affluenza as a disease, the authors even propose a treatment regimen in Part Three of their book. The good news is that it's a disease that we can cure ourselves. We don't need Bill Frist to diagnose us via videotape. (Perish the thought!)

As for the inevitable question of whether or not our economy would collapse if we slowed down our voracious consumer appetite, the authors emphatically conclude "no." Just look at the Scandinavian countries as an example, they say. In the end, how do you put a dollar value on one's quality of life?

As one reviewer on another website noted, "Do we have a good thing going, or a good thing going bad? The fact is, beating affluenza is not about 'giving up' the good life, but getting it back. The strength of this book is that it successfully presents critical information on the anthropology and psychology of America without stripping the reader of hope. Yes, affluenza undermines our personal health, our family life, our communities, and our environment, but the authors offer us a way out. Affluenza has a three-step strategy: to present the symptoms of a disease that often feels deceptively pleasant, like an addiction; to trace the epidemic back to its historical sources; and then to offer dozens of concrete ways to Beat the Bug. The strategy works! The humor, the great satirical cartoons, and the well-researched presentation helped open my mind up and evaluate what's important for me individually, and also what needs to be done throughout our society."



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