AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH
When I was a very small boy, I had my first experience of the consumer society
My mum brought home a roll of toilet paper.
We’d never seen one before.
No one on our council estate had.
Dad asked what it was.
Mum said you used it to wipe your bottom after you’d been to the toilet.
Dad said, what’s wrong with newspaper?
Mum said this was the new thing.
Dad said, so let’s see if I’ve got this right: we’re going to be throwing the newspaper away, and paying money for something else we’ll also be throwing away?
It didn’t make sense.
But Mum said this was much nicer and from now on we were having it.
And that was my first experience of the consumer society.
What you want rather than what you need.
To Dad it just seemed a waste of money.
What was the point?
Mum’s point, of course, was to make the house nicer.
Nicer was a concept Dad’s generation didn’t have.
Function was the concept Dad’s generation had.
What worked, what did the job.
In the world Dad grew up in, everyone spent their life just trying to get what they needed to survive.
Clothes, shelter, food.
Clothes, the function was to stay warm.
Shelter, the function was to stay safe.
Food, the function was to stave off hunger.
Dad’s world was about identifying the problem and fixing it.
But the world was changing.
The consumer society.
It started in America in the 1920s.
In those days everyone was just buying what they needed.
But America was making many more goods than people were buying.
More than people actually needed.
So they had to make people start buying more than they needed.
They had to turn occasional purchasers into constant consumers.
So they got The President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, to make a series of commercials aimed at women.
She said, women would look more attractive to their husbands if they surprised them by wearing different clothes.
Constantly changing their clothes would stop their husbands getting bored and looking at other women.
So the need for clothes to be hard-wearing and long-lasting was replaced by the need for change.
Change for the sake of change.
And the fashion industry was born.
Fashion and novelty are pretty much where we are today.
The pendulum has swung completely the other way.
In fact, functional is now almost a dirty word.
We no longer value ‘better’.
We only value ‘newer’.
Function follows form.
George Orwell was born in the same year as my dad.
Being the same generation, he had the same views.
There is an excerpt from the book ‘Amusing Ourselves To Death’ on George Tannenbaum’s blog.
It illustrates the diametric difference between the views of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.
Like my dad, Orwell didn’t see the consumer society coming.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban books, for no one would want to read one.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.
Huxley feared those who would give us so much information we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.
Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.
Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture
In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.
Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”