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Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole [Hardcover]

Benjamin R Barber
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 May 2007
"Consumed" offers a portrait of how adults are infantilised in a global economy that overproduces goods and targets children as consumers in a market where there are never enough shoppers. Driven by a frantic imperative to sell, consumer capitalism specialises today in the manufacture not of goods but of needs. This provocative culmination of Benjamin R. Barber's lifelong study of democracy and capitalism shows how the infantilist ethos deprives society of responsible citizens and displaces public goods with private commodities. Traditional liberal democratic society is colonised by an all-pervasive market imperative. Barber confronts the likely consequences for our children, our freedom and our citizenship, and shows how citizens can resist and transcend the civic schizophrenia with which consumerism has infected them.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.; 1 edition (4 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393049612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393049619
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 16.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 253,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Professor Barber is someone worth listening to." The Guardian"

About the Author

BENJAMIN R. BARBER is the Gershon and Carol Kekst Professor of Civil Society and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland. He is the author of a number of acclaimed books including Fear's Empire (ISBN 978 0 393 32578 2).

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Private Profit vs Public Good 25 Sep 2008
Most people - at least most people over 50 - know that there is something drastically wrong with the political, economic, and cultural environment of the developed world. In "Consumed" Barber offers an analysis of what has gone pear shaped. Former British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, may have spoken of the "unacceptable face of capitalism", but Barber goes further and argues that capitalism is now in its self-destruct phase which has severe negative impacts on civic and cultural life. The essence of Barber's argument is that the private sector no longer acts in the interests of the common good, and that the public or civic sector needs to be re-energised in order to act as a democratic brake on the excesses of privatisation. Indeed, Barber's devastating hatchet job on privatisation is remarkable considering that he is broadly sympathetic to capitalism per se. This latter fact may not endear him to those of a more leftist persuasion,and, although he is critical of present day consumer capitalism, he is,perhaps, too kind to the exploitation and inequality that capitalism has always generated.
The book is readable, with extensive documentation, and essential reading for cultural studies students, and, indeed, for anyone trying to obtain a better understanding of where we are and how we got there. Recommended.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
`Consumed: how markets corrupt children, infantilize adults, and swallow citizens whole' is one of those portentous works of modern American sociology, sitting alongside Bloom's `The Closing of the American Mind' or Ritzer's `McDonaldization of Society'. It shares the broad, sometimes grumpy critique of the former, and coins new terms and overstates its case like the latter.

In brief, Barber is searching for an account of consumerism to replace Max Weber's `protestant work ethic', which described a capitalism that was restrained, dependable, forward-thinking, responsible and hard working. In capitalism's later days, all the needs have been met and yet it is still growing, and to account for its new phase Barber proposes an ethic of 'infantilization'.

By this, he means that children must be indoctrinated to consume, and adults must be prevented from growing up, by a pervasive `infantilization' of culture.

It is a thought-provoking idea, and helpfully expanded in chapters on branding, citizenship, creative protest and so on. It is insightful, but isn't as compelling as Barber thinks - he seems intent on both coining a phrase as lasting as his 'Jihad vs McWorld' construction, and on being seen as a sociologist on a par with Weber.

Those are both for history to judge. In the meantime this is a constructive, imaginative, and useful attempt to explain the state of our consumer culture.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good in Parts 16 May 2009
Subtitled "How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole", this is not intended for the dumbed-down consumer Barber holds to be victim of an overproducing capitalist system. The main argument - that through the use of infantilization, clever marketing folk have taken the concept of brand loyalty to a new level such that they don't simply capture their target and retain consumers from an early age, but that consumers are no longer expected or able to grow up to think for themselves - could have been confined to a shorter book but Barber has included a rich range of reference material to expand "Consumed" to address other issues besides. This pleases as much as it annoys.
Take privatization - yes, offering naming rights to academic buildings and over fellowships and chairs (as well as erecting giant ketchup bottles atop football stadia) to the highest bidder instead of accepting donations from grateful alumni is distasteful but this doesn't of itself impugn the purpose or integrity of what is being funded - Barber is himself Kekst Professor of Civil Society. And the devil's bargain made by some schools to force corporate donors' advertising on their students in return for financial support is at bottom a matter of choice and not forced upon them. His point is better made in describing examples of wholesale contracting out of public sector functions such as military security and interrogation.
Barber's observation that consumers are today persuaded to buy into an experience or lifestyle and that the product is incidental isn't new: barmen and hairdressers have known for many years how few customers visit for the drink or haircut.
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A defiant view on the modern culture of mass consumption that I would argue is critical reading for the modern, responsible marketer. Packed with stats, it can make for dense reading at times but stick with it because the learnings are clear and important.

While Barber's meticulous research may make uncomfortable reading for those who make their living out of it - targeting vulnerable demographics, exploiting wish-fulfillment and creating perceived `need' - it is nevertheless essential to look objectively at the role that marketing has to play in the state of the modern world.

The most deadly weapons of mass destruction become, in the words of Lily Allen, weapons of massive consumption. The manufacturing of needs has displaced the manufacturing of goods. Barber's placement within a global context is galling: '11.5% of the world's population [US, Canada & Western Europe] controls 60% of the world's consumer spending... 11% of the population [sub-Saharan Africa] controls only 1.2% of consumer expenditures.'

Go figure.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.4 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
99 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Right on the mark... 16 Aug 2007
By E. Youngdale - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I see a number of other reviewers belittling the book because of some trivial factual error regarding sports figures or celebrities, but in my eyes those points merely underscores the point that Barber is trying to make. In the end the constant media focus on these types of people is in my eyes a mass distraction. Does it change my life one iota when a drunken celebrity does something stupid? Not at all, but the media covers it for hour on end, and people lap it up.

People defend popular culture such as Harry Potter or Shrek, but these are all pure escapism and have very little relevance to our daily lives. Reviewers of those films make tortured comparisons to try and prove relevance to daily life, but the sad fact is that many people have become conditioned to not expect more, and perhaps not even have the patience to view a more substantive work.

Other reviewers insist that they aren't manipulated and that they have free choice. To an extent that is true, but one can easily argue that many people are making poor choices because they have been so deeply conditioned by advertisers. How can you justify spending 50K$ on a car, and replacing it when it is 3 years old when an inexpensive well-made car will fulfill the basic needs of transportation and may last 5-8 years instead? How can you justify spending money on bottled water when tap water in most areas is just fine? And how can you justify accumulating tens of thousands in consumer debt just to acquire all of this stuff? There are countless such examples all over the place.

And finally, there is the paradigm that runs deeply through our society that having more money and having more material goods will somehow make you happier. The problem is that these desires can never be satisfied - there is always something more, and there is always someone else who has more. In the end all of this materialism leaves people feeling empty, and the only tonic that they know to try and fill the void is to go out and shop some more.

On the other hand, if you can reach a point where you are content with what you have, you may find that many of the things that you do have are completely superfluous and can be donated to Goodwill or sold. Get rid of enough stuff, and that McMansion will seem empty, and a more modest and affordable house may meet your needs quite nicely.
87 of 101 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Ethos of Infantilism 6 Jun 2007
By Izaak VanGaalen - Published on
In "Jihad vs McWorld," an earlier work published in 1995, Benjamin Barber made some prescient observations about the threats that Islamic fundamentalism and consumer capitalism posed for liberal democracy. The warnings went largely unnoticed until 9/11. At which point the book was republished for its insightfulness as to why Islamic fundamentalists were bent on destroying the McWorld created by consumer capitalism. Now Barber has written a follow-up: Not only does Jihad pose a threat to McWorld, McWorld is actually in the process of undermining itself as well as liberal democracy.

There is nothing new about fulminating against the excesses of consumer capitalism. Critics from Thorstein Veblen, to John Kenneth Galbraith, to Daniel Bell have done as much. Barber extols the productivist capitalism of an earlier era, characterized by hard work, discipline, and deferred gratification. This type of capitalism met "the real needs of real people." Today in the era of consumer capitalism basic needs are met rather quickly, leaving the consumer with lots of disposable income and many options of spending it foolishly.

It has long been known by marketing executives that the purpose of advertising is to make people buy what they don't really need. One wonders about the long term consequences of a lifetime of this kind of brainwashing. Barber breaks the process down into two stages. The first is the "consumerization of the child." This is done by inculcating shopping-centered behavior in children, training them to become habitual shoppers and even developing brand consciousness. The second stage is not to have the child develop into an adult. Marketing executives seek to infantilize adults, so that they have no deeper understanding of themselves than the brand names that define them. Even though this critique of consumer culture sounds harsh, there is some truth in it.

There is also some truth to the claim that it is undermining the public sphere. A society of adolescents or infantilized adults focusing primarily on their private needs has, according to Barber, led to a decline in public participation in democracy as well as a decline in public institutions. He fears that the increasing privatization of the the public sphere that has been going on for the past decades will be the undoing of democracy.

Although Barber proposes some "remedies" to "redirect capitalism," they're not even worth mentioning because they are futile. When the excesses of consumer capitalism reach a point where they are no longer sustainable, capitlaism will redirect itself. When infantilized adults find that their quality of life is not improving with the consumption of more useless goods they will then decide to grow up.
60 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Literary Spinach (or your least favorite nutritious vegetable), not the most fun read, but it is good for you. 1 May 2007
By Ryan Fisher - Published on
It doesn't surprise me that so many reviews of this book rate below three stars. Most Americans, and I'm no different, are reluctant to consider alternative philosophies particularly when it comes to capitalism or a free market.
Benjamin Barber is not unlike every one of his predecessors. Since the beginning of recorded time every generation has had its outspoken critics who try to claim that the next generation is "going to hell in a hand basket." I personally don't believe we face imminent catastrophic social chaos, but perhaps something somewhere between our current reality and Barber's worst-case scenario.
Barber's ideas rely on the philosophies of Foucault, Roseau and de Tocqueville and more modern philosophers and provocateurs, citing them readily. This makes the book very thought provoking and in an era of the instant judgment, there's nothing wrong with that.
I'll admit, I struggled with the first half of the book and I would agree with some reviewers that up to that point some arguments are poorly supported. This being said, the last chapters of the book reveal a deep insight and yes, some philosophical name dropping. In fact, I'll even attest to the fact that without the words "infantilism" or "puerility," the book would be half as long as it is. But if this book stimulates some deep thinking on many subjects I must consider it a success.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great observations; Not so great solutions. 5 Sep 2008
By Drew Ross - Published on
Barber is adept at observing and brilliantly describing the symptoms that face our society. But unlike a gifted medical doctor, he is not so competent at finding the source of the symptoms, let alone providing an effective cure. Yes, our society is a runaway train headed for destruction, but what can we do about it?

Having worked for years in the advertising industry, I can tell you that the manufacturing of envy, desire and wantonness is in full swing. Our culture cannot withstand much more of it. But the answer that eludes Mr. Barber is not found in the writings of philosophers or economic engineers, but on the hearts of our citizens.

Why do the messages of the advertisers work so effectively? I can tell you as a former copywriter paid to write radio, print and tv, we were never thinking about the products alone, supply and demand, or economic theories when we designed ads. We were concentrating upon the human beings to whom we were speaking. What were their fears? What were their struggles? What makes them feel better? What do they think in their daily routine? We would often spend hours listening to them in focus groups. We would write stream of consciousness monologues trying to connect with them and their needs.

The truth is, Mr. Barver's measurement of our culture and its ills, is razor sharp and accurate to the micrometer. But as he begins to discuss solutions to the situation, the heart of "Andy Consumer" is lost and he begins to pontificate upon the ideas of society and particular reactions of larger movements. Like many intellectuals, he misses the point that change doesn't begin with philosophers or kings. It begins when philosophers and kings begin to listen to the pulse of Andy Consumer and they then begin to speak to the heart-cry of the society. History tells us this is the case. Because when enough of the individuals feel the same way and yet do not believe that the philosophers and kings are not listening, they take matters into their own hands.

My point is this: Barber's solutions ring hollow because they are rooted in theories and economic history. But I believe that hyper-consumerism will be conquered when the hearts of our citizens are painfully empty after their futile attempts to force their wallets and gadgets to fill them. As those empty hearts peek behind the curtain and confront the wizard, they will make realizations that will make a difference.

While I didn't agree with the solutions in the book, I was transfixed by his observations of our current situation. This book should be read by anyone interested in the direction of our society. I used this book extensively in my weekly podcast, Christian With a Brain. It gave me bountiful material for a study called, How Much is Enough? I just hope that Mr. Barber will eventually realize that until the human heart is filled with hope, meaning and destiny, we will continue to try and fill it with the latest and greatest. And there will always be advertisers out there willing to exploit those empty hearts in order to make a buck.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for teenagers 29 Nov 2007
By Michael Papa - Published on
Although this book stings to read I found it struck a chord in me that resonated very strongly throughout. The overall message is right on. There are some minor errors, however how important is it that he mistook a football players position. Even with the minor statistical errors you'd have to be BRAIN DEAD not to appreciate the realities we are bombarded with every day of which he speaks. As a baby boomer I have been acutely aware of the dumbing down of the markets and projection of rabid consumption as the end to which we must all strive. You may not like what he says about the de-generation of our great culture but it is true. As I father 4 kids from 24 to 6 I can say with AUTHORITY they have been seduced by the "consume" message then pressured by their peers groups and live by the "I consume therfore I am" motto. I am insisting they read it before they even THINK about badgering me for the latest iPODiPHONEiSTUPID disposable junk from china. Yes I have had ENOUGH and this book is saving my sanity and hopefully my kids. Insist they read it. HEY see if they can get it on iTUNES as a audio book download. Maybe it will be the one mindless purchase that will lead them down a more enlightened path.
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