THE OVERSPENT AMERICAN
Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer
Book By Juliet B. Schor
Book Review by KEITH H. HAMMONDS, BusinessWeek
A while back, I interviewed a woman in western Massachusetts who was, inarguably, strapped. She had lost her $18,000-a-year job several months earlier, and her live-in boyfriend didn't earn much. Health insurance for her and her daughters was out of reach: "I just punt and hope we're healthy," she said. And yet, in her apartment, I beheld the trappings of upper-middle-class comfort. The big-screen TV and VCR. The crush of name-brand toys. And outside, the fairly new Lincoln Town Car--for which she was several months behind on payments.
The tableau was at once absurd and sad--but not altogether surprising. We are, after all, a nation of accomplished spenders, slaves to advertising and status symbolism. The conspicuous fruits of our consumption shout out our aspirations and insecurities.
This is the phenomenon Juliet Schor explores in The Overspent American. Schor, a Harvard University economist, has delivered what amounts to a sequel to her breakthrough 1992 study, The Overworked American. That book, justifiably embraced as gospel by the human-resources intelligentsia, expertly documented the time squeeze faced by two-income families as hours on the job expanded. Americans' leisure time, Schor demonstrated, was vanishing.
Why are we killing ourselves this way? In large part, Schor argues now, we work so that we might spend. Americans are engaged in an intensifying "national shopping spree" rooted in competitive emulation--keeping up with the Joneses on a manic scale. "We are impoverishing ourselves," she writes, "in pursuit of a consumption goal that is inherently unachievable."
Corrosive consumerism, of course, has existed as long as envy and avarice. Look at the pharaohs' pyramids. And much of Schor's evidence of its current manifestation will seem blatantly familiar to anyone with a TV, a car, or kids. (Example: "The coolest [teen] brands are often fashion brands or 'badge items' that kids can wear and relay a message about themselves." Like, duh.)
But Schor argues that, in the late 20th century, competitive spending has intensified insidiously. In part, that's because the gap between rich and poor has widened, creating a highly visible class of superwealthy who set outrageous spending precedents for everyone else. At the same time, TV ads, not to mention the programs they punctuate, have brought images of Lexuses and Rolexes, directed at the rich, to the gazes of average Joes. So designer cosmetics are now the middle-class norm, and two cars in the driveway (one a sport-ute, naturally) a necessity.
This theory is difficult to confirm. Like much of Schor's book, it relies on logical leaps and readers' gut-instinct acceptance. True, per capita spending has swelled for decades, but at a lower rate now than in the 1960s, before two-income families proliferated. Moreover, when asked in a Roper poll how much income a family of four needs to live "in reasonable comfort," Americans' responses since 1978 have trailed inflation. In any case, Schor never proves a connection to the wealth gap. Likewise, she can't show that the number of "downshifters"--those who escape the trend by working and buying less--is any greater than a generation ago. It's unfortunate: The study lacks the empirical validation that made The Overworked American so compelling.
The Overspent American is strongest when it employs imaginative economic analysis to show us the inner workings of our materialism. There is, for example, Schor's examination of personal savings from her survey of 834 workers at "Telecom," a large, Southern telecommunications company.
Employees were asked to identify a group of "Joneses"--people in their lives who were a primary reference for social comparison. Then they were asked to compare their financial status with that of the Joneses. On average, people who said they were worse off saved $2,953 a year less than those who picked a reference group of similar means. Trying to keep up with Joneses richer than ourselves, in other words, knocks spending out of whack.
Other factors have surprising effects on savings rates, Schor finds. Better-educated respondents tended to save less. (She guesses that such folks are more status-oriented, but admits "it's hard to say why.") So did ardent TV watchers. Each hour Telecom workers spent glued to the tube reduced annual savings by $208. (Schor's unsubstantiated interpretation: "What we see on TV inflates our sense of what's normal.")
Such analyses, while flawed, show the economic and social downsides of the "consumer escalator." Much of our spending clearly is unnecessary or wasteful, raising troubling moral questions. Moreover, the uphill pursuit of material nirvana is stressing us out. Amid widespread wealth, most Americans aren't content with their lives.
Is that such a terrible thing? I'm ambivalent. Ambition, dissatisfaction with the status quo, a desire to improve our lots and those of our children--these are profoundly American, if not universal, traits. They have driven us to stunning accomplishments and global leadership, and few would want the alternative of complacency and stasis. Yet we spend more than we should on Armani and OshKosh B'gosh, and it's making us crazy. Schor would have us on a middle path, one that retains the ardor but loses the insanity. Perhaps it's worth a try.
BusinessWeek magazine: IS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES KILLING US?
Juliet B. Schor
Friday Nov 24,2000
Why tall, good-looking people rise to the top
By Nicole Martin
BEING tall, slim and good-looking helps you to get a better job, researchers have found.
Tall men earn up to 10 per cent more than their shorter colleagues, says the London Guildhall University study, which was based on interviews with 11,000 people aged 33.
Staff regarded as unattractive pay a high price. Men falling into this category earn 15 per cent less than their male colleagues, while women take home 11 per cent less than more attractive females. Obesity is costly only for women, the study found. They earn five per cent less than slimmer members of staff.
Barry Harper, an economist at the university and one of the report's authors, said of tall men: "They tend to be assertive as well as deferential. A lot of the time they are associated with high status and more often than not they can sell more." But he added that that good looks and slimness were less of an advantage in professional jobs.
Women in clerical and secretarial jobs suffer the largest wage penalty for being unattractive, earning 15 per cent less than their more beautiful and slim colleagues.
Mr Harper said: "The penalty for plainness far exceeds any premium for beauty. Men and women who are short are penalised while tall men benefit from their size. There is an urgent need for business and the Government to review their equal opportunities policy to address this issue."
But Richard Wilson, of the Institute of Directors, said that as labour was very tight he doubted whether firms were in a position to discriminate. He said: "If an employer was recruiting people on the basis of how they looked they would have to be extremely lucky."
Tuesday July 3, 2001
SURVEY: THE NEW RICH, Rich man's burden
Too much money can be bad for you in all sorts of ways
By Matthew Bishop
An abundance of money is no miracle cure for all human ills, as the new rich - like each generation of the wealthy before them - are discovering. What is different this time is that there are so many more of them. As Dinesh D'Souza argues in his fascinating study of the new rich, "The Virtue of Prosperity", today millions of families "have triumphed against necessity; they are, by any historical standard, rich. So they are ready to pursue happiness, but this is where the problem begins: they don't know where to find it."
For all the existential angst that may go with being rich, there is no evidence to suggest that those with money would rather be without. Yet there are specific problems associated with being, and particularly with becoming, exceptionally wealthy. The world's leading private banks now encourage some of their clients to seek advice from psychoanalysts on their relationship with their wealth—not just in America, but also in more reticent parts of the world, including stiff-upper-lipped Britain.
There has been plenty of publicity about "sudden-wealth syndrome" (also known as "affluenza") - evidence mainly of the fact that comparatively indigent journalists like to write about the new rich having a bad time, despite their fast cars and swanky houses. Sudden-wealth syndrome was named by Stephen Goldbart and Joan Di Furia, two (inevitably) Californian psychologists, who in 1997 set up the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute (MMCI) to explore the "psychological opportunities and emotional challenges of having and inheriting money". With the popping of the dotcom bubble, they have also been quick to offer help with "sudden-loss-of-wealth syndrome".
"Twenty-nine-year-olds in Silicon Valley were finding that, suddenly, they never needed to work again, and started asking, 'what is the purpose of their wealth and life?' ", says Ms Di Furia. For many of the new rich, wealth meant a leap in social class. "They had no expectation of wealth, nor history of knowing how to live with it." The American dream has always been about the possibility of personal advancement up the social scale, but "traditionally the dream was really about going from working class to middle class, not working class to rich - and certainly not within a few years," says Mr Goldbart. "Car, house, work, the whole way of life - the new rich have often undergone a radical change in identity." Compared with the old wealthy, the new rich are "more guilt-ridden and sympathetic to the plight of ordinary Americans", says Mr Goldbart.
Though the bursting of the dotcom bubble has made some MMCI clients a lot less wealthy, most are still rich by any definition. But gone is the belief that "instant wealth automatically accompanies hard work and good ideas," says Andre Delbecq, a management professor at the University of Santa Clara Business School. "It was a wake-up call to a generation who grew up in affluence," teaching the new rich a lesson about the fragility of wealth that their parents and grandparents learned from the Great Depression and the second world war, says Mr Delbecq, who now offers a course in "spirituality and business" to Silicon Valley executives searching for a deeper meaning.
It is not only dotcom billionaires that find their new riches a mixed blessing. Sports stars and entertainers can suffer from an even greater sense of dislocation, because they are often physically removed from their familiar surroundings and spend life on the road. Marcus Camby, a basketball star at the New York Knicks, pays a salary to a childhood friend to live in his mansion and keep him company.
Sports stars also have to come to terms with their careers peaking early, and drawing to a close when most of their life is still ahead of them. According to Mr McCormack of IMG, two problems come up time and again. The first is a refusal to recognise that it is time to retire and move on to a new career. "Towards the end of their career, sports stars are more mature and receptive to advice. But it is an emotional time, and many leave it too long." A second problem is over-confidence in their ability to succeed in a second career, simply because they were great athletes. "They think because they were good at sport, to start a restaurant or a magazine will be a piece of cake. Ninety-nine per cent of the time they get killed because of that super-confidence."
There are some parallels with the experience of family patriarchs after they have sold the family firm. In recent years many have pulled out sooner than they would have liked, partly because they were offered an attractive price, and partly because the firm was finding it increasingly difficult to survive on its own. Even though they are now flush with cash, many of these patriarchs are struggling to come to terms with losing the power and identity they got from the firm. Argentina is currently awash with wealthy 40-50-year-olds who used to run family firms and are depressed because nobody listens to them any more - and they don't want to spend their days playing polo.
A more general source of worry for the truly rich is that their wealth makes them the target of crooks and lunatics. To reduce the risk, they make growing use of private security firms, and often live in well-protected "gated communities" or secure private estates. In some countries employees of big multinational companies are in much greater danger of abduction than the local millionaires because their company will usually pay a generous ransom. A multinational typically pays around $1m-2m a year for kidnap insurance. In 1999, there were 1,789 reported abductions for ransom worldwide, up 6% on a year earlier. Over 90% took place in just ten countries, headed by Colombia, Mexico and Brazil. In most kidnap-prone countries it is mainly locals who get abducted, but in Nigeria four out of five victims were foreigners, and in South Africa one in two.
But what troubles rich people more than anything else is the effect that their wealth will have on their children. "I'm not saying, 'have sympathy for the rich', but it really hasn't been widely recognised that inheriting wealth can be a serious problem," says Alex Scott, who runs Sand Aire, the family office of the heirs (of which he is one) to the founders of Provincial, a British insurer. "The key to being a successful inheritor is not to be suppressed by the wealth, so you can go on to live a fulfilling life, exploring your own potential. But that is easier said than done."
Bad heir days
Without the need to work, wealthy people's children can become demotivated and purposeless. They can find it difficult to develop an appreciation of the value of money because they have never been short of it. They can also feel crushed by the pressure to match the achievements of the creator of the wealth they are enjoying, not least from the family itself. "Being in the shadow of a great wealth creator can be a huge burden," says Mr Scott. He himself declined to take over Provincial, which the family subsequently sold. He plans to build Sand Aire into a business that manages wealth for other families.
Teams of lawyers and psychologists often have to guide adult children who inherit a business through family minefields - who runs the firm, who gets bought out, whose spouse or child goes on the payroll. Sometimes the challenge is to talk siblings or cousins out of killing each other. Professional help should perhaps be more widely used, says Mr Scott. "Psychological counselling is probably very helpful to inheritors of wealth. American families may accept this more easily, but we as a nation are not the first to pick up the phone to our analyst."
America's new rich are more fearful than their counterparts elsewhere that their children will be deprived of the work ethic to which they themselves attribute their success. At the same time they disdain the idle rich produced by old wealth, such as the European aristocracy and the drifting trust-fund kids descended from the East Coast tycoons of the early 20th century. According to a recent survey of the richest 1% of Americans by US Trust, a private bank, around half fear that their children's initiative and independence will be undermined by having material advantages. Some 80% want their kids to find a satisfying career, and 65% want them to earn enough to support themselves entirely through their own work. But most of them accept that this is an uphill struggle. How can a child be taught that money is a scarce commodity when the most clinching reason for turning down a request, "We can't afford it", patently does not apply?
Rich American parents, it seems, try to toughen up their children by making them do household chores. According to US Trust, 99% of the poor little dears are expected to tidy their own rooms, 85% to take out the rubbish, 83% to set the table and do the dishes. Perhaps more significantly, 77% are expected to take part-time or summer jobs while at high school, and 81% to contribute to the cost of college education by working part-time. Parents are also waiting until their children are more mature before handing over wealth. US Trust found that the average age at which rich children gain control of money passed to them through a trust is 30. A current hot fad is the "incentive trust", which makes inheritance conditional on the heir behaving. The conditions can be onerous, with a "hand beyond the grave" guiding everything from choice of university course, career and spouse to avoiding and curing substance abuse.
Most of the leading private banks offer "sons and daughters" events to educate rich kids about wealth. A growing number of family limited partnerships are being created which allow children to work alongside parents in managing the family fortune without actually getting control of the money. Such schemes provide a tax-efficient way of transferring wealth between generations, and also offer a method of stopping the family money going to an ex-spouse. Only 27% of rich parents would advise their children to get a pre-nuptial agreement, and even if they did their advice might be ignored: such unromantic agreements are rare in first marriages (though not the second time around).
Many of America's new rich are seriously considering an extreme solution to the work-ethic problem: handing over only a little, if any, of their money to their children. But most wealthy families in other countries would consider that a counsel of despair. Much more than their American counterparts, they regard being able to pass wealth down the generations as one of the benefits of getting rich. Besides, this option is typically open only to the person who created the wealth and can do with it as he wishes. Second and later generations would find it difficult withholding money that was given to them rather than earned by them.
Bill Gates, it is said, plans to leave only $10m each to his two children, a tiny proportion of his fortune. But even that might be enough to demotivate them. For most people, it would be plenty to live on without ever doing a stroke of work. According to the US Trust survey, rich parents reckon that the motivation of an heir will start to be affected once they pass on more than about $3.4m.
The new rich might usefully learn from one of the few American family dynasties that has coped well with its fortune. According to David Rockefeller, the 86-year-old grandson of John D. Rockefeller, who made a vast amount of money in the oil business a century or so ago, "How you bring up children is crucial. If they have a sense of responsibility, you do not have to worry about how the money will affect them. My parents brought us up to know that with opportunity comes responsibility." For the Rockefellers, one of their biggest responsibilities is philanthropy. A growing number of the new rich are hoping that this may offer a solution to their problems too.
Rich man's burden
Rich man's burden
Tuesday July 3, 2001
Materialism Link to Depression And Anger - Study
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - Designer labels and fast cars may be the dream of millions, but craving material possessions can cause depression and anger, research released on Tuesday showed.
Australian academics found a positive correlation between materialism -- or an "excessive concern" for material things -- and negative psychological phenomena.
Shaun Saunders, one of the authors of the report from the University of Newcastle, Australia, said it came as no surprise to discover that money can't buy you love.
But there has been very little scientific evidence to support the truism.
"While there is growing concern over the environmental effects of materialism and global consumerism, little attention has been paid to its psychological effects," he told Reuters.
Saunders explained that one source of depression among dedicated consumers was the fact that the property they acquired tended to lose value quickly.
"If your self-worth is invested in what you own, as can be the case in our market-driven society, then these things may not hold their value for very long," he said.
Wanting a sports car would not necessarily cause psychological problems, however, because some enthusiasts could take a genuine interest in the performance of the vehicle and how it is made.
But in most cases materialism is based on people using possessions to define their place in society. This applies both to the "haves" and the "have-nots," Saunders said.
"People want to compare themselves to others. In our society the criterion tends to be what you own.
"This is the 'Keeping up with the Jones's' idea. It can be a very frustrating experience trying to stay ahead of others, which can be a precursor to anger expression."
It also leads to conformity, based on the notion that the self in a market-based society is treated as a commodity whose value is determined externally.
So before heading off on a shopping spree to lift the gloom, retail therapists should take note:
"This may give a person a sense of control through owning something, but the research shows that materialism is negatively correlated with life satisfaction," Saunders said.
Monday October 01, 2001
What's Your Price Tag?
By Tahl Raz, From myprimetime.com
The last few decades have been good to us. We live now the lucky half in an era of '50s prosperity, enjoying the fruits of an establishment we once felt so anti about.
Impassioned café defenses of Hanoi Jane and dorm-room, flower-power reveries have given way to Pellegrino, home equity and pass-me down Tony Robbins tapes. There is, however, an angst accompanying all this abundance; a question nibbling away at our self-satisfaction: Have I sold out?
It's never been an easy question, because selling out has never been an easy notion to define. Arbiters of all things cool young hipsters, et al have used selling out through the ages as a way to distinguish between the jazzy cats keeping it real and the bourgeois stiffs keeping it rich.
But even that distinction has become unclear. Selling out is hard to pin down in a culture where a stockbroker can be found wearing hemp chinos and volunteering for United Way while Sting uses his Tantric powers to hawk Jaguars.
That new social reality, says writer David Brooks, is proof of a generation that has sought to reap the pleasures of affluence while attempting to avoid the soul-withering that such seeking can entail.
It's a new class of people Brooks calls bobos Bourgeois Bohemians who "seemed to have combined the countercultural '60s and the achieving '80s into one social ethos."
In his new book, Bobos in Paradise, he describes them thus: "This is an elite that has been raised to oppose elites. They are affluent yet opposed to materialism. They may spend their lives selling yet worry about selling out. They are by instinct anti-establishmentarian yet somehow sense they have become a new establishment." Bohemians smoke dope; the bourgeois abstain; bobos take Prozac.
With our gas-guzzling SUVs adorned with Sierra Club (news - web sites) stickers, we've become masters of a have-it-all ingenuity. But aren't we still shaking hands with the devil even if s/he does listen to NPR?
Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, believes it's not a black-and-white issue. "There are not many moments in our lives where we realize the devil knocking at the door offering us a price tag," Thompson explains. "And we find out that the things we didn't sell out for at youth aren't as pure as we thought and the things we've bought into aren't as corrupt."
Such a view makes a compelling case for life as a series of imperfect choices. The trappings of mainstream consumer culture are, according to this take, the trappings of adulthood. Selling out is not so much a decision as an American rite of passage.
But there are parts of our idealistic youth worth embracing and aspects of our pragmatic maturity deserving of rejection. When we pretend that shopping at the Body Shop places us beyond reproach, that's not growing up; that's what Holden Caulfield called phony.
If there is such a thing as our better selves, don't we have a responsibility to it? Ultimately, professor Thompson concludes, the answer to whether you've sold out or not will come from within, on "one of those dark nights when you can't sleep at the age of 45 reviewing your life and you're confronted with the question: do you, in what you do, feel like you are doing the right thing?"
Monday December 17, 2001
'Tis the Season of Receiving
By Jennifer Thomas
SUNDAY, Dec. 16 (HealthScoutNews) -- Your son starts his Christmas list in July. You dread taking your daughter to the mall because of the non-stop nagging for gifts. And products sold on infomercials keep arriving on your doorstep.
You may have materialistic children.
New research has found such children expect more presents from their parents at Christmas, exert more influence on what their parents buy, are more likely to buy something they saw on TV, and are less likely to have a savings account.
And parents who scored the highest on the materialism scale had the most materialistic children.
"The bottom line is when the parent looks at the child, the parent has to look in the mirror," says Marvin Goldberg, lead author of the study and a professor of marketing at Penn State University. "You shape their values more than anyone."
Goldberg and his colleagues developed a test called the Youth Materialism Scale to determine children's materialism relative to their peers. The questionnaire was given to 540 parents and 996 children between the ages of 9 and 14.
The researchers focused on children in this age group, called tweens, because they are increasingly being targeted by advertisers. The 27 million tweens in the United States directly or indirectly influence $170 billion in sales, according to the study.
"Marketers have reached down to a still younger age and are now marketing products to tweens that were previously limited to teen-agers," Goldberg says. "Why is this so significant? One way or another, it serves to rob children of their childhood."
The children in the study were asked whether they "disagree a lot," "disagree a little," "agree a little" or "agree a lot" with a series of statements.
The statements included: "I have fun just thinking of all the things I own." "I'd rather spend time buying things than doing almost anything else." "The only kind of job I want when I grow up is one that gets me a lot of money."
The study found that the most materialistic kids -- those whose scored in the upper quartile -- were more interested in TV commercials than the least materialistic children, those in the lowest quartile. About 68 percent of tweens in the upper quartile said they watched commercials most of the time, compared to 54 percent of those in the lowest quartile.
About 77 percent of the children who scored the highest on the materialism scale said they expected their parents to buy a product because they saw it on TV, compared to 50 percent of the least materialistic children.
About 22 percent of the most materialistic children said they had called a phone number shown on TV to buy a product, compared to 14 percent of the least materialistic kids.
And although only 45 percent of the most materialistic kids had a savings account, 59 percent of the least materialistic did.
Youths who scored high on the materialism scale also expected their parents to spend more on birthday and Christmas presents -- $182.01, compared to $115.61 for less materialistic children.
"I'm a professor from a business school; I start from the premise that advertising is a major function without which our standard of living could not be achieved," Goldberg says. "There are lots of products out there that make our lives simpler, easier, better and safer. But I've become quite concerned when this function runs away with itself and we don't do enough to protect children."
Goldberg says his study, which is to appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, was criticized at first for lumping pre-pubescent 9-year-olds with 14-year-olds. But the marketing of products tied to pop music sensations like Britney Spears and 'N Sync (news - web sites) is as much directed at the younger kids as the older ones, he says.
Stanley Goldstein, a child clinical psychologist in private practice in Middletown, N.Y., says the word "materialistic" is pejorative, and he has some doubts about Goldberg's conclusions.
In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with the desire to shop and acquire new goods, Goldstein says.
Children use products, like clothing, skateboards or music, to differentiate themselves from grown-ups; it's a normal part of growing up, he says.
But, he adds, "contrary to people's beliefs, kids are not easy to market to or to manipulate."
Problems occur when parents use gifts and other material goods as a substitute for love and attention, he says.
"You do not spoil a child by giving them everything they want," Goldstein says. "You can only spoil a child by giving them things in place of emotional support and attention. Then you harm them."
What To Do
If you've decided to change your materialistic ways, you might consider giving an "alternative" gift this holiday season.
Alternatives for Simple Living was started in 1973 as a protest against the commercialism of Christmas.
Thursday January 17, 2002
Fashion Giant Armani Says He's Sick of Luxury
MILAN (Reuters) - Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani, creator of some of the world's most expensive clothes, says he is fed up with luxury.
"I'll tell you something. Luxury disgusts me," the designer was quoted as saying in Italian newspapers on Thursday after showing off his latest men's fashion collection which borrowed heavily from the working class look of miners and soldiers.
"I want to pay homage to the workers, to the dignity of the workers with their simplicity and straightforwardness," Armani told reporters backstage as he explained his latest outfits with their flat caps, military boots and donkey jackets.
He urged young fashion fans to put their craze for designer labels into perspective.
"I want young people to understand that today's world is false. They must understand that it is absurd to prostitute
oneself or to steal just to get a designer bag because they think that without it they are nobody," he said.
Asked whether he might also be to blame for the obsession with luxury, Armani pointed to his cheaper clothing lines which include jeans that sell for about 100 euros ($88) a pair compared with his top-of-the-range suits that fetch around
"I have to say that for all the things I design, I put in love and care," he said. "I do not shut myself away in my
workshop, like some others do, to cynically and presumptuously create luxury items."
Wednesday February 06, 2002
Debra Goldman's Consumer Republic
by Debra Goldman, adweek.com
There's nothing like a business scandal to show Americans the error of their ways. For the last several years, we've obsessed about the rich, worshiped the corporate wheeler-dealers and worked overtime to accumulate the latest toys. Yes, we've been indulgent and self-involved. But we've learned our lesson. The Me Decade is over. It's time to reconnect with family, friends and community. Welcome to the We Decade.
Oh, did you think I was talking about today? No, I'm pointing out the consumer sentiments that prevailed at the beginning of the '90s. The We Decade was but one of the labels widely offered to predict how the '90s would turn out following Wall Street's bust in the late '80s.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the simple life. As the decade went on, it got more complicated. It got more individualistic. And it got much more expensive, as expectations inflated to match the billions that gushed forth from the bull market.
In other words, anyone who had relied on consumers' professed sea change in attitude at the end of the '80s to understand the coming decade would have missed the '90s entirely.
Indeed, the '90s so completely failed to live up to their initial ethos that now, in the '00s, we've got to try it all over again.
Just as the '80s had Drexel Burnham Lambert, Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky to expose the pitfalls of greed, today we've got the Enron debacle to illuminate everything that is wrong with the mores to which we so recently and enthusiastically ascribed. Once more consumers are having second thoughts about their dreams of IPO millions. Once more they yearn for a lifestyle that is more balanced and less materialistic. Yet again they are rejiggering their notion of the good life-and this time, damn it, they're going to get it right.
Well, maybe. It is possible that we've embarked on the We Decade for real this time. But it is also possible that, just as the economy revolves through boom and bust, the consumer psyche has cycles of its own. That every episode of irrational exuberance is inevitably followed by one of sober reassessment-which in turn is trumped by irrational exuberance at the first possible opportunity.
These cycles seem to be related to the state of the economy, with greed and individualism reigning when times are good and piety and community values holding sway when things are dicey. But economics alone do not explain them. Back in the '80s, the bloom was off the Beemer long before the country fell into recession. By the same token, Enron was still one of the most admired corporations in America when consumer research uncovered signs that Americans were buying more cashmere sweaters but enjoying such activities less.
Is there such a thing as prosperity fatigue?
If such a thing exists, it is surely a baby boomer syndrome. It's almost as if boomers are driven to relive their coming-of-age drama over and over again. They seesaw between the lure of material comfort they consider a birthright and the conviction that they need something more "authentic" and "meaningful." For several decades now, boomers have struggled to reconcile materialism and meaning, and repeatedly failed, only to try again.
Of course, with every turn of the cycle, boomers are older, and the terms of the struggle shift accordingly. Thus, every period of material excess is excessive in its own way. The '80s had its poofy couture, cocaine and English country-house clutter, the '90s its Prada, day spas and midcentury modern. The excesses of the '00s, should the gods grant them, will surely have their own flavor. And every retrenchment, every return to more "spiritual values"-whatever that vague term means-has its own characteristics, too.
And so the circle goes. Which is fine by advertising people, who tend to like dramatic breaks in consumer consciousness. They like new decades and new paradigms. Such occasions make for clever coinages that look good in PowerPoint presentations and encourage a sense of urgency in clients who don't want their brands left behind. Yet in looking at research that shows consumers seeking more spiritual satisfaction from their material life, I see not a break but a continuity. These aspirations are still with us because, somehow or other, we fail to achieve them.
It's far too early to bet that we'll have any more luck achieving them now than we have in the past.
Friday March 8, 2002
Mexico to Export Theme Park to U.S.
By NIKO PRICE, Associated Press Writer
Mexico to Export Winning Theme Park for Children to the United States
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The City of Children, a theme park designed to teach a work ethic and create brand loyalty at the same tender age, could be coming soon to a shopping mall near you.
The successful Mexican attraction will begin construction in the United States soon, and malls in the New York and Los Angeles areas are competing to host to the first U.S. branch.
"This is genius," said James Ashton, president of AFC Commercial Real Estate, based in Westlake Village, Calif. He toured the attraction recently and is negotiating with the owners to build a similar park for a new mall in the Los Angeles
"People are so starved for something like this and there is nothing comparable. Everything is going kid-oriented and there is nothing that could compete with this."
But the concept that has been accepted so overwhelmingly here -- companies build brand-oriented attractions for children within a "city" provided by the developer -- could face more probing questions in the United States about its motives.
Mexican upper classes, to which the attraction caters, are lacking in cynicism about commercialism and materialism.
In the United States, where the planned entrance fee of about $20 would be accessible to many more families, people tend have a more pointed opinion that is the opposite of their Mexican peers.
"There are certainly some segments of the population who very much can't stand that kind of commercialism, but at the same time that's more and more in the mainstream of American society," said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a Portland, Ore.-based anti-commercialism group.
"More and more, this is what American marketing is looking like. It seems like there's nothing they won't do to market to kids these days."
The idea of the park is simple: After buying their American Airlines "ticket" to enter, children receive play money, which they can spend on General Motors bumper cars (Avis rents them). Or, they can make themselves up at the Pond's Institute beauty salon or scale a rock wall emblazoned with the word "Nesquik."
If they run out of money, they can go to work -- applying Sherwin Williams paints to a wall at the Cemex construction site, caring for babies (dolls, actually) at the Johnson & Johnson hospital or reading bar codes at the Superama supermarket.
The 52 sponsors at the current site put up about half of the money for construction. What they get is hard-core advertising to impressionable children.
"Kids don't say, 'Let's go to the pizzeria.' They say, 'Let's go to Domino's.' Obviously when they want a pizza they're going to want Domino's," said Esteban Lopez Ancona, general director of Amazing Toys de Mexico, which runs the theme park.
The park itself is laid out in the form of a city, with a central kiosk, drainpipes where children can go on an "archaeological dig," a theater where plays are performed every half-hour and streets where fire trucks crawl along, sirens blazing, and tiny detectives in trenchcoats look for bad guys.
There are areas for toddlers -- a "farm" with activities for the smallest -- and for all other ages. Directors say 80 percent of their clientele is between the ages of 5 and 12, but most are between 6 and 10.
"I think it's sensational for kids. For parents, it's deadly," said Angelica Laguna, a 42-year-old accountant. "There's nothing for us to do. We sit here bored for three or four hours."
At the second park in Mexico, where construction begins this year, there will be more attractions for parents, such as an ESPN sports bar and an American Express lounge. Lopez Ancona said the slowest days of the year are when the Mexican national soccer team has an important game.
Attendance has risen every year since the attraction opened in 1999, and last year 800,000 children visited, Lopez Ancona said. The city was awarded a "Thea" prize last year from the U.S.-based Themed Entertainment Association.
Already the company has lined up about 100 sponsors for the U.S. park, Lopez Ancona said. They plan to choose their spot by April and open in summer 2003.
In Mexico City, parents praised the educational aspects. And in a country where some children's television shows are awash in hard-sell advertising, few expressed worries about the incessant plugs for the Cartoon Network on giant televisions or the Quaker State Oil billboards along the go-kart track.
"I think it's extraordinary. The important thing is that it teaches the kids to work, and to save their money. It builds a sense of responsibility," said Hermegildo Lagarda Leyva, director of a university from northern Mexico who brought his 7-year-old son Alejandro during a trip to Mexico City.
"It's really cool," said Ricardo David Ortega, 8, proudly holding up a Reforma newspaper front page with a banner headline above an article he had just completed on speedboats. "I love to work so I get more money, and then I have more next time I come."
Mon Jun 17, 2002
Survey: More Young People Nagging
By MARTHA IRVINE, AP National Writer
Alex Negelein admits that when there's something he really, really wants, he's willing to ask his dad for it "150 times."
The 9-year-old's pestering may be on the extreme side, but he's hardly alone. A new survey has found that, even when their parents say "no," nearly six of 10 young people keep nagging an average of nine times.
The survey, released Monday, also found that 10 percent of 12- and 13-year-olds said they ask their parents more than 50 times for products they've seen advertised.
Officials at the Center for a New American Dream, who commissioned the survey, call it the "nag factor." They say it shows that kids while annoying their parents are feeling pressure from peers to buy the latest products.
"They are being made to feel that if they don't have the right low-cut designer jeans, the right video game or the right designer watch, they aren't going to have a friend that they're going to be rejected by other kids, " says Betsy Taylor, executive director of the Takoma Park, Md.-based center, which promotes responsible consumption of resources and goods.
Of those polled, about a third said they feel pressure to buy certain products, and more than half said that buying those products makes them feel better about themselves.
When it comes to nagging, 55 percent said they can usually get their parents to give in.
The poll, which has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, included the answers of 750 American youth, ages 12 to 17, who were contacted by phone last month. But experts say nagging is a habit learned much earlier.
Marian Salzman, chief strategic officer for the ad agency Euro RSCG, says about 60 percent of the young people the agency has interviewed for research said they knew how to manipulate their parents on "small things" before they started first grade.
And, increasingly, even the youngest children have spending power an estimated $52 billion for ages 4 to 12 by 2006, compared with a projected $40 billion this year and $17.1 billion in 1994.
All of that has made nagging an "art form", says Salzman, who believes parents have only encouraged it by giving kids much more say in family decisions.
"Kids sit at the center of today's households," Salzman says.
Alex's dad, Chris Negelein, has instituted a rule: "Ask once, and only once." He says, with the help of counseling, Alex is learning to follow it.
And if he doesn't, he knows what happens.
"We have to leave the toy section," Alex says with a sigh.
As a reward for good behavior, Negelein takes his son to a Pokemon tournament near their home in Pompano Beach, Fla., on Saturdays. That way, Alex can actually play with the cards he has from the Japanese game, rather than just collect them and continually ask for more.
"You try to set the ground rules to teach your kids that materialism is a means to an end, but it's not a means to life," say Negelein, who is divorced and took custody of Alex a year ago to try to rein in his behavior.
But he admits it's sometimes difficult not to weaken, especially with the waves of licensed products that accompany every blockbuster movie.
In the long run, Taylor says she hopes the Center for a New American Dream can help persuade Congress to pass laws further limiting advertising to young people. But ultimately, she says, it's a parent's responsibility to set better limits and stick to them.
Marvin Berkowitz, a developmental psychologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and an expert in character education, agrees.
He says giving in to a child who "asks and asks and asks" only rewards the behavior. "The child essentially learns to be a nagger," he says.
Melissa Cooney, a 15-year-old from Indianapolis, believes that's true.
"If we are spoiled," she says, "it's kind of the parents fault, too, for giving in to us."
But she says sometimes teens just want to be heard and to have more control over their lives. That's why she bugged her parents until they agreed to let her visit her older sister in Florida this summer.
"They got sick of me asking," says Cooney, who saved money from her birthday and baby-sitting for the trip. "And I proved that I could get the money to do it."
On the Net:
Center for a New American Dream
Tuesday July 30, 2002
SOURCE: Euro RSCG Worldwide
We Create the Messages and We Are the Medium, Say Global Youth Bees, Authenticity, Glocalization, Connectivity, and Sensuousness Are the New Marketing Realities
NEW YORK, July 30 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Marketers looking to create "buzz" among global youth should focus on the Bees (the trend spreaders rather than the trendsetters) and get real about brand messaging and the media, says Euro RSCG Worldwide's X-Plorer Panel, made up of youth from around the world. Select members of the panel convened in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in late June for six days of work and play. The conference focused on candid talk about brands and trends, and what's hot and not in youth culture.
"Today's youth have created brand new marketing realities," says Marian Salzman, Chief Strategy Officer, Euro RSCG Worldwide, who led the immersive session with 20 young people from ten countries. "They absolutely value brand authenticity and are opposed to brands that are didactic or that promote uniformity. These young people favor what we call 'glocalization' (meaning the retention of regional nuances in global branding efforts). They are marketing savvy and generally distrustful of the media, which tends to color the way they view world events and corporate behavior in general."
Throughout the course of the X-Plorer Panel Summit 2002, the young participants engaged in brainstorming exercises, debates, creative discussions, and social activities, all centered on the ultimate goal of answering the following two questions: What defines and unites the mosaic of youth aged 18-28 around the world? and How can we reach them?
Is There Such a Thing As Global Youth?
The answer to that question was clear: Generally speaking, the commonalities among youth from far-flung corners of the earth are far more pervasive than the differences that set them apart. Among other unifying factors identified during the summit were youth's strong desire to socialize and experience all the five senses, their mistrust of the media, their fear of isolation or decreased human contact, their personal ambition, and their embrace of new means of connectivity, including the Internet and mobile telephony.
Comments Ira Matathia, Director of Strategy, Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners, who co-led the immersion, "Time spent with these young people convinced our research team that the ties that bind global youth truly are far stronger than the differences that divide them. Interestingly, the rural/urban divide seems far more important than first/third world. The one dramatic difference we noted in terms of first/third world has to do with young people's attitudes toward the state of the world today and in the near future. There seems to be a consensus that the current state of the world, both politically and economically is pretty poor. In general, and perhaps surprisingly, youth in emerging markets tend to be more optimistic about what the future holds, while young people in the developed world evince a greater degree of pessimism and cynicism. Nevertheless, they uniformly expressed a sense of personal optimism -- a strong belief that they will succeed."
How Do We Reach Them?
The most important factor in successfully targeting any market is gaining a better understanding of the consumers within it. Our X-Plorer Panel summit revealed five important new realities that global youth marketers would do well to heed:
1. The Bees Are the Buzz Builders: The greatest opportunity to reach the
$115 billion youth market? Focus on the Bees, Salzman says: "While
traditional marketers target the Alphas, or trendsetters, as a means
of tipping trends into the mainstream, the Bees are actually the consumers
with the greatest influence over other consumers. They serve as self-appointed
messengers, delivering information and opinions to other Bees and to
members of their many communities. They are highly social and, unlike
many trendsetters, very open with the information they have. So while
the Bees are less likely than Alpha consumers to actually set styles or
trends, they are far more likely to contribute to the rapid pickup of
new products and ideas. They are the conduits through which the Alphas
are linked to the mainstream.
2. Anti-Consumerism and Anti-Globalization Do Not Mean Anti-Brand: Global
youth aren't opposed to brands and logos or even to corporations in
general (although they are strongly suspicious of some multinational
brands). What they do oppose are brands and companies that are preachy
or hopelessly static. They seek to marry commercial styles with
personal statements. Cultural fusion, New Balance, and Subway are hot;
antisocial, Benetton, and McDonald's are not.
If there's one thing marketers can do to reach today's global youth it
is to convey a brand's authenticity, linked with tradition and strong
(albeit evolving) values. Youth have empathy for independent, small,
local brands, perhaps because these companies' struggles for success
and individuality so closely mirror their own lives.
3. Glocalization Is Intimate: For these young people, there's no
contradiction between taking a global brand and embellishing it with
local tradition -- it's a way of celebrating global similarities while
respecting key differences. No surprise, then, that MTV's glocal
approach of combining a global brand with local content is popular
among the panelists.
4. Connected 24/7: The degree to which the Internet was not discussed over
the course of the summit is proof positive of the extent to which this
technology is a given. Global youth adhere to the notion that
"information is power" rather than complain of a sense of info
Connectivity also means multitasking and managing myriad relationship
online: An X-Plorer panelist from China reports: "Many young people
have found that the easiest way to manage different buddy lists is to
have a separate identity for each circle of friends that they have?" A
Dutch participant has adopted the same solution: "For each group of
friends, I have a different e-mail account."
The one major distinction in the group? Whereas Asian and European
youth rely on SMS text messaging throughout the day, it is still a
rarity among Americans.
5. Feed Me: In Search of Sensuous Experiences: Youth's credo is "fuel the
senses," preferably with healthful, highly flavored food and fusion
music that expresses passion and a sense of identity. Food is viewed
as a universal language with many dialects, serving as an entryway to
understanding other cultures. Since socializing is "in," "feel-good
food" has more to do with whom one is dining than what's on the
plate. While music genres have created strong, differentiated
subcultures, the ultimate global music language is party music.
Euro RSCG Worldwide's S.T.A.R. team (Strategic Trendspotting and Research) considers human intelligence (HUMINT) an essential tool with which to garner a deep, visceral understanding of the people behind the numbers in quantitative research studies. Never is this truer than when dealing with the youth market. Young influencers rarely show up at focus groups. So Euro RSCG goes to them. We know knows their names, the food they eat, and the music in their CD players. A year ago we formalized our loose network of American Influencers into a 500-member X-Plorer Panel. Since then, we have expanded the panel to include young Influencers from more than a dozen countries. Panelists are recruited using a "six degrees of separation" technique, whereby specially selected Alphas and Bees introduce us to other influential youths within their networks. These youth then introduce us to other Influencers, and so on and so on. The panel is tapped on a regular basis, providing input on anything from current events to new product launches.
The 20 X-Plorers chosen to participate in this year's summit in Amsterdam came from Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Argentina, and China, in addition to the United States. Members of this statistically unrepresentative group were chosen based on their status as Alpha and Bee consumers within their home communities.
ABOUT EURO RSCG
Euro RSCG Worldwide, one of the world's five largest integrated marketing communications agencies, is made up of 233 offices located in 75 countries throughout Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia Pacific. Euro RSCG provides advertising, marketing services, corporate communications, and interactive solutions to global, regional, and local clients. The agency's client roster includes Air France, Credit Suisse Group, Danone Group, Intel Corporation, LVMH Louis Vuitton, Reckitt Benckiser, Volvo and Yahoo!. Headquartered in New York, Euro RSCG Worldwide is the largest unit of Havas, the world's sixth-largest communications group (Nasdaq: HAVS, Euronext Paris SA: HAV.PA).
Global Communications Director
Euro RSCG Worldwide
SOURCE: Euro RSCG Worldwide
Tue Jul 23, 2002
Top U.K. bishop slams 'Disney consumerism'
LONDON, July 23 (Reuters) - The hot favorite to become the next spiritual head of the Church of England launched a
blistering attack against the consumer society on Tuesday, saying it corrupted the young and made them prematurely
Entertainment giant Walt Disney Co, child talent shows and computer games came under particularly heavy fire from Rowan
Williams, the current Archbishop of Wales and favorite to be named this week as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury and
leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans.
A government source said this week news on the appointment of the new archbishop -- the subject of intense religious
debate and media speculation in the last few months -- would come before Parliament breaks for summer recess on Wednesday.
In a book serialized in the London Times newspaper this week, Williams hit out at children's talent shows and electronic games, which he says typify modern society's unashamed perception of the young as merely another type of consumer.
"Anything but innocuous is the conscription of children into fetishistic hysteria of style wars," Williams wrote.
"It is still mercifully rare to murder for a pair of trainers, or to commit suicide because of an inability to keep up with peer group fashion; but what can we say about a marketing culture that so openly feeds and colludes with obsession?"
"The Disney empire has developed this to an unprecedented degree of professionalism," he said.
He also argues that the growing trend towards talent and beauty shows for youngsters puts pressure on children to become
sexual objects at too early an age.
Born in Wales in 1950, Williams became Oxford University's youngest theology professor at 36, was enthroned as Bishop of Monmouth in 1992 and elected Archbishop of Wales in 2000.
A talented linguist, he would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury from outside England since the church's 16th century breakaway from Rome.
Liberals in the church have backed Williams, a well-known fan of U.S. cartoon satire 'The Simpsons', while traditionalists have railed against his tolerance of homosexual clergy.
Besides his attack on consumer society, Williams is likely to create further waves with his support of women bishops, his open criticism of the Afghanistan conflict and his dismissal of any plans for a U.S. invasion of Iraq as immoral.
Tue Aug 13, 2002
Brand names bring special brain buzz
NewScientist.com news service
It is what every advertiser would have dreamed of - brand names have a unique impact on our brains.
Brand names engage the "emotional", right-hand side of the brain more than other words, new experiments suggest. And they are more easily recognised when they are in capital letters.
"It is surprising," says Eran Zaidel, head of the University of California in Los Angeles laboratory where the research was conducted. "The rules that apply to word recognition in general do not necessarily apply here."
Robert Jones, head of consulting at the brand strategists Wolff Olins in London, told New Scientist: "This is very intriguing indeed. It supports our instinctive belief that brands are a special class of word - they are like a poem all in one word in their ability to evoke and express ideas."
Our brains do not process all types of words in the same way. For example, some patients with head injuries can quickly match a personal proper name like Bill Clinton to a photo - but common nouns like "house" or "paper" mean nothing to them.
Possidonia Gontijo of the University of California in Los Angeles wondered if our brains lump brand names into their own special category. They are unlike any other class of word because they are consistently represented in the same way, with unique fonts, cases and colours.
And unlike proper names, they usually apply to a group of objects. Most people know of only one "Taj Mahal", for instance, but "Sony" conjures up everything from TVs to computers and cameras.
To find out more, Gontijo and her colleagues tested how quickly and accurately 48 students recognised hundreds of words as real or not. The real words were brand names like "Compaq" and common nouns like "river". "Nonwords" were 108 meaningless letter strings like "beash" and "noerds". The students saw the words either all in capitals, or all in lower case, flashed to the left or the right side of a computer screen.
The students recognised the common nouns most quickly and accurately, followed by the brand names, then nonwords. Whether common nouns were in capitals or lower case made no difference. But the students recognised brand names more accurately when they were in capital letters, something that advertisers will be keen to know.
Also, common names were most easily recognised in the right visual field - which connects most strongly to the left side of the brain. But this effect was less strong for the brand names, suggesting the right side of the brain plays a bigger role in identifying brand names.
That makes sense, claims Jones, because the right side of the brain deals with emotions: "A brand's power is that it conjures up a whole range of associations and ideas, which are primarily emotional."
Additional work by Gontijo suggests that people recognise personal proper names more quickly and accurately than brand names, leaving brand names in a class all of their own.
But how could our brains have evolved processing circuits for brands, which are such a recent invention? Zaidel says they did not; the fact that we can read at all suggests new language features simply recruit existing brain machinery. "While brands are a recent linguistic development, so is reading from an evolutionary perspective," he says.
Journal reference: Brain and Language (vol 82, p 327)
Brain and Language
Wed Sep 4, 2002
Money Can't Buy Happiness for the Materialistic
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Even millionaires can be unhappy in life if their material desires are bigger than their bank accounts, new research suggests.
In a series of studies of college students, researchers found that participants' satisfaction with various hypothetical incomes depended upon whether they would be able to buy the things they desired. Even "very comfortable" six-figure incomes often weren't enough if participants felt they would be missing out on the toys wealthier people enjoyed.
In one of the studies, which asked the students to envision themselves in the year 2050, participants were less likely to be happy with an annual salary of $150,000 if they found out they wouldn't be able to afford the "teletransporters" that futuristic folks would be using to whisk themselves around the globe--among other "desirable" possessions.
In another study, participants described the type of home and other possessions they hoped to one day have, and their future incomes were estimated based on the careers they wanted to pursue. Overall, income satisfaction was similar among the students--until some found out they would have a tough time reaching their material aspirations, sending financial satisfaction downhill.
And if people aren't happy with their buying power, they may be unhappy in general, according to study author Dr. Ed Diener, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"Materialistic people have been found in many studies to be less happy," he told Reuters Health. "For one thing, materialism can distract people from things such as social relationships, which are more important to happiness."
Of course, there is no simple path to overall happiness in life, and having money "is not bad," according to Diener. Past research, he noted, shows that well-off people are, on average, slightly happier than poorer folks.
"It is just that the strong desire for money can be self-defeating because one can never get enough," Diener said.
The current findings, reported in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (
web sites), suggest that having desires in line with one's income--and not just making more money--is important to happiness, according to Diener.
"People 50 years ago made less than half of what we make today," he said, "but they were about as happy as we are."
SOURCE: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2002;83:725-734.
Mon Nov 11, 2002
Thailand to begin grading students' "goodness"
Associated Press Writer
By ALISA TANG
BANGKOK, Thailand - In an effort to steer students toward morality and away from materialism, Thai high schools and colleges will be asked to grade them based on their "goodness," a government official said Monday.
The "goodness report book" will record students' community service as well as their emotional and intelligence quotients, said Suchart Muangkeow, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of University Affairs.
He told The Associated Press that the new grading system, which has been long in the planning, will come into effect in June 2003 in state-run as well as private schools and colleges.
The announcement coincided with recent news about an academically successful doctor killing his doctor girlfriend, and a famous gynecologist accused of murdering his wife.
The two slayings have led Thai government officials and medical professionals to question the society's emphasis on academic accomplishment rather than moral values.
"It's very easy for those students to get stressed out because of the highly competitive nature of medical school," said Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand, Thailand's famous forensic pathologist.
"Our education system only breeds competition but never teaches them how to manage emotions."
Suchart said admissions committees at Thai colleges and universities will start taking into account the goodness report books starting 2004 while evaluating potential students.
Suchart said students graded on goodness would be less likely to be drawn to materialism and corruption.
Critics of the project say the concept is well-meaning but may be impractical.
Goodness is an abstract idea and without tangible criteria for evaluation, teacher biases could slant assessment, Thanit Thongthanya, assistant director of Suksanaree School, was quoted as saying by the Nation newspaper.
"In terms of applying a measuring stick to students' growth and development, it's pretty tough," David Miller, high school principal of Ruam Rudee International School, told the AP.
Thu, Nov 14, 2002
What The "Bling-Bling" Is Goin' On?
Assessing the Value Of The Hip-Hop Generation
Black Voices Magazine
By William Reed
The Cash Money motto is: "We got to drink 'til we throw up." Millions of African-American youth's primary pre-occupation is Cash Money's culture of being tattooed up, "iced" up and Rolexed up. The Cash Money Crew's pinky rings are platinum plus and their grills are all "slugged up."
In the late 1970's and early 1980's hip hop became the expression of a new generation squeezed between the fading promises of civil rights era policies and inner city blight spawned by Black middle class abandon. As this generation has advanced in age and, in some cases income, "Bling bling" - expensive jewelry, flashy SUVs, videos, and flamboyant fashions - became a mainstay of today's Black America's "Under 40" crowd. "Bling-bling-ism" is a dysfunctional trend we have toward material worship and self-indulgence.
Cash Money crew claim they're just celebrating the new wealth of poor inner city youth. In essence, their obsession with money, fascination with crime, and selfish indulgence signals gross absorption of mainstream psychology and social ethic. Despite millions of dollars flowing to and through the rap music industry, hip hop urban clothing businesses and gold-plated professional athletes, it goes to fuel violent causes, and not into support of strategies geared to empowering African-American capitalism.
A sensible rap song verse says: "These cats drink champagne to toast death and pain - like slaves on a ship talkin' 'bout who got the flyest chains." Hip-hoppers' disinterest in race consciousness illustrates their alienation from the civil rights generation. Too many bling-blingers proudly admit to being concerned only with sex and money. Although the Hip-Hop Generation includes middle-management corporate types, they too shun any notion of being burdened with topics having to do with race consciousness, preferring to associate economic, political struggle issues with their parent's generation.
Like Spike Lee and his "40 Acres and A Mule" production company, other members of the hip-hop generation must begin to accept responsibility as vehicles for conscious Black social organization. Black Hip-hoppers must understand and act on their power as the primary propaganda tool for the reeducation of African American youth brainwashed by society's subconscious symbols of white supremacy. The ability to use mass media and hip-hop's economic potential to reeducate and empower Africans in America and throughout the Diaspora could be hip-hop's most lasting contribution.
Cash Money People, along with their parents need to take note of what their materialism is doing to the fate of the world. Their gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles are rapidly depleting the world's limited oil resources, and, at least, 20 percent of the "ice" resting on bling-blingers' fingers, chests, ears, noses, lips, and "grills" (teeth and car) are deviations of the "Blood Diamonds" from Africa that are used to fund rebel wars there. Africa's warring factions buy arms with proceeds from uncut diamonds sold to world markets.
The trade in "Blood Diamonds" has financed wars and fed corruption that brought on the collapse of state institutions in Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Bling-blingers' glittering gems are valuable commodities in moving finance around the world.
Racism is worldwide and is elusive, deceiving, and often-invisible social engineering that hides within European-oriented public policy and social mores. Only in working together can African Americans overcome the obsession with mainstream acceptance and assimilation mind-set. Only when all generations of African Americans "turn off" to the false belief that ruthless pursuit of individual wealth is the American Dream, can we "turn on" to giving sufficient attention to building independent and autonomous institutions that eradicate policies, symbols, and practices in place to maintain African people in inferior statuses here, and everywhere.
New Black Voices: What The "Bling-Bling" Is Goin' On?
Fri Nov 29, 2002
Some want gifts to be less a part of Hanukkah
By Jeffrey Cohan, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
It's a familiar lament this time of year.
The emphasis on gift-giving and the excesses of merchandising debase the holiday.
Consumerism trumps spiritualism. Shopping supplants praying.
We're talking about Hanukkah, of course.
The Jewish "Festival of Lights," set to begin its eight-day run at sundown tonight, has been an occasion for decades to exchange presents, mimicking Christmas.
But while priests and ministers may deplore the commercialism of the Christian holiday, some rabbis see an extra reason to bemoan what's happened to Hanukkah.
That's because the Jewish festival celebrates an ancient resistance to the forces of assimilation, while the gift-giving reflects a modern submission to the pull of American culture.
In the view of some rabbis, injecting the Christmas custom of exchanging presents into the Jewish observance of Hanukkah contradicts the very essence of the holiday.
"Gift-giving is really the undoing of Hanukkah," said Rabbi Daniel Schiff of Temple B'nai Israel, a Reform synagogue in White Oak. "It has effectively made it into a Jewish Christmas."
Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Some want gifts to be less a part of Hanukkah
Thu Dec 5, 2002
German priest starts "Santa-free zone"
By Ruben Baudisch
BERLIN (Reuters) - A German priest fed up with the growing commercialism of Christmas has launched an anti-Santa Claus campaign featuring bumper stickers that proclaim: "This is a Santa-free zone".
Eckhard Bieger, a Roman Catholic priest in Frankfurt, said he is all for the holiday season, gift exchanges and family celebrations. But he believes the twinkly-eyed old man in a red costume is a commercial fraud.
"Santa Claus is a creation of the advertising industry and Coca-Cola to further commercial interests," Bieger told Reuters on Thursday.
"I don't have anything against Christmas presents and don't want to disappoint children," he said. "My aim is to put St Nicholas back at the centre of attention rather than this Santa Claus figure, which is just an empty shell."
Swedish-American Artist Haddon Sundblom created the rosy-cheeked Santa used in Coca-Cola's Christmas advertisements in 1931, and Bieger complained that it has been imitated ever since.
Christina Jacob, spokeswoman for Coke's Germany subsidiary Coca-Cola GmbH, said the company was proud Sundblom had created
the Santa Claus character the world knows today for the Coca-Cola ad campaigns used during the 1930s and 1940s.
"Sundblom used a cheery-faced Coca-Cola truck driver as his model for the portrait," said Jacob, who had not heard of the Frankfurt priest's campaign. "We're naturally all proud that Coca-Cola is so closely entwined with the Christmas season."
The modern Santa is a far cry from the severe St Nicholas who meted out punishment or gifts to children in continental Europe or the Old Christmas figure who aided drunken festivities of the English.
Bieger has distributed some 5,000 anti-Santa stickers. The stickers portray a Santa figure dressed in red with a circle and bar crossing the image -- similar to the international signs for "nuclear-free zone" and "no smoking".
"The children should be at the centre of attention. We need to focus more on core values and less on commercialism."
Bieger said he wanted to revive a tradition in which St Nicholas went from house to house on the night of December 6 and put sweets into shoes of well-behaved children.
Ananova: German priest starts anti-Santa campaign
Sun Dec 22, 2002
Catholic Church Pope Says Consumerism Hurts Christmas
Pope says Christmas' true meaning at risk of being lost by rampant consumerism
By World - AP Europe
VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul (news - web sites) II said Sunday that Christmas' true meaning risked being lost by a "consumerist mentality" that is fueled by publicity.
To combat the trend, gift-givers should remember the poor and needy this holiday season, the pope said on the last Sunday before Christmas.
The 82-year-old pontiff made the comments in his weekly appearance in St. Peter's Square, already decked with a towering Christmas tree and parts of the creche, the traditional scene depicting Christ's birth in a manger.
"The simplicity of the creche contrasts with the image of Christmas that sometimes is shown by insistent publicity messages," the pope said.
"Even the beautiful tradition of exchanging Christmas gifts among friends and family, under the impact of a certain consumerist mentality, risks losing its authentic sense of Christmas," he said.
He said instead, the holiday season gave the faithful the opportunity to turn gestures of gift-giving into gestures of "solidarity and welcoming toward the poor and needy."
The pope is due to celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
Saturday, December 27, 2003
When net worth equals self-worth
Advice about money and soul is a tough sell in Tinseltown
by Amy Wallace, The New York Times
It was dinnertime when the 80 or so guests began arriving at the Beverly Hills home of Sandy Grushow, chairman of the Fox Television Entertainment Group. A pianist played standards on a baby grand in the foyer of the large Tudor-style house that Grushow shares with his wife and two children. An army of waiters offered hors d'oeuvres on glistening platters.
The guest of honor, Rabbi Steven Leder, opted for a tiny corned beef and cheese sandwich, then climbed a few steps up the Grushows' elegant staircase and quieted the crowd.
"I thought we might begin tonight by taking an opportunity to turn to your left or right, to meet your neighbor," Leder said. "Then, I would appreciate it if you would just share your net worth with them."
The room shook with nervous laughter. No one complied.
Leder, 43, is the senior rabbi of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a synagogue in Los Angeles that counts many of Hollywood's rich and famous among its members. The evening was a chance for him to unveil his new book, "More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul," for some of the wealthiest members of his congregation: those who make the deals and create the programming that ends up on movie and television screens the world over.
While Leder did not mean to offend, he knew that the book's central premise - that raging materialism and the relentless pursuit of money lead to moral bankruptcy - might strike some in his audience like a stick in the eye.
Over all, the book's messages are hardly fire and brimstone: Don't be a workaholic; give generously to charity; teach your children that materialism, like racism, is not O.K.
Nevertheless, in Hollywood, where who's up, who's down and where one stands in the pecking order are constant obsessions, Leder's chosen topic is a thorny one. Perhaps more than any place on earth, money here is a way to assert your rank. And the fickle nature of the entertainment business can make even the very affluent feel insecure in a way that makes no amount of money ever seem enough.
"This is a town where the next big script could be written by the person who's handing you the cup of coffee at Starbucks," said Stuart Krasnow, a temple member and an executive producer of reality programming at NBC. "Things change so rapidly. Success can go away rapidly."
And that is what makes the rabbi's supporters a bit worried for him. By focusing on money, said Erwin Stoff, a partner in the management-production company 3 Arts Entertainment, Leder entered "a risky area."
Leonard Goldberg, producer of the "Charlie's Angels" TV series and films, agreed.
"This book will force people to look at themselves," he said, "and there may be some who don't appreciate that suggestion. We're not building bridges here, or saving lives. We're just making movies. And when you're making so much money for what secretly you think may be the very little that you do, it can be very unsettling."
Leder stressed that "More Money Than God" was not aimed solely at wealthy people, at Jews or at the entertainment industry.
"It's a book for people who equate their net worth with their self-worth," he said. "In this culture, that means everyone."
Leder stops well short of condemning his congregants or anyone else for owning private jets or other trappings of wealth, stressing that many of the wealthiest people he knows are also generous philanthropists. Still, he hopes that his book will coax people into taking a harder look at the impact of overvaluing money for themselves and for their children.
"Don't get me wrong," he said. "I like a nice party. I like a good glass of wine. I'm not saying that people shouldn't enjoy themselves."
But, he added, "excess in absence of values is idolatry."
Within the congregation, Leder has a reputation for being politic but blunt. His talk this year to the 13-year-olds who are preparing their bar or bat mitzvah, the traditional coming-of-age ceremony, and to their parents is a case in point.
"He took a chalkboard and drew a line down the middle and on the left-hand side wrote 'a.m.' and on the right wrote 'p.m.,'" recalled Stoff, whose daughter is 13. "He said, 'I go to the morning service of the bar mitzvah; what values do I see reflected?' Everybody said love of family, respect for history and tradition and scholarship.
"Then he moves to the p.m. side: 'What values do I see reflected in the evening portion?'" Everyone laughed, Stoff said, as they flashed on the lavish parties they have all attended.
"The rabbi said, 'Here's the challenge for you all: See how many of those a.m. values can be evident all night long.'
"It was so on the money," Stoff said. "No pun intended."
Amy Wallace wrote this for The New York Times.
When net worth equals self-worth
Wed Jan 8, 2003
Peace on Earth and lots of stuff to Goodwill
By Craig Wilson USA TODAY
A few years ago, I wrote a column about how I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore. You can fail at those only so long before it's time to admit defeat and move on. This year was to be no different. I would make no promises I could not keep.
Then, there I was, minding my own business in my mother's living room, sitting in front of a Christmas tree circled by presents, when a column by Leonard Pitts Jr. of The Miami Herald caught my eye. The headline: "Materialism rules the holidays."
Pitts lamented how America was suffering from a severe case of "affluenza" -- empty consumerism gone wild -- and how malls have become our churches, the purchase an act of sacrament.
In short, we all shop too often for things we don't need. The problem, Pitts says, is that we can never buy enough to feel whole. We're all on a fool's errand, credit card in hand.
Pitts' column stayed with me for days. I thought about it Christmas morning when I sat with my family and opened present after present. I thought about it when I packed all those presents in the car on a snowy Christmas night. And I thought about it again when I carried them all into my house the next day -- a house already chock-full of "stuff."
Although I often clean like a madman this time of year, Pitt's column sent me into overdrive. Over New Year's, I cleaned the clutter from the storage room shelves. I then swept through my closet, and this time instead of just rearranging, which is my annual habit, I actually put clothes in bags for Goodwill. Shirts I haven't worn in years, shoes, a dozen ties.
And then I moved on to my bureau. Socks. Sweaters. T-shirts never worn. Into the bag they went.
The process was so cleansing that when it was over I felt lighter, despite the holiday pounds I'd put on. But when I looked, I still had enough left to clothe a good-sized pep club of aging preppies.
It was then I made a resolution. I would buy nothing in 2003. I would join what is known as the simplicity movement.
Oh, I'll buy food and toothpaste and things like that. And come spring, I'll go to the garden center and buy my window-box plants and the like. And friends and family need not fear; they'll still get their presents.
But I won't buy anything for myself. No retro radios from Restoration Hardware, no antique walking sticks for my collection, no shirts from Brooks Brothers. I'm embarrassed to say that even after the purge, 74 shirts still hang in my closet.
Will I be seduced by a black cashmere turtleneck come March? Will a pair of buttery soft moccasins trip me up this summer? Will something Burberry beckon in the fall? I don't know, but it'll be an adventure to see how much "stuff" I can actually snub in the coming months.
Pitts ended his column with these words: "Maybe wealth begins the day you are finally able to want what you have. Finally manage to say something none of us, rich or poor, ever seem able to say. I have enough. I don't need anything more than this."
Could less really translate to more? Could I really be a richer man this time next year? I'm willing to give it the old college try.
Stay tuned. God only knows how long this show will run.
Sun Jan 12, 2003
Dalai Lama calls for rejection of materialism at Buddhist gathering in eastern India
By ABDUL QADIR, Associated Press Writer
GAYA, India - The Dalai Lama led Tibetan Buddhists' highest worship ceremony, calling for the rejection of materialism, greed and violence.
"Money breeds greed, jealousy and other social vices. It can never bring joy," the spiritual leader said Sunday, as he led 20,000 Tibetans from across the world in the prayer ceremony called Kalchakra, or Wheel of Time. It is the biggest annual gathering of Buddhism's Mahayana sect.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 with thousands of supporters after a failed uprising against China. Since then, he has headed a government-in-exile in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent struggle against Chinese rule of his homeland.
The prayer ceremony is held in the eastern Indian city of Gaya, where the religion's founder is believed to have attained enlightenment.
Wed Feb 5, 2003
UNEP Looks at Making Green "Cool"
ENS Correspondents, Environment News Service
NAIROBI, Kenya, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - Hoping to make sustainable living more "cool," the United Nations (news - web sites) Environment Programme is launching a new initiative aimed at improving the image of environmentally friendly lifestyle choices. The plan, devised with the help of social scientists, was announced Tuesday at the agency's weeklong Governing Council meeting in Nairobi.
Many audiences are turned off by the judgmental tone of traditional messages about the environment, UNEP Executive-Director Klaus Toepfer told environmental ministers. Officials attending the meeting are discussing a variety of related issues, including ways that governments, industry and the public can promote sustainable consumption patterns.
"People are simply not listening, so we need to make sustainable lifestyles fashionable and 'cool,' as the young people might say," Toepfer said. "Messages from governments, exhorting people to drive their cars less or admonishing them for buying products that cause environmental damage, appear not to be working."
Studies suggest that just five percent of the public in northern hemisphere countries are embracing so called sustainable lifestyles and sustainable consumerism.
Toepfer said experts have concluded that the traditional messages from governments and green groups urging the public to adopt environmentally friendly lifestyles and purchasing habitats need to be overhauled. Many of these messages are too "guilt laden," he said, and instead of "turning people on" to the environment, are switching them off.
In a pioneering move, UNEP has enlisted psychologists and behaviorists to help market "cool" lifestyles as a way of selling clean and green products.
The partnership with social scientists and behaviorists is being carried out under UNEP's Sustainable Consumption Programme and Life Cycle Initiative, which is looking at a wide range of issues, from labeling to eco-friendly product design, to promote more environment friendly consumption.
The new program compliments initiatives, some of which are being orchestrated by UNEP, to develop a network of cleaner production centers across the globe to help reduce polluting manufacturing processes.
More than 50 young people from across the globe underlined the importance of promoting sustainable lifestyles in a statement to the environment ministers gathered in Nairobi.
"We commit to awareness raising campaigns to lifestyle change at a community level and request governments to further encourage sustainable consumption," the statement read. "We support the UNEP YouthXChange program as an excellent example of work in this field."
The statement also provides case studies of youth organizations that have made a real difference in achieving sustainable purchasing patterns. For example, Copa Roca, a fashion company in Brazil, has made a successful, profitable business by making clothes out of recycled fabrics.
UNEP experts also cited campaigns by KIA, the Korean car manufacturer, and the European detergent industry, as two examples of selling positive, environmentally friendly consumerism and lifestyles.
KIA has a campaign in the United Kingdom which urges people not to use cars for short journeys, only long distance ones. It provides a mountain bike with every new car purchased and helps organize "walking buses." These create networks of parents who assist in escorting children to school on foot.
The European "Wash Right" campaign extols the virtues of low temperature washing by emphasizing the benefits to the clothes, as well as the energy savings achieved.
"Sustainable consumption is not about consuming less, it is about consuming differently, consuming efficiently, and having an improved quality of life," said Jacqueline Aloisi De Larderel, director of UNEP's division of technology, industry and economics, which is spearheading the new initiative.
"It also means sharing between the richer and the poorer," she added. "This is not just an issue for so called rich countries. Many rapidly industrializing, developing countries, such as China, are keenly aware of the environmental threats posed by uncontrolled consumerism and the risks of not making products environmentally friendly."
Larderel said it was no coincidence that the ministerial debate on consumption patterns, scheduled for Thursday, is being led by Zhenhua Xie, the Chinese Environment Minister and Borge Brende, the Norwegian Environment Minister.
China is one of 52 countries surveyed by UNEP in collaboration with Consumers International. The survey found that many countries are trying to promote sustainable consumption through a variety of measures, including public awareness campaigns and "green taxes" that favor environmentally friendly goods.
China has factored sustainable consumption into its Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests. The law's impacts include publicity and educational programs, ecolabeling, certification of environmentally sound products, and 30 percent sales tax reductions for light, less polluting vehicles.
Bas De Leeuw, coordinator of UNEP's Sustainable Consumption Programme, said UNEP is also working with industry and businesses to make products and services more environmentally friendly way.
As an example, he cited Kluber, a leading lubricants company based in Munchen, Germany. Kluber has developed a mobile laboratory that visits industries to ensure that their machinery is operating as efficiently as possible. The benefits of this service include reductions in smoke, vibrations and noise pollution.
In Italy, the detergent supplier Allegrini uses a mobile shop to sell direct to consumers, reducing the need for separate shipping of each item.
The UNEP initiative is also drawing up green procurement information materials for governments and local authorities in developed and developing countries. Using these materials can help authorities ensure that their tremendous purchasing power is used in an environmentally sound manner.
"Many developing countries are keen to buy environmentally sound products and services but do not know where to go," noted De Leeuw. "We are developing an information network and Internet service so that if they, say, want to buy environmentally friendly pens or vehicles, they know where to go."
Stressing that making people feel guilty about their lifestyles and purchasing habits is achieving only limited success, explained Toepfer. "We need to look again at how we enlist the public to reduce pollution and live in ways that cause minimal environmental damage."
"We also need to make it clear that there are real, personal, benefits to living in harmony with the planet," he added.
Thursday February 6, 2003
If I Am So Rich, Why Am I So Unhappy?
Press Release, Source: Thayer Cheatham Willis
PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- One of modern society's firmest convictions is that money does, indeed, buy happiness -- period, end of discussion. It's a global perception, the universal truth that wealth answers all our prayers, cures all our ills, rids all our fears and allows us to live happily ever after. Not so, says Thayer Cheatham Willis, psychotherapist and herself an inheritor.
According to Willis, M.A., L.C.S.W., a personal coach specializing in issues of affluence, financial wealth can in fact be detrimental to one's mental, moral, psychological and emotional well being. She tells how in "Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth: A Life Guide for Inheritors" (New Concord Press, $25), available in bookstores or on online at www.thayerwillis.com.
"In this rudderless world of material excess and conspicuous consumption, millions of privileged but disaffected members of the leisure class have extracted everything from their wealth and success, except for happiness," says Willis.
The daughter of one of the founders of Georgia-Pacific Corporation, Willis grew up in a world cushioned by wealth. So when in her mid-thirties she heard that a fifth suicide occurred from within her peer group, it finally hit her squarely that the emotional issues she overcame were echoed among her peers. Already a counselor at this point in her life, it was this realization that led her to pursue her current practice.
"Today we live in a very secularized society with great emphasis on materialism," says former Oregon Senator and Governor Mark O. Hatfield in his foreword to Willis' book. "One could say that the accumulation of worldly goods dominates many of our public and private goals. It is refreshing to note that (Willis) can easily discern a balance between the material and the spiritual."
"No one gets a free ride through life," says Willis. "Particularly not those who believe they deserve one simply because they have the price of a ticket."
"Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth: A Life Guide for Inheritors" (ISBN 0-9725494-0-4) is available online at www.thayerwillis.com, in bookstores or by writing New Concord Press, P.O. Box 3825, Portland, OR 97208-3825.
Sat March 15, 2003
Kids' Goals Hold Clues for Depression Risk -Study
Science - Reuters
LONDON (Reuters) - Children who equate happiness with money, fame and beauty are more likely to suffer from depression than youngsters who do not place as much value on being rich and attractive.
Dr. Helen Street of the Queen Elizabeth Medical Center in Perth, Australia, told a psychology conference on Saturday that
children as young as four years old can suffer from depression and up to 20 percent of youngsters could be at risk of the
illness in the future.
She added that early beliefs about happiness and life goals could be an indication in young children of their vulnerability
"Children who look outside themselves and think if they get enough money and are popular enough then they will be happy are
actually much more likely to be depressed than those that think money might be a nice thing to have but at the end of the day their happiness comes from their own personal development," said Street.
In a study of 402 Australian children aged nine to 12 years old, Street and her colleagues identified 16 with signs of
clinical depression and 112 others at risk of suffering from depression in the future.
Children were asked to identify their top life goals and what would make them happy. Close relationships with family and
friends and feeling good about themselves were among the most popular goals.
But nearly 12 percent thought having lots of money was the most important thing in life. Those children were also the most
likely to experience depression, according to Street.
"That was significantly shown," Street said.
She advised parents to be aware of possible symptoms of depression in children such a change in eating and sleeping
habits, irritability and a loss of interest in school, friends and favorite activities.
They should also help their children understand what is likely to make them happiest in life and that it is not all
about fame and fortune.
Street presented her findings to a meeting of the British Psychological Society in the south coast town of Bournemouth.
Kids' Goals Hold Clues for Depression Risk -Study - mirror site of articleKids' Goals Hold Clues for Depression Risk -Study
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Kids' Goals Hold Clues for Depression Risk -Study - mirror site of articleKids' Goals Hold Clues for Depression Risk -Study
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British Psychological Society
Thu Apr 3, 2003
Money Ranks Behind Family and Health
By EILEEN ALT POWELL, AP Business Writer
"I think the economy and tensions in the world have put people's values in a more idealistic place than a materialistic place," said Susan Ungaro, editor of Family Circle magazine.
She points to a survey conducted for the magazine in January, when war in Iraq (news - web sites) was still a threat, that found 84 percent of adults believe Americans worship money. But when asked to name what was most important to them, money came in a distant third behind relationships with family and friends, and good health.
"Yes, we think it's important to own a home. And yes, we put a premium on saving and on being debt-free," said Susan Ungaro, editor of the magazine. "But the truth is, people really care about the things that money can't buy."
Nancy Langdon Jones, a certified financial planner in Upland, Calif., has seen that trend in her clients.
It started after the terror attacks, she said. "Then people were hit with the weak economy and now the war. There's a lot of uncertainty out there."
For some, that has translated to pulling back financially.
"They are consciously looking for ways to save and cut costs," Jones said. "They're having picnics instead of expensive dinners out."
This group, she believes, is likely to return to more traditional spending patterns when the uncertainty is removed. But others appear to be making life-changing decisions.
"I'm seeing people who are coming in looking for things other than investments," she said.
That's a change from as recently as five years ago, when couples wanted to talk about accumulating wealth and buying palatial properties and supporting lavish lifestyles, she said.
"That's not there anymore," Jones said.
Instead, she's seeing couples try to de-emphasize money in their lives and focus on what they think would make them happy and comfortable.
"Some are even retiring early, with less money than they planned, and cutting back on their lifestyles," Jones said. "They're cutting things out of their lives that don't excite them, that don't fulfill them."
Betsy Taylor, founder and president of the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md., believes the materialism that took root in America following World War II evolved into a "luxury fever" in the 1980s and '90s, producing $8,000 backyard barbecue grills and gold-plated cars and consumer demand for them.
"We are in such a commercial society that it's easy for us to be distracted, to lose sight of what's important," Taylor said.
The terror attacks, the economic downturn and the war have made people fearful, Taylor said.
As a result, she said, "They're digging deep and asking themselves, 'What does it mean to live in a world that seems so insecure and uncertain?'"
The answer, the center has found in surveys and focus groups, "is overwhelmingly that people want to spend more time with their families and their loved ones ... and less time in the rat race," Taylor said.
Taylor suggests that if adults have any doubt about that thesis, they should ask their children.
The center did, in a contest that drew 2,000 responses and became the basis for Taylor's new book, "What Kids Really Want That Money Can't Buy."
"The most touching thing was the volume of letters and art that focused on their hunger for more time with parents and family," Taylor said. "There were really heartfelt things like, 'My dad works all the time. I know we need the money, but I really wish I could see him.'"
As Taylor sees it, "In the rush to get and to do and to stay ahead, we adults can lose our way."
Wed May 21, 2003
Online Extra: "It's a Bart Simpson Culture"
By BusinessWeek Online
From his cluttered office at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies, Andrew Sum has been watching chart after chart deliver the same disturbing news for several years. The data show a lack of positive educational momentum among boys and young men. Sum says the new gender gap could create a new kind of "social dynamite" that will drive deep rifts in society. If he had his way, high schools across the country would be plastered with posters reading "Wanted: Five Million Men." That's how many more men it will take, Sum points out, to achieve gender parity in higher education by 2010.
BusinessWeek's Michelle Conlin talked with Sum at length about his views concerning everything from Bart Simpson to the impending marriage squeeze. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: You're very careful to point out that it's not as if boys are completely worse off than they were a generation ago.
A: That's right. The real issue is that men just haven't made any real progress. The dangerous thing about this is that we're in an economy that is rewarding the educated more and more. And men are just not responding to this new reality.
Yes, some guys are doing very, very well. But more guys are doing very, very badly. And it's those guys that will dominate prisons, homelessness, and who will be far less likely to get married and raise kids. Men have fallen behind, and they're continuing to fall behind. And it's going to be a tragedy for the country.
Q: Are college degrees the new high-school degrees? In other words, is it even more imperative now that people go to college?
A: Absolutely. Just think back to the heyday of manufacturing in the 1970s. Back then, you could go into trucking or construction and do alright. But you just can't get into the middle class today with a low-class education. Today, your college counterpart will make 90% more than you. And so what we have is a situation where men are really underinvesting in themselves. They're shortchanging their future.
Q: What's the ultimate cost of this underinvestment?
A: Our country needs a well-educated workforce. Our productivity, our innovation, our growth -- they all depend upon the population getting continuous improvement in literacy and other skills. This lack of progress among men will hold down productivity growth. It will also have a big impact on male earnings, and, as a result, for taxes and government spending.
Already, we've become so much more dependent on the immigrant workforce. It's also true, when we do happiness studies, that better-educated people tend to be much happier. So there are immense social implications across the board here.
Q: But isn't it true that men with high school degrees still make more than their female counterparts?
A: There used to be a big pay gap between the genders among high-school graduates. But today, boys out of high school only make about 5% more, on average, than girls in the same boat.
Q: What role is the culture playing?
A: There are so many strains to that question. But one of the biggest things that jumps out at me is rap culture. It's totally antagonistic to academic achievement. It demeans students who try to do well in school. And I think it disengages boys from academic learning.
Q: When Michael Moore asked Marilyn Manson about the role of music in his film Bowling for Columbine, Manson replied that music wasn't to blame. The real problem was a media machine that promotes fear and consumerism.
A: Well, boys aren't just victims. They play a big role in this, too. They need to get off their butts, basically. It's not cool to take AP classes. It's a Bart Simpson culture. Underachiever and proud of it. Cool to be stupid.
And these are the guys who are going to keep living with mom. I mean male culture has just become totally anti-intellectual. The male cultural heroes and icons -- very few of them have a brain in their head. We glorify male idiocy. And young guys pick up on that.
Q: And then what happens to the women who may want to date those guys?
A: When you listen to women's groups, and they say there's not enough good men out there, they're right. There are fewer well-educated men than there were 20 years ago. And people tend to like to marry someone within the same educational class. Historically, women have tended to marry up.
Q: Now what do you think will happen?
A: More women will marry down, or marry younger, or not marry at all.
Q: What's your prescription then?
A: Men have to realize what women did. We have to go back and earn it. We have to start paying our dues.
BusinessWeek Online: It's a Bart Simpson Culture, see also the "Related Items" articles
June 15, 2003
Can money buy happiness?
Economic researchers quantify a 'happiness calculus'
By NBC NEWS
So, you think money can buy you happiness and make all your troubles disappear? How much would it take? Researchers have taken a new look at that famous question and have come up with some answers that may surprise you.
TRY TO IMAGINE the possibilities. How about this: vacations in the Caribbean whenever you like? Or, wait, maybe Paris. How about a compact but very well appointed flat in London? Some good art, something by somebody with a name, like Van Gogh. And to go with your country place, horses or maybe vintage cars ? why not both?
If advertising reflects what makes us happy, then, being rich would indeed make us very happy. And we all know money has a profound impact on us. Why else would we make money so useful for all these things, if it weren't to make us happy. And after all, all around America, a lot of people are working very hard to find out. Yet, you know what they say.
Wasn't it mother who told us money couldn't buy happiness? How is it possible, then, that money, something so banal, could create an emotion so profound?
"Every time you get a bonus, every time you get a birthday check in the mail, you sort of think about the little emotional kick that it gives you and you wonder how important money is in your life," says Jean Chatzky, who has pondered the question a lot lately.
Chatzky is an editor of Money Magazine and an NBC News contributor. She says economists have been studying our personal relationship with money much more intensely in the last few years. The research is exploding, tracking what makes us happy, using happiness surveys, statistical happiness spreadsheets, even inventing a new term: happiness calculus.
"It's an extrapolation," she says. "It's running the numbers to figure out if $30,000 makes you happy for X number of months or X number of years."
And by doing the math, some economists now claim they have found an answer to that old question, does money buy happiness?
"The real answer, according to economists at universities from Princeton and Harvard to Oxford is that indeed money can buy happiness," says Chatzky.
It's a finding that may come as a shock to mother or that warm puppy or the good people down at the Buddhist temple on the corner. It also begs another question: How much money does it take to buy that happiness?
This lottery commercial, where the people sing about winning $1 million, suggests one amount. So how much would it take for a really miserable person to suddenly wake up with a song? Once again, the scientists have come up with an answer.
"Essentially it takes $1.5 million to move you from a point where you're unhappy to a point where you're happy," says Chatzky.
How do those economists know? It's that happiness calculus thing again. Some of the most dramatic results have come from a continuing survey in England, where the government has been asking people a whole basket-full of questions over the years. Some of them had money, some didn't. Some got rich all of a sudden. And that's when those scientists realized they'd found the answer to another question: What kind of money makes us happiest, winning money or earning it?
"The studies say winning money makes you happier, that money that comes as a windfall makes you happier simply because it's unexpected," says Chatzky.
And the happiness lasts, too. Somebody who unexpectedly lands $1 million, say the economists, will likely still be happy more than a year later.
Maybe people who downplay money aren't being honest. After all, today's economists have the benefit of studying vast numbers of people, the wealth of nations. In fact, a lot of the studies are right here in the richest country in the world ? the richest country in the history of the world, for that matter. And are we happy?
Well, it turns out, no. Not according to these studies.
"If you look at the United States which has gotten richer overtime, the people of the United States as a whole have not gotten happier," says Chatzky.
In fact, say the scientists, we may be unhappier now than we were 20 or 30 years ago. Statistically at least, the evidence is rather persuasive. Go ahead, work hard, kill yourself, get that big raise. Will you be happier? If you're like most people, the answer is no. In fact, it's quite the reverse.
"The more we earn, the more we anticipate earning," says Chatzky. "As our expectations go up it becomes harder to meet those expectations... and that doesn't make us happy."
So, does money buy happiness? The answer is no ? and yes. But, here's something you should know. One thing these economic scientists haven't found is a price tag for the simple things that give us so much pleasure.
"They can put a price tag on things like how much being unemployed costs you in terms of happiness," says Chatzky, but being surrounded by people you love has a more beneficial effect on your life than money, even if you don't have very much money.
So maybe you don't fly first class to your fancy apartment in Cannes, maybe you drive to Florida in your old car. Take some good friends along and who knows? They might win the lottery.
NBC - Can money buy happiness? - consider the source of this authorless article, a tv network that makes money by selling materialism to it's viewers
June 16, 2003
Why We Strive for Status
Science is revealing the biological roots of men's persistent one-upmanship
Los Angeles Weekly
By Geoffrey Cowley With Anne Underwoodn, NEWSWEEK
Genghis Khan was not one to agonize over gender roles. He was into sex and power, and he didn't mind saying so. "The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him," the emperor once thundered, "to ride their horses and take away their possessions!"
GENGHIS KHAN CONQUERED two thirds of the known world during the early 13th century, amassing an empire that stretched from Eastern Europe to Korea. And he may have set an all-time record for what biologists call reproductive success. An account written 33 years after his death credited him with 20,000 descendants. Today researchers believe that 8 percent of the people living in the former empire may bear the leader's genes.
Men's manners have improved markedly since Genghis Khan's day. Harems went out of style centuries ago, and even despots now disavow pillage and oppression as ideals. At heart, though, we're the same animals we were 800 years ago. Which is to say we are status seekers. We may talk of equality and fraternity. We may strive for classless societies. But we go right on building hierarchies, and jockeying for status within them. Can we abandon the tendency? Probably not. For as scientists are now discovering, status seeking is not just a habit or a cultural tradition. It's a design feature of the male psyche-a biological drive that is rooted in the nervous system and regulated by hormones and brain chemicals. The drive for dominance skews our perceptions, colors our friendships, shapes our moods and affects our health. But we're not always worse off for it. Hierarchies can produce harmony as well as strife and injustice. And even if we can't level them, there is no question we can make them more benign.
Males are not the only ones who crave status (remember Tonya Harding?), but we pursue it more doggedly than females at every stage of life. Studies suggest that boys are more assertive than girls at 13 months, more aggressive as toddlers and more competitive at almost any age. While schoolgirls engage in cooperative play, boys as young as 6 establish dominance hierarchies and maintain them through rough-and-tumble games. As adolescents, we boast, threaten and joust more than girls do. As adults, we're less bothered by social disparities, more supportive of military spending and less likely to share intimate feelings with friends of the same sex. "Men's relationships are more like alliances," Durham University psychologist Anne Campbell observes in her recent book "A Mind of Her Own." "They support one another and share their interests and activities, but always with wariness."
How do we know this relentless one-upmanship is a biological endowment? If the tendency showed up only in certain societies, it would be easier to dismiss as something we learn. But anthropologists find the same pattern virtually everywhere they look-and so do zoologists. Male competition is fierce among crickets, crayfish and elephants, and it's ubiquitous among higher primates. "Male chimpanzees have an extraordinarily strong drive for dominance," says Frans de Waal, a behavioral scientist at Emory University and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. "They're constantly jockeying for position." Like human males, chimps will bluff, scheme and sometimes murder to maintain or usurp rank. And, like human males, they respond physically as well as emotionally to advances and setbacks. When men prepare for a fight, or even a chess match, their bodies produce a surge of testosterone, a hormone known for boosting body mass and aggressiveness. "The testosterone level peaks during the contest," says Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham. "Afterward it stays high in the winner but declines in the loser." In other words, our glands are set to push us into winnable conflicts and to discourage foolish ambitions. Coincidence?
Evolutionists don't think so. From their perspective, life is essentially a race to reproduce, and natural selection is bound to favor different strategies in different organisms. Why should males be more primed than females to jockey for dominant status? In reproductive terms, they have vastly more to gain from it. A female can't flood the gene pool by commandeering extra mates; no matter how much sperm she attracts, she is unlikely to produce more than a dozen viable offspring. But as Genghis Khan's exploits make clear, males can profit enormously by out mating their peers. "If 10 percent of men can have a monopoly on 50 percent of the female population," Campbell observes, "other men are faced with the possibility of going to their graves childless unless they fight for their share of the reproductive opportunity." It's not hard to see how that dynamic, played out over millions of years, would leave modern men fretting over status. We're built from the genes that the most determined competitors passed down.
Fortunately, we don't aspire to families of 800. As monogamy and contraceptives may have leveled the reproductive playfield, power has become its own psychological reward. "It's part of the male identity," says University of Connecticut psychologist James O'Neil. "We strive for success and upward mobility." But those who achieve high status still enjoy more sex with more partners than the rest of us, and the reason is no mystery. Researchers have gathered voluminous data on women's mating preferences over the past half century. They have studied primitive societies, conducted international surveys, run lab experiments-even analyzed personals ads-and they have consistently found that women favor signs of "earning capacity" over good looks. For sheer sex appeal, a doughy bald guy in a blue blazer and a Rolex will outscore a stud in a Burger King uniform almost every time. Power, it seems, really is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
By the same token, powerlessness can be toxic. Scores of studies have linked male depression to problems with success, power and competition. A sudden loss of employment can be especially devastating, says University of Texas psychologist David Buss, costing men their marriages as well as their self-esteem. The stress of subordination may even cause physical illness. "Low socioeconomic status carries with it an enormously increased risk of a broad range of diseases," says Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky, "and this gradient cannot be fully explained by factors such as health-care access." Animal studies suggest that low status can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system and damage the heart. The effects on human health are less clear, but Sapolsky predicts that scientists will uncover the same connections.
Is there any hope for peace, justice or widespread happiness in a world so ineluctably stratified? The prospects aren't nearly as grim as all these findings suggest. Men may be obsessed with rank, but we're not always in conflict over it. In fact, once we work out who's higher and lower, we often relax and get along quite well. "If resources are divvied up unevenly," says Sapolsky, "you can fight it out tooth and claw for everything, or you can have a stable dominance system that gets you the same result without having to go through the battle every time. It's a conservative way of avoiding fighting." True, life at the bottom of the heap can be awful, but the top is not the only place to find fulfillment. "People often think that social rank is about everybody trying to get high rank," says University of Derby psychologist Paul Gilbert. "There's an important difference between pursuing high rank and avoiding low rank." Middle management can be a good deal if the boss is not a tyrant. And even if you land at the bottom of one hierarchy, it's often possible to distinguish yourself in another one. Janitor by day, martial-arts master by night.
That's not to say things always work out for the best. The world is full of would-be despots, and "take more than your share" is still the alpha-male motto. Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner notes that America's top CEOs now average $37.5 million in annual earnings-more than 1,000 times the salary of an average worker. Genghis Khan would approve. The good news is that status doesn't survive by power alone. Even among nonhuman primates, the most durable leaders are those who kiss babies, flatter allies and share their bounty-in short, the ones who govern by consent. They may have testosterone to spare, but it is matched and balanced by serotonin, a neurotransmitter critical for controlling impulses. And though quick to confront potential challengers, they employ more bluff than force. "If you have to abuse your power," says Sapolsky, "you're probably in the process of losing it." Men will surely continue to learn that lesson the hard way. But we've come a fair distance already, and the millennium is young.
MSNBC - Newsweek: Why We Strive for Status
MSNBC - Newsweek: Why We Strive for Status
Fri Jul 11, 2003
On: Children of Paradise
Los Angeles Weekly
By John Powers LA Weekly Writer
When Harper's sent Kurt Vonnegut to cover the 1972 Republican Convention, our bounciest misanthrope came back with his wiry hair standing on end. "The two real political parties in America are the Winners and Losers," he growled. "The single religion of the Winners is a harsh interpretation of Darwinism, which argues that it is the will of the universe that only the fittest should survive."
Well, things have changed slightly the last 30 years: Thanks to the Christian Right, none of our leaders would ever dare mention Darwin, except to say he shouldn't be taught in schools. Beyond that, the Winners' agenda is now far harsher than it ever was under Richard Nixon. The Bush administration has pushed through dividend tax cuts for the rich, while attempting to exclude millions of ordinary Americans (including U.S. troops) from other forms of tax relief. Even as it gives $80,000 write-offs to businesses that buy Humvees (gee, I wonder who in the company will be driving those puppies?), it's proposing to change the Fair Labor Standards Act in a way that will cost several million hourly workers their overtime. Why, you can just re-define their work as administrative and the extra hours are free!
Although it's fun to think so, such Darwinian social policies didn't spring fully formed from Bush's skull. They embody our reigning cultural ethos. Where America was once a country that took pride in backing the underdog, it now has no time for Losers. Citizens have learned to step over the homeless on streets, politicians ignore the dispossessed in favor of middle-class swing voters (have you ever heard Bush even mention "the poor"?), and pop culture has gentrified the idea of the outsider. Forget Norma Rae. Hollywood's current notion of a populist heroine is Legally Blonde's Elle Woods, a rich girl who (assisted by co-star Sally Field!) must rise above the stigma of her hair color and Chihuahua.
Meanwhile, our Winners bask in a feeling of glory that recalls the era when John D. Rockefeller explained his fortune to a Sunday-school class with the words "God gave me the money." Last year, the San Francisco 49ers' wide receiver Terrell Owens outraged sportswriters when, after scoring a touchdown against the Seahawks, he pulled a Sharpie from his sock, autographed the ball and handed it to his financial adviser in the stands. Me, I didn't understand why the media got so upset. After all, Owens' silly stunt (which had me laughing out loud) was simply routine braggadocio in a land where radio host Jim Rome talks constantly about his popularity, Bill O'Reilly boasts about all the books he's sold (he accuses his critics of "envy"), and President Bush, his smirk freshly re-installed for his fat-cat fund-raisers, feels no qualms about tossing out the hubristic phrase "my first term."
Naturally, it's not only the rich and powerful who are flush with pleasure at their privilege. Marx famously declared that the ruling ideas of any age are those of its ruling class, and it comes as no surprise that conservative intellectuals are currently crafting the Winners' postmillennial ideology, from arguments for militarism to defenses of high-end consumerism. Indeed, over the last few years, we've been inundated with "hot" socio-historical books like Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power, which insists that America has the duty to run the world, Joseph Epstein's smug Snobbery: The American Version, in which the Northwestern prof riffs on status-mania from the seat of his $45,000 Jaguar, and James B. Twitchell's Living It Up: Our Love Affair With Luxury, a volume urging us to think of luxury as "the necessary consumption of the unnecessary." (Now that's a phrase I bet President Bush didn't try out on the starving people of Liberia.)
Perhaps the most charming of these books is David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, a self-described piece of "comic sociology," which argues that our new upper class represents sort of a Hegelian synthesis of bourgeois aspiration and bohemian lifestyle. Brooks is a master at giving us neoconservatism with a human face, and he fills his book with self-deprecating asides, astute social observations and good-humored swipes at the cultural excesses of the privileged. Still, he's not a senior editor at the Weekly Standard for nothing, and Bobos is finally far less eager to question the values of Winners than it is to celebrate them. "Bobos have reasons to feel proud of the contributions they have made to their country," Brooks writes. "Wherever they have settled, they have made life more enjoyable (for those who can afford it)." An entire vision of the world reveals itself in those parentheses.
Early in Bobos, Brooks argues that our new ruling class (which replaced the old WASP one) is a creation of America's modern meritocracy. Those who rise do so because of their individual accomplishments, not through inherited status. And this, conservatives insist, is precisely as it should be. Which is why they oppose preferential systems such as affirmative action.
Except, of course, for members of the elite. For the latest example of such thinking one need merely look at Adam Bellow's In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History, a long (indeed overlong) new book that has prompted a media frisson. You see, its author is the son of the Nobel Prize?winning novelist Saul Bellow, and though his parents split when he was 3, Bellow has doubtless spent most of his 40-odd years dealing with the fact of his paternity - living up to Dad, trading on his name, dealing with charges of nepotism.
Frankly, most readers will skim the fine points of Bellow's sweeping argument - which discusses the nepotistic behavior of everything from the Kennedy clan to slime mold (seriously) - in order to reach what he has to say about present-day America. And here, the basic idea is pretty much what we've come to expect from our conservative writers - a defense of the ruling order. Bellow argues that the so-called New Nepotism, which we Americans now enjoy, is a good thing because the privileges of birth have become bound to "the iron rule of merit." That is, although the children of the rich and powerful clearly have more opportunities than the rest of us - posh schools, open doors, powerful allies, a sense of comfort with the elite - this is a far cry from traditional nepotism in which parents hired their kids outright or pulled strings to land them a good position. Whatever your connections today, Bellow insists, you still have to earn your success. Bill Walton can't just call up David Stern and get his son Luke a good NBA contract.
Now this is quite true (Kate Hudson's "stardom" notwithstanding), and I'm perfectly prepared to believe that the iron rule of merit would have rewarded Adam Bellow, who is brainy, writes well and has good commercial instincts (he published Dinesh D'Souza's ghastly right-wing best-seller Illiberal Education). But what of Colin Powell's son, Michael, who's head of the FCC? What of Dick Cheney's daughter Elizabeth, now a deputy assistant secretary of state? What of Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who's married to Senator Mitch McConnell and had as acting solicitor for the Labor Department, Eugene Scalia, the son of - you guessed it.
And then, of course, there's George W. Bush, who Bellow, perhaps wisely, gives only two brief mentions in a 565-page book. Until his early 40s, Dubya lived like my cousins back in Iowa - he was a lazy student, tireless party animal, lousy businessman and superb mama's boy. But where my cousins now work at a John Deere plant, Bush is the president - thanks to his dad's connections and to having his equally connected brother running Florida on an election night when it was extremely handy having kinfolk in charge. Not exactly a career that leaves one wanting to praise nepotism.
Nor does the lacerating June 20 piece in the Los Angeles Times, which chronicled the latest way corporate America now buys votes in Congress. Unable to give our representatives all the money that's necessary, companies simply hire as lobbyists the children of U.S. senators whose votes affect their industry. For instance, John Breaux Jr. and the distinguished Chet Lott (a failed country musician and pizza-parlor manager in Kentucky) suddenly landed high-paying jobs as lobbyists for BellSouth. Why? Their fathers, Louisiana Senator John Breaux and Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, just happened to be on the Senate committees that voted on telecommunications legislation.
Predictably, Breaux and Lott (and all the others in Congress with lobbyist relatives) swear that they'd never, ever give any special break to a corporate cause just because their own flesh and blood happened to be representing it. Just as predictably, cases like this don't get a whole lot of play by Bellow, who, with the suaveness of one who can declare the Borgias "a remarkable family," insists that nepotism is actually an "art" that can be practiced well or badly. I don't know about Bellow, but I'd say that BellSouth and the Lotts practiced it pretty damn well - for themselves anyway. Perhaps they asked, "What would slime mold do?"
LA Weekly: Children of Paradise
I hope this article was not "too political", but it was the only article on materialism and consumerism I could find for months. This article has a pretty good quote "think of luxury as 'the necessary consumption of the unnecessary.' "
Saturday, August 2, 2003
Success in life can seem like a pretty tall order
The Independent of Great Britain
By Brian Viner
According to research from the University of Miami, good-looking women are likely to earn more than those lower down the scale of pulchritude. The findings were different in the case of men, for whom height is apparently more of a factor than looks. Mind you, nobody appears to have told the high-achieving Robert Reich, labor secretary under President Clinton, whose recent letter to The Independent pointed out that although he is 4 feet, 10 1/2 inches tall, he did not fall out with Clinton over the president's remark that he could live in a Lego model of the White House.
On the other hand, if a mature man (I was going to write fully-grown but it might confuse the issue) includes a half-inch when declaring his height, the chances are that he would like to be taller. It is akin to asking a little boy how old he is and him saying "thix and thwee-quarterth." As every parent and grandparent knows, the three-quarters are all-important. So is the half-inch. Incidentally, I am 5 feet 10 7/8. There is a mark on our kitchen wall to prove it.
We'll come back to the Miami University research as it relates to women's beauty, but let me first deal with the issue of height-related chippiness in men.
A couple of years ago the television company September Films made a documentary series called "The Real Sex And The City," following a bunch of Manhattanites whose lifestyles were not dissimilar to those of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte in the HBO drama. The publicists at Sky kindly offered to fly over four journalists to accompany these women to some of New York's most chic restaurants. And as my colleague Robert Fisk was unavailable at the time, doubtless pursuing some other assignment, I got the job.
One of the women, I recall, was a model called Alison. She was 6 feet 2 inches tall and told me that she would never date a man shorter than herself. When my article was published, quoting Alison, I was bombarded with furious e-mails by a reader who basically accused me of colluding in a vendetta against short men. His e-mails have continued, intermittently, for a year. The last one arrived only last week.
"Tall men get the birds and short men who are second-class citizens get rejected and humiliated," he thundered. "Short men must know their station, just as black men used to have to. You're obviously tall, otherwise you wouldn't have been so gleeful in telling the readers that a 6-foot blonde wouldn't look twice at a short man. If you were short or a cripple, I'm sure you would have found her comments upsetting."
One can only guess at the disappointments my correspondent has suffered to provoke such rage, and, of course, I don't know what he does for a living but his passion is interesting in the light of the Miami University research. There is a correlation, say the researchers, between professional success and men's height, professional success and women's looks. Their study is supposedly the first to quantify the value of good looks; plainer women earn, on average, 8 percent less.
But these statistics need some psychological interpretation. It's obvious that taller men are no more competent but are they not, as a general rule, more confident? And is that not also true of better-looking women? Confidence can generate success in the workplace no less than competence. And confidence, rightly or wrongly, often springs from physical attributes, even if they are entirely imaginary.
Conversely, perceived physical shortcomings sometimes accelerate rather than impede the rise up the corporate ladder. It is surely no accident that a disproportionate number of powerful tycoons have been either very big men such as Robert Maxwell and Tiny Rowland ... or very small men such as Bernie Ecclestone and Ross Perot. It is relatively easy to project your personality when you tower above everyone else; but to project it from belly-button height takes even greater charisma and determination.
The interesting thing about this research is how it was gathered. A confidential questionnaire was completed by 1,800 people. Each was asked to rate his or her physical appearance, taking into account height and weight as well as "regularity and comeliness" of facial features. When this was cross-referenced with income, it was discovered that women who rated themselves as of "above-average appearance" had higher earnings than those who reckoned themselves merely average.
The women who rated themselves, note. They may have been plug-ugly but thought themselves rather gorgeous, or (more likely) very pretty yet unable to acknowledge it. In other words, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder as much as in the mind of, as it were, the beholden. Therefore, the research is valid but not in the way the researchers think.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Success in life can seem like a pretty tall order
Sunday August 10, 2003
Live for today
by David Aaronovitch
Yes, things were different in the 1950s, but those who say they were better are guilty of nostalgia overload.
Eden, we discovered last week, was the Fifties. It was, to be sure, an uncomfortable Eden, with Spam fritters instead of hamburgers and no widespread central heating. But it was, for all its material wants, a more honest and less decadent era than our own.
There have always been conservative commentators who have venerated the decade after the war, the years before we accepted the apple of sex from the snake in the garden. It was a Tory period, one in which the monarchy and the nation's institutions were relatively unchallenged, and ramblers walked the countryside without showing the world their knobs. This was a world of clear hierarchies: matron, the head, the boss, the landlord, Sarge, the Queen.
What is interesting, however, is the way that so many of us are now drawn to the idea of a good time before the present epic orgy of commercialism, hype and consumerism. A time in which schools were harder but better, children played outside in all weathers and the physical activities of the busy housewife generated the glue that held society together. Even Labour Party leaders (Attlee circa 1951) were more authentic in those days.
I was a toddler when the Fifties ended, but many of the assumptions and practices of that decade lasted well into the next. In the rather wonderful new Channel 4 series 'recreating' a Fifties minor boarding school, That'll Teach 'Em , I recognised things that I experienced. In my early years, my mother was a Fifties hausfrau of the kind contrasted in last week's report about how womens' lives have changed.
As a child, I also 'played out' in the local streets and parks in a way that another report, published last week, suggests no longer happens. I lived for a while, had I but known it, in Eden.
If one of the characteristics of this moment is our self-indulgence, another is our desire to punish ourselves. In a lot of the discussion about the modern woman versus her mother or grandmother, I was struck by the recurring idea that 'they' simultaneously had it harder and better than 'us'.
'We didn't need to go to the gym,' said one older woman proudly, responding to the information that the Fifties housewife didn't get so fat because she used up so many calories in household chores. Mum was at home, washing, ironing, cooking, providing, not juggling the job and the kids. And endlessly shopping, given that the one-off hypermarket binge was a thing of the future.
I remember the washing in the garden frozen with frost and the mangle that my mother used to squeeze the water from the clothes. Our first washing machine was a top-loader that, when the drum was spinning, used to dance around the floor. At the climax of this performance, as the water in the drum was being expelled, it would invariably try and whip the plastic pipe out of the sink and flood the kitchen before anyone had a chance to intervene. How we laughed!
My mother had varicose veins at 45. She also had at least one illegal abortion, which ended in her being interviewed by the police. Unmentioned in any of the comparisons that I have seen recently, millions of women in the pre-abortion era risked prosecution or, indeed, their lives to gain just a little control over their fertility.
My mother almost always worked, even if she only had a career much later in life. For millions of women, there had been the experience of taking on responsible and fulfilling jobs during the war, only to be returned to drudgery (or domestic paradise, according to taste) in the Fifties. One psychotherapist I talked to recently is convinced that most of his middle-aged male clients are the troubled products of disappointed women, themselves thwarted in their desire to be something outside the home.
Back at school, meanwhile, the first part of That'll Teach 'Em was an entertaining exercise in anti-youth sadism. What it showed was modern, hedonistic, foul-mouthed softies being given the scrubbing-brush treatment by a gang of Carry on extras at a mocked-up Fifties school. The resemblance of the acting headmaster (Mr MacTavish, would you believe?) to the late Stanley Unwin was something of a masterstroke.
The programme had two messages. First, that it was harder in them days and, second, that it was better. Harder in that there was more arbitrary discipline, aimed, presumably, at instilling habits of obedience, and better in that more than half the 15-year-old kids (all of them anticipating good GCSEs) failed a maths test that actually formed part of an 11-plus exam. Without their calculators, they tripped up on the long division and long multiplication. 'People must have been fairly intelligent,' said one boy rather disconsolately.
Ha! First, only 20 per cent (controlled by quota) used to pass the old 11-plus. Second, those who took the exam were groomed for it. Third, I can do long division, but only because I've had to relearn it to help my daughter with her homework. In other words, I don't really buy this 'they're stupider than in my day' stuff. I think the problem is that we envy our children and alternately pamper and belittle them.
Not only that, but I believe we British have always done so. The Children's Society made a good point last week about adults preventing kids from playing in the streets, but I recall being constantly told not to ride my bike up and down the road and not to play ball games in the street.
The difference between now and then, it seems to me, is summed up in one word: cars. If they blocked off access to our road to the revving Mercs and mad white vans, then my kids would be out there right now.
That'll teach 'em brought one thing back to me that I had almost forgotten. That was how the bullying imposition of pointless rules served mostly to make the gentle ones cry and the tough ones more resentful. There was plenty of 'dark sarcasm in the classroom' and an underlying notion that enduring the unpleasant was a necessary part of growing up. When I was eight, a teacher at my rather progressive primary school stood over me and forced me to eat a cold sprout until, eventually, I retched. I have never touched a sprout since and I have never told anyone to 'eat up'.
I accept that many people, temperamentally, would like to live in a less complex, confusing and mobile age than our own. They are not at home with today's moral relativism and yearn for types of communities that have passed. They are afraid of being globalised. When I see commercial overkill, pavement cyclists or casual loutishness, I temporarily join this group.
But the penalty paid for social conservatism is too great. I don't want my daughters to be nothing but housewives, I don't want to return to 'Whites Only' signs in boarding-house windows. I like the idea of gay priests. I have no desire to force people to remain in loveless marriages. I could not easily live in a country which enforced capital punishment, or abused psychiatry to penalise non-conformity. In fact, I do not want to sit in constant judgment on my neighbours, or have them sit in judgment on me.
And I am increasingly suspicious of those who, from Left or Right, want to go backwards. Aren't they the same people who are always moaning? Don't they regret the passing of the days of stoicism at the same time as complaining about one inch of snow, one inch of floodwater or three days of heat?
Now that you didn't get in the Fifties, when thousands of men who'd survived the trenches were still in their early sixties and the country was full of men and women who'd been through the Blitz. They didn't spend their time longing for the return of the workhouse and public hangings.
Guardian Unlimited: Live for today
Aug. 23, 2003
The Ugly Truth, About Beauty, Like It or Not, Looks Do Matter
by John Stossel
We like to think of America as a meritocracy. A lot of us think we value people because of what they accomplish, or their character, or generosity, or intelligence that's what we thought mattered, but are we just putting blinders on?
More often than not it seems qualities other than skill, intelligence or character pay off. Here's an example. Anna Kournikova is ranked 37th in women's tennis, and has never won a major singles championship. So, why is it that Kournikova makes millions more dollars from endorsements than players ranked higher?
Looks don't only make a difference for women. Does New York Giants' cornerback Jason Sehorn get so much attention just because he's a top athlete? Is that why he was featured in Sports Illustrated for Women?
You probably know about the famous Kennedy-Nixon debates people listening on the radio thought Richard Nixon had won. Those watching TV thought the handsome John F. Kennedy won.
When Texas Sen. Phil Gramm sought the Republican nomination for president in 1996, he said: "The real question is whether someone as ugly as I am can be elected." Within months, Gramm dropped out of the race.
Did the press cover JFK Jr. so relentlessly solely because he was the son of a president? Would we have cared so much about Princess Di if she had looked like, say, Princess Margaret?
Beauty and the Brain
It may seem obvious to most of us that people would prefer to look at beautiful faces. While beauty itself may be only skin deep, studies show our perception of beauty may be hard-wired in our brains.
In studies conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers Itzhak Aharon, Nancy Etcoff, Dan Ariely, Christopher F. Chabris, Ethan O'Connor, and Hans C. Breiter have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to look at the activity in men's brains when they were shown pictures of beautiful women's faces. Breiter and his colleagues found that the same part of the brain lights up as when a hungry person sees food, or a gambler eyes cash, or a drug addict sees a fix. Essentially, beauty and addiction trigger the same areas in the brain.
Some researchers link this addictive pursuit of good looks to evolution. Anthropologist Helen Fisher, suggests that primitive man might have unconsciously thought that a pretty woman had a better chance of bearing healthy children.
The Long and the Short of It
Women will tolerate a lot of shortcomings in men, but it seems shortness isn't one of them.
Likewise, evolution may have led women to prefer taller men.
Women will take just about any shortcoming in a man, except in the height department, according to Andrea McGinty, who founded the San Diego-based dating service It's Just Lunch.
McGinty helped ABCNEWS put together an experiment to test just how willing women are to date shorter men. We brought together several short men and asked them to stand next to taller men. We invited groups of women to look at the men and choose a date.
To see if the women would go for short guys who were successful, ABCNEWS' Lynn Sherr created extraordinary rTsumTs for the shorter men. She told the women that the shorter men included a doctor, a best-selling author, a champion skier, a venture capitalist who'd made millions by the age of 25.
Nothing worked. The women always chose the tall men. Sherr asked whether there'd be anything she could say that would make the shortest of the men, who was 5 feet, irresistible. One of the women replied, "Maybe the only thing you could say is that the other four are murderers." Another backed her up, saying that had the taller men had a criminal record she might have been swayed to choose a shorter man. Another said she'd have considered the shorter men, if the taller men had been described as "child molesters."
The desire for tall men begins very young, apparently. ABCNEWS gave elementary school students a test, asking them to match a small, medium or large figure of a man with a series of words. The kids overwhelmingly linked the tall figure to the words strong, handsome and smart. The linked the short figure to the words sad, scared and weak. More than half of the kids also chose to link the short figure to the words, dumb, yucky and no friends.
Add 'Lookism' to the List
To conduct an experiment, 20/20 hired actors some great looking, some not and put them in situations to gauge how often the "lookers" would get preferential treatment.
In the first test, we put two women next to cars without gas in Atlanta. The women wore the same outfit.
Both Michelle and Tracey stood helplessly by cars with their hoods up. For the average-looking Michelle, a few pedestrians stopped but only made suggestions as where she could walk to get gasoline. But for the beautiful Tracey, cars came screeching to a halt. More than a dozen cars stopped and six people went to get Tracey gas.
The two actresses helped with our second test, at an Atlanta shopping mall where both women set up a table and sold calendars and teddy bears to raise money for charity. Overall, it looked as if both women were doing well with their sales. Then we counted the money and found Tracey collected 50 percent more.
What if we tested something requiring qualifications, like getting a job? Looks shouldn't matter then but would they?
20/20 hired two men and two women to apply for jobs. The clearest difference between them was looks while they shared similar education and work experience backgrounds. To match them up more closely, we rewrote their rTsumTs to match.
Mark, who was our more attractive applicant, and Mike, the more ordinary-looking one, both had corporate experience and had run their own companies. Donia, our more attractive female applicant, and her counterpart, Amy, both had been secretaries and saleswomen. A consultant trained them so their behavior matched.
Hidden cameras captured interviewers being warmer and friendlier to the better looking applicants and being less friendly to the other applicants. With Amy and Donia, for example, one job interviewer told Amy employees got a 45-minute lunch break but with Donia the interviewer said there was a flexible policy about lunch. Who got the job offer? Donia. Amy never even got a call back.
We ran similar tests using Mike and the especially good looking Mark. Would looks make less of a difference when the interviewers were judging men? Apparently not. On the first interview, for a sales job, the interviewer told Mike he'd call him later but he never called. With Mark, the interviewer was eager to have him return for a tryout day.
"It's a non-conscious process," said Tom Cash, a psychologist at Old Dominion University. "They assume that more attractive people have an array of valued characteristics."
We should add the bias of "lookism" to sexism and racism. It's just as bad but we don't need a federal program.
ABC News: The Ugly Truth, About Beauty, Like It or Not, Looks Do Matter
Thursday, Sep. 04, 2003
The No-Frills Middle Class
New York Times
by JEFF MADRICK
THE booming economy of the 1990's spawned many a spurious piece of conventional wisdom. One is that Americans' materialism has run amok.
Americans from all walks of life, the story goes, are spending with abandon on fancy and unnecessary products. Many people on the political right welcome this as evidence of how high the standard of living really is in the United States, despite slow-growing wages for three decades. Some on the left claim the indulgent materialism is using up the economy's resources while serious social problems are left unsolved.
Similarly, many economists argue that "affluenza" has pushed too many Americans deeply into debt and produced a savings rate too low to sustain prosperity without the piling up of mountains of foreign debt.
There is little doubt that some Americans are spending ostentatiously. But this Labor Day week it is appropriate to debunk the oversimplification. As Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi convincingly claim, most Americans do not fit the bill. What is driving Americans into debt, they argue, is not superficial luxury spending but necessities.
If they perhaps push the point too far in their new book, "The Two-Income Trap" (Basic Books), they provide a clear-eyed correction to the myth of far-flung affluence.
The fact is that it is not only the poor and working poor who are not faring well in America. Many of those in the middle, especially two-income families, are having trouble making ends meet, despite the boom of the 1990's.
Part of the distortion about where American working families stand today is that we tend to think of a standard of living as measured in the physical goods we own. The conservative analysts W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm, in their 1999 book "Myths of Rich and Poor," asserted that Americans were buying a lot more goods like Gap clothes, Nike sneakers and VCR's, and the standard of living was improving faster than the data suggested. But the book conspicuously ignored the costs of education and health care, and put a misleading spin on housing.
Yes, the costs of food and clothing have risen more slowly than median family incomes, and the costs of electronic products have fallen rapidly. But the costs of what it really takes to be middle class today ?education, health care, housing, drugs ?rose much faster than median family incomes. According to federal data, for example, my own calculations show that nominal family incomes rose by about 5.5 percent a year from 1973 to 2000, but the cost of health care rose nearly 8 percent a year, and the cost of higher education 6.5 percent.
Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi make the point vividly, however. Ms. Warren is a professor at Harvard Law School, and Ms. Tyagi is a management consultant. They are mother and daughter.
The authors find that despite the popular notions about overconsumption, a typical family spends less on clothing today, discounted for inflation, than in the early 1970's. Similarly, it spends less on large appliances and on food, including going out to restaurants. As for vacation homes, the data suggest that 3.2 percent of families had them in 1973, and that 4 percent do now. Is this affluenza?
Rather, what families spend a lot more on, the authors calculate, is a house in a safe neighborhood with a good school ?about 70 percent more a year, discounted for inflation, for the typical family of four. The scarcity of good schooling has created a bidding war that drives up house prices in first-rate school districts.
And these families are not buying huge new homes. The average home size has been skewed upward by the wealthy. The typical family's house is, in fact, only a half room or so larger than it was 30 years ago.
The other factors driving spending are largely the costs of the two-income family. The authors find that typical payments for day care and preschool for two children can add enormously to the household budget.
Two workers also make a second car a necessity, and often a good second car.
Also, the cost of health insurance is often up, even when spouses work, because corporate benefit plans are demanding higher employee contributions. For the typical family of four, it is up by 60 percent.
And two incomes often mean a substantial increase in taxes because the family moves into a higher tax bracket.
The upshot is that two-income families often have even less income left over today than did an equivalent single-income family 30 years ago, even when they make almost twice as much. And they go deeper in debt. The authors find that it is not the free-spending young or the incapacitated elderly who are declaring bankruptcy so much as families with children.
The authors' suggestions for how to solve the problems are not conventionally liberal. They call for vouchers for the total cost of public education; tuition freezes at colleges rather than more federal financing; and tax breaks for all savings.
Not all of these are practical.
And Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi draw too fine a point here and there. There is surely some mere status-seeking in sending a child to the right day care institution and living in the right neighborhood.
They also justify too readily the purchase of an expensive car as the family's second vehicle.
But their main thesis is undeniable. Typical families often cannot afford the high-quality education, health care and neighborhoods required to be middle class today.
More clearly than anyone else, I think, Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi have shown how little attention the nation and our government have paid to the way Americans really live.
New York Times: The No-Frills Middle Class
Monday, Sep. 7, 2003
Screwing the public
by Andrew Phillips
The idea of Hollywood caricaturing Wall Street by exposing someone with the Bunyanesque name of Grasso grabbing $140 million a year would be reckoned over the top. Yet it would be true. To add to the symbolism, the gentleman concerned heads the New York Stock Exchange.
Although we have largely become anaesthetised to the shameless rewards fat cat corporate honchos and City big hitters award themselves, Richard Grasso's package carries grotesquery to obscenity. Some think that, unconstrained by anything but increasing, and increasingly ineffectual, regulation Anglo-American market capitalism carries the seeds of its own self-destruction.
Shame is not much in evidence on the pay front these days. It is almost as quaint as the notion of greed, which has been legitimised as the indispensable motive force of modern capitalism. Contrastingly, in the domestic lives of these high riders their children will be firmly finger-wagged for taking more than their fair share of the strawberries.
The long process of separation of work values from family values, never a workable dichotomy, has led on to invasion of the latter by the former. The demoralising effects have seeped into the very lifeblood of society at large and the world beyond. The anti-globalisation movement is partly fuelled by it. So, too, an element of the noxious brew out of which has come the deathly antipathy between 'the West' and the world of Islam derives from the insatiable, aggressive, amoral materialism into which we are seen to have declined.
Though of course markets need competition, where that lapses into crude acquisitiveness which chokes other essential virtues, community life and society itself are put at risk. For example, we now experience widespread work obsessiveness which prevents a sensible work/life balance, affects our physical and psychic health and inadvertently squeezes out our relationships. Ironically, it also often saps the very capacity to enjoy the material fruits of such (often self-imposed) sacrifices. The unsustainability for those in this bind is predictable and already revealing itself.
As to the impact on the public realm, the huge benefits from the City of employment, tax contribution and service exports also have to be set against intangible yet highly pernicious consequences.
For example, an all-encompassing work regime has caused a substantial disengagement of many if not most of our business and professional leaders in civic and public life, locally and internationally. But a far greater evil is the example which elevated greed sets and the emulation it begets. In a society in thrall to money, sex and celebrity, the distinction and justification proferred as telephone-number earnings 'lawfully made' and theft is not at all clear to those at the bottom of the pile.
The pathetic failure, among a myriad examples, of the remuneration committee of New York Stock Exchange to stop Grasso's piracy will confirm to the cynics (ie most people now) what snouts-in-the-trough, you-scratch-my-back affairs high finance has become.
The substantial minority of disaffected young adults looking at all this from below will also note that, not content with their massive salaries and bonuses, many of the self-same grandees have been caught screwing the public by systematically the markets. Forget Enron et al. That was the work of a few bad apples but the spectacular frauds perpetrated on Wall Street was by more than 50 of New York's biggest investment banks during the collapse of the hi-tech boom, culminating last autumn in SEC fines on 10 of them of $1.35 billion, with many more billions worth of civil claims now flooding in. The fact that among the malefactors were many of the US banks which now dominate the City of London confirms the extent and depth of the crisis. Chaucer put it neatly 600 years ago. 'If gold rust, what will iron do?'
The question is whether implosion is preventable. Until some very bold and wise spirits in London and New York really confront these complicated and deep-seated problems with the same rigour, skill and commitment which they devote to enriching themselves, plus some simple morality, the answer must be 'no'. Pray God they do. Too much hangs on it.
Andrew Phillips is a practising solicitor and a life peer
Guardian Newspapers Limited : Screwing the public
Monday, Sep. 08, 2003
No Price Tag on Happiness
by JEFFREY KLUGER
Think that Porsche and boat and beach house you have been dreaming of would actually make you happy? Think again. Economist Richard Easterlin of the University of Southern California examined data from 1,500 people surveyed repeatedly over a 28-year period. He found that while healthy people are generally happier than unhealthy ones and married people are happier than unmarrieds, increases in wealth and material possessions improve happiness only briefly.
The reason is a pair of forces known as hedonic adaptation and social comparison. Translation: when you get something new, the thrill quickly wears off, and even if it didn't, there's always someone out there who has something better. The answer? Quit the money chase ? or at least run more slowly ? and devote more time to family, friends and home. These things, the study shows, really do pay higher returns in happiness.
TIME magazine: No Price Tag on Happiness
Richard A. Easterlin is University Professor and Professor of Economics, University of Southern California, see his articles on his website for more info
Wednesday September 17, 2003
Shopping until you drop leads to misery
by Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Shopping until you drop leads to debt and misery, and not to happiness, so policy must be altered to curb Britain's consumer society, the government has been advised.
Buying consumer goods, or "retail therapy", is driven by deep evolutionary forces such as sexual competition and the need to show off and increase social status, but does nothing to make people content.
Conspicuous consumption damages the environment and the quality of life for everyone, says the government's sustainable development commission.
Researchers call for schoolchildren to be taught the dangers of consumerism for their own wellbeing and for Britain.
The commission is seeking to influence government policy on sustainable consumption, specifically with regard to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' sustainable consumption and production strategy.
Jonathon Porritt, the commission's chairman, said: "This is practically a taboo area for government and policy makers because the economy is based on getting people to consume more, but that simply cannot go on. The social and environmental impact of over-consumption will overwhelm the benefit. We feel it is cowardly of policymakers not to confront this central question."
The report, Policies for Sustainable Consumption, says that the government should change its policy from pretending that it has no influence on consumption, and saying that shopping is down to freedom of choice, to actively teaching people that it could be bad for them.
The report's authors, Tim Jackson and Laurie Michaelis, argue that the government can no longer be complacent about personal debt and the misery of the consumer trap. Current levels of consumption cannot be maintained and will lead to greater inequality, environmental damage and debt-driven insecurity.
"Western consumerism appears determined to pursue a way of life that offers neither psychological nor social satisfaction. To make matters worse, it also has profound environmental impact," the report says. "That environmental damage is a side effect from a failed attempt to improve human wellbeing is potentially tragic."
The belief that consumption leads to wellbeing is so deeply ingrained that we cannot believe it is not true, says the report. "A growing number of studies show that people in industrialised countries do not feel any more happy or satisfied asaverage income grows beyond the level to meet basic physical needs."
Groups and families that had developed a culture of consumption where they only bought what they needed had cut household resource use and waste. At the same time they had "strengthened their sense of community involvement, personal fulfilment and quality of life".
Mr Porritt said the report was an attempt to make the economic and welfare debate more sophisticated. Simply getting consumers to spend more was no way to keep the economy afloat. It was full of potential dangers, and risked reducing quality of life and ruining people's health.
Mr Porritt said it would be interesting when the government began teaching citizenship in schools to see whether they included responsibility towards the environment and society, which includes consumption.
He said: "They might dismiss such ideas as ideology, but it is vital for the next generation to come to terms with these issues."
The Guardian: Shopping until you drop leads to misery
UK Government: Defra, UK - Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs
UK Government: Sustainable Development - the UK Government's approach
UK Government: Sustainable Development Commission
UK Government: Policies for sustainable consumption, cited in above article
Jonathon Porritt, cited in above article
Forum for the Future, Jonathon Porritt's organization
Look for more websites on "Sustainable consumption"
Sunday September 7, 2003
The new breed of rich kids
What annoys us about rich kids is they'll actually have time to enjoy their money
by Barbara Ellen
F Scott Fitzgerald once famously opined that 'The rich are different.'
He probably wasn't referring to livid sprays of pimples and apple cores under the bed, but this might be the future according to the projected Rich List 2020 published by the Royal Bank of Scotland. All the featured players have two things in common - they are all under 21 and they are all projected to be earning upwards of tens of millions over the next 20 years.
Carl Churchill, a 19-year-old internet entrepreneur, comes in at the top with a cool £100m, and whichever way you look at it, that's a hell of a lot of pocket money. Looking at these people, these kids, it seems to be a matter of national pride to feel bilious with envy. While Americans love to celebrate success, Britons tend towards narrowing their eyes suspiciously and feeling the urge to call the police. When you think about it, Britain was never happier as a nation than when the dotcom boom crashed. Observing all those horrible smug young people with their cyber-babble and smoothies having to climb off their high horse and lie in the e-gutter cheered us up no end.
As with the projected Rich List players, it wasn't a case of who do they think they are, more what do they think they are? The answer, my friends, is genuinely, inexcusably young.
Indeed, at first sight, this mooted Rich List just seems to be an exercise in disgruntling the masses. It's bad enough that these go-getters are young, free and have everything going for them, but do they have to end up rich as well? Nobody really minds when some grizzled old billionaire is wheeled into the room sucking on his oxygen mask and clutching a cryogenics brochure - that's the acceptable liver-spotted death's-door face of 'rich'. We can just about forgive people having everything life can offer if they don't look like they're going to be able to enjoy it.
The young are a different matter. On the one hand, you get the Young Posh and Loaded bubbleheads, whose idea of suffering is the RSI they get from repeatedly slapping down Daddy's credit card on the Versace counter. No one is jealous of these idiots - they're just the pop-TV version of throwing wet sponges at people in stocks at the village fete. Then you get those scarily disciplined young people who get where they want to get early by grafting hard, seizing opportunities and grabbing for the moon. This latter group commit the most unforgivable crime of all - they show the rest of us up.
If I remember rightly, my own youth was like a never-ending lost weekend. I turned aimlessness into an art form and signing on the dole was my best shot at a career move. A lot of people are like that when they're young - their whole life stretches ahead of them but they can't be bothered with it right now. They'll do that success stuff later when the cider has run out. The point is, being boringly broke when you're young works very well for some people because it is literally the only thing that galvanises them into belated action. I firmly believe that if I'd had a bit of money when I was younger I would be 30 stone by now and going on shopping trips on the back of tractors.
This new breed of rich kids seem different. Yes, there is a smattering of rich-already kids on the list - one of Branson's progeny is mooching about in there - but there seem to be just as many budding entrepreneurs, sports personalities, pop stars, thespians and business-heads who weren't born into the right crib at the right time. The only thing to say about these kids is that maybe just maybe they are better at this 'young' thing than we ever were.
The ongoing smear campaign against the young has reached such a fever pitch that we can't even be gracious when they pass record numbers of A levels. To me, this all seems very simple: teenagers sit the exams they are set and when they pass them they should be congratulated, not sneeringly told that the exams they were given were too easy. What do you want - their names on top of the paper in blood?
On a similar level, have we really come so low that we can actually be jealous of people who aren't on the Rich List yet but might be in the future? Bearing in mind that new reports state that the baby-boomer generation have stopped spending all their time deciphering the lyrics of Bob Dylan in order to fret about their lack of pensions, is it any wonder that today's rich kids want their own tomorrows to be different? You think they're good at 'young', just wait until they do 'old'.
The new breed of rich kids
Sunday, Sep 21, 2003
Rich kids today: they reach for the moon, and do it just in time
The Observer, Taipei Times
F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously opined that "The rich are different." He probably wasn't referring to livid sprays of pimples and apple cores under the bed, but this might be the future according to the projected UK Rich List 2020 published by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
All the featured players have two things in common -- they are all under 21 and they are all projected to be earning upwards of tens of millions over the next 20 years.
Carl Churchill, a 19-year-old internet entrepreneur, comes in at the top with a cool $100 million, and whichever way you look at it, that's a hell of a lot of pocket money. Looking at these people, these kids, it seems to be a matter of national pride to feel bilious with envy.
While Americans love to celebrate success, Britons tend towards narrowing their eyes suspiciously and feeling the urge to call the police. When you think about it, Britain was never happier as a nation than when the dotcom boom crashed. Observing all those horrible smug young people with their cyber-babble and smoothies having to climb off their high horse and lie in the e-gutter cheered us up no end. As with the projected Rich List players, it wasn't a case of who do they think they are, more what do they think they are? The answer, my friends, is genuinely, inexcusably young.
Indeed, at first sight, this mooted Rich List just seems to be an exercise in disgruntling the masses. It's bad enough that these go-getters are young, free and have everything going for them, but do they have to end up rich as well? Nobody really minds when some grizzled old billionaire is wheeled into the room sucking on his oxygen mask and clutching a cryogenics brochure -- that's the acceptable liver-spotted death's-door face of "rich."
We can just about forgive people having everything life can offer if they don't look like they're going to be able to enjoy it.
The young are a different matter. On the one hand, you get the Young Posh and Loaded bubbleheads, whose idea of suffering is the RSI they get from repeatedly slapping down Daddy's credit card on the Versace counter. No one is jealous of these idiots -- they're just the pop-TV version of throwing wet sponges at people in stocks at the village fete. Then you get those scarily disciplined young people who get where they want to get early by grafting hard, seizing opportunities and grabbing for the moon. This latter group commit the most unforgivable crime of all -- they show the rest of us up.
If I remember rightly, my own youth was like a never-ending lost weekend. I turned aimlessness into an art form and signing on the dole was my best shot at a career move. A lot of people are like that when they're young -- their whole life stretches ahead of them but they can't be bothered with it right now. They'll do that success stuff later when the cider has run out.
The point is, being boringly broke when you're young works very well for some people because it is literally the only thing that galvanizes them into belated action. I firmly believe that if I'd had a bit of money when I was younger I would be 200kg by now and going on shopping trips on the back of tractors.
This new breed of rich kids seem different. Yes, there is a smattering of rich-already kids on the list -- one of Virgin chief Richard Branson's progeny is mooching about in there -- but there seem to be just as many budding entrepreneurs, sports personalities, pop stars, thespians and business-heads who weren't born into the right crib at the right time. The only thing to say about these kids is that maybe, just maybe, they are better at this "young" thing than we ever were.
The ongoing smear campaign against the young has reached such a fever pitch that we can't even be gracious when they pass record numbers of UK high school graduation passes. To me, this all seems very simple: teenagers sit the exams they are set and when they pass them they should be congratulated, not sneeringly told that the exams they were given were too easy. What do you want -- their names on top of the paper in blood?
On a similar level, have we really come so low that we can actually be jealous of people who aren't on the Rich List yet but might be in the future? Bearing in mind that new reports state that the baby-boomer generation have stopped spending all their time deciphering the lyrics of Bob Dylan in order to fret about their lack of pensions, is it any wonder that today's rich kids want their own tomorrows to be different? You think they're good at "young," just wait until they do "old."
Rich kids today: they reach for the moon, and do it just in time
Wed Oct 1, 2003
Nigeria, Mexico Rank High in Happiness Stakes
Reuters, World Values Survey
by Kathleen Parker
LONDON (Reuters) - It's difficult to quantify and differs between cultures, professions and religions but people in Latin America, Western Europe and North America are happier than their counterparts in Eastern Europe and Russia.
An analysis of levels of happiness in more than 65 countries by the World Values Survey shows Nigeria has the highest percentage of happy people followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador (news - web sites) and Puerto Rico, while Russia, Armenia and Romania have the fewest.
"New Zealand ranked 15 for overall satisfaction, the U.S. 16th, Australia 20th and Britain 24th -- though Australia beats the other three for day-to-day happiness," New Scientist magazine, which published the results, said on Wednesday.
But the weekly magazine said that factors that make people happy vary. Personal success, self-expression, pride, and a high sense of self-esteem are important in the United States.
"In Japan, on the other hand, it comes from fulfilling the expectations of your family, meeting your social responsibilities, self-discipline, cooperation and friendliness," according to the magazine.
The survey is a worldwide investigation of sociocultural and political change conducted about every four years by an international network of social scientists. It includes questions about how happy people are and how satisfied they are with their lives.
It showed that average happiness has remained virtually the same in industrialized countries since World War II, although incomes have risen.
The exception is Denmark, where people have become more satisfied with life over the last three decades.
Researchers believe the unchanging trend is linked to consumerism.
"Survey after survey has shown that the desire for material goods, which has increased hand in hand with average income, is a happiness suppressant," the magazine added.
World Values Survey
BBC: Nigeria tops happiness survey
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
You're Not Rich, but Now You Can Fake It
How Starbucks coffee, BMW cars, and Godiva chocolates have become luxuries for the masses.
By Daniel Gross, MSN Slate
Everywhere you look, brands that once catered to the rich are now targeting the rest of us. Costco is the biggest retailer of Bordeaux wines. Wolfgang Puck has a restaurant at O'Hare Airport. Starbucks has outlets in Meijer, the Midwestern grocery chain.
The new book Trading Up: The New American Luxury, by Michael Silverstein of Boston Consulting Group and Neil Fiske, formerly of BCG and now chief executive officer of Bath & Body Works, explains how American companies have invented the oxymoronic business of mass elitism.
Old Luxury goods are high-margin, low-volume products priced so only the wealthiest can afford them. You can get rich selling Old Luxury. New Luxury goods, by contrast, are not quite cheap, high-volume goods aimed at the 47 million middle-market households that make more than $50,000-Williams-Sonoma dishes, Samuel Adams beer, Victoria's Secret lingerie, Bath & Body Works Sandlewood Rose Relaxing Body Wash. You can get really rich selling New Luxury.
The consultants have divined that everyone is willing to pay more for something. It could be bread, lipstick, wine, golf clubs, underwear, chocolate, dolls, or pet food, so long as it speaks to a longing in the soul. Silverstein and Fiske write that consumers are moving up to "a new level of goods and services that cost more than conventional products - sometimes a lot more - but seemed to deliver a lot more value, particularly emotional value, to them."
This is the Shopping of Meaning. "The American consumer is in a state of heightened emotionalism." After surveying 2,300 consumers, the authors concluded that "many Americans feel overworked, isolated, lonely, worried, and unhappy." But it turns out the cure is shopping for premium-priced products. Don't have time to walk your poodle? Prove you love him by buying expensive dog food. Feeling down? A 5-cent Hershey's Kiss may provide a jolt of sugar, but a $2 Godiva truffle will perk you up more.
Some of the arguments they put forth in support of a happy, shallow, harmless materialism are tendentious. "For its apostles - and there are many - a visit to the Cheesecake Factory is mostly about Connecting and Questing." (It's hard to see what Quest there is involved in eating at the Cheesecake Factory, except: Can I possibly finish the 6 pounds of Caesar salad they piled on my plate?) And, perhaps this is a result of spending too much time in New York, but it seems to Moneybox that the authors have a strange idea of what constitutes "luxury." Panera Bread? Kendall-Jackson wines? Carnival Cruises?
The book does not focus on how New Luxury products may, in fact, be dragging down their manufacturers. There's a fine line between "masstige" and cheapening your brand. Once you've bought a Polo shirt at Costco for $20, you might not pay $50 for the same shirt on Madison Avenue.
Part of the allure of luxury goods was that other people couldn't easily afford them. By contrast, New Luxury goods are supposed to be inclusive. "New Luxury goods also provide a way for consumers to align themselves with people whose values and interest they share - to join the club." But what club precisely are people who buy the new $27,800 BMW 3-Series joining? The club of people who can afford to pay $27,800 for a cheap BMW but can't afford a "real" one?
As much as customers may be trading up, the companies are trading down, because the demands of the market force them to. Virtually all the New Luxury titans are publicly held. And many went public in the 1990s. To meet investors' expectations, a company must show sustained growth, whether it's Tiffany or Wal-Mart. Of course, companies that sell premium-priced products tend to reach the limits of their natural markets more quickly than discounters do. And so New Luxury companies are likely to expand into areas where their natural customers are scarce, in order to get huge. Restoration Hardware tried and failed to do this. Callaway Golf lost tens of millions of dollars trying to sell fancy golf balls when the market for its high-end clubs softened. Cosi, the sandwich chain, has been a disaster since it went public. Indeed, the stock charts of many New Luxury purveyors don't look so hot.
Almost as an afterthought, the authors append a discourse about luxury in Western Civ., starting with the Greeks and touching briefly on all the biggies: Calvin, Marx - "It would be hard to make the case that Marx was an advocate of trading up or that New Luxury signals the end of capitalism" - Thorsten Veblen, John Kenneth Galbraith, David Reisman. Amazingly, they left out Christopher Lasch. His devastating 1979 book, The Culture of Narcissism, looms over their entire project. The American narcissist, Lasch wrote, "does not accumulate goods and provisions against the future, in the manner of the acquisitive individualist of nineteenth-century political economy, but demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire." The impulse driving the New Luxury isn't so new.
You're Not Rich, but Now You Can Fake It
Tuesday October 7, 2003
Face it, you'll never be rich
Why do Americans still believe in the rags-to-riches fairy tale? In this extract from his explosive new book, Michael Moore explains why the corporate bosses will never let the American dream become a reality
by Michael Moore
Perhaps the biggest success in the war on terror has been its ability to distract the nation from the corporate war on us. In the two years since the attacks of 9/11, American businesses have been on a punch-drunk rampage that has left millions of average Americans with their savings gone and their pensions looted, their hopes for a comfortable future for their families diminished or extinguished. The business bandits (and their government accomplices) who have wrecked our economy have tried to blame it on the terrorists, they have tried to blame it on Clinton, and they have tried to blame it on us.
But, in fact, the wholesale destruction of our economic future is based solely on the greed of the corporate mojahedin.
The takeover has happened right under our noses. We've been force-fed some mighty powerful "drugs" to keep us quiet while we're being mugged by this lawless gang of CEOs. One of these drugs is called fear and the other is called Horatio Alger.
The fear drug works like this: you are repeatedly told that bad, scary people are going to kill you, so place all your trust in us, your corporate leaders, and we will protect you. But since we know what's best, don't question us if we want you to foot the bill for our tax cut, or if we decide to slash your health benefits or jack up the cost of buying a home. And if you don't shut up and toe the line and work your ass off, we will sack you - and then just try to find a new job in this economy, punk!
The other drug is nicer. It is first prescribed to us as children in the form of a fairy tale - but a fairy tale that can actually come true! It is the Horatio Alger myth. Alger was one of the most popular American writers of the late 1800s. His stories featured characters from impoverished backgrounds who, through pluck and determination and hard work, were able to make huge successes of themselves in this land of boundless opportunity. The message was that anyone can make it in America, and make it big.
We are addicted to this happy rags-to-riches myth in this country. People in other industrialised democracies are content to make a good enough living to pay their bills and raise their families. Few have a cutthroat desire to strike it rich. They live in reality, where there are only going to be a few rich people, and you are not going to be one of them. So get used to it.
Of course, rich people in those countries are very careful not to upset the balance. Even though there are greedy bastards among them, they do have some limits placed on them. In the manufacturing sector, for example, British CEOs make 24 times as much as their average workers - the widest gap in Europe. German CEOs only make 15 times more than their employees, while Swedish CEOs get 13 times as much. But here in the US, the average CEO makes 411 times the salaries of their blue-collar workers. Wealthy Europeans pay up to 65% in taxes, and they know better than to bitch too loud about it or the people will make them fork over even more.
In the US, we are afraid to sock it to them. We hate to put our CEOs in prison when they break the law. We are more than happy to cut their taxes even as ours go up! We don't want to do anything that could harm us on that day we end up millionaires. It's so believable because we have seen it come true. In every community there's at least one person prancing around as the rags-to-riches poster child, conveying the not-so-subtle message: "SEE! I MADE IT! YOU CAN, TOO!!"
It is this seductive myth that led so many millions of working people to become investors in the stock market during the 90s. They saw how rich the rich got in the 80s and thought, "Hey, this could happen to me!"
The wealthy did everything they could to en courage this attitude. Understand that in 1980 only 20% of Americans owned a share of stock. Wall Street was the rich man's game and it was off-limits to the average Joe and Jane. Near the end of the 1980s, though, the rich were pretty much tapped out with their excess profits and could not figure out how to make the market keep growing. I don't know if it was the brainstorm of one genius at a brokerage firm or the smooth conspiracy of all the well-heeled, but the game became, "Hey, let's convince the middle class to give us their money and we can get even richer!"
Suddenly, it seemed like everyone I knew jumped on the stock market bandwagon. They let their unions invest all their pension money in stocks. Story after story ran in the media about how everyday working people were going to be able to retire as near-millionaires! It was like a fever that infected everyone. Workers immediately cashed their pay cheques and called their broker to buy more stocks. Their broker!
There were ups and downs, but mostly ups, lots of ups, and you could hear yourself saying, "My stock's up 120%! My worth has tripled!" You eased the pain of daily living by imagining the retirement villa you would buy some day or the sports car you could buy tomorrow if you wanted to cash out now. No, don't cash out! It's only going to go higher! Stay in for the long haul! Easy Street, here I come!
But it was a sham. It was all a ruse concocted by the corporate powers-that-be who never had any intention of letting you into their club. They just needed your money to take them to that next level, the one that insulates them from ever having to actually work for a living. They knew the big boom of the 90s couldn't last, so they needed your money to artificially inflate the value of their companies so their stocks would reach such a phantasmal price that, when it was time to cash out, they would be set for life, no matter how bad the economy got.
And that's what happened. While the average sucker was listening to all the blowhards on CNBC tell him that he should buy even more stock, the ultra-rich were quietly getting out of the market, selling off the stocks of their own company first. In September 2002, Fortune magazine released a staggering list of these corporate crooks who made off like bandits while their company's stock prices had dropped 75% or more between 1999 and 2002.
At the top of the list of these evildoers was Qwest Communications. At its peak, Qwest shares traded at nearly $40. Three years later the same shares were worth $1. Over that period, Qwest's director, Phil Anschutz, and its former CEO, Joe Nacchio, and the other officers made off with $2.26bn simply by selling out before the price hit rock bottom.
Meanwhile, the average investor stayed in, listening to all the rotten advice. And the market kept going down, down, down. More than four trillion dollars was lost in the stock market. Another trillion dollars in pension funds and university endowments is now no longer there.
So, here's my question: after fleecing the American public and destroying the American dream for most working people, how is it that, instead of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn at the city gates, the rich got a big wet kiss from Congress in the form of a record tax break, and no one says a word? How can that be?
I think it's because we're still addicted to the Horatio Alger fantasy drug. Despite all the damage and all the evidence to the contrary, the average American still wants to hang on to this belief that maybe, just maybe, he or she (mostly he) just might make it big after all. So don't attack the rich man, because one day that rich man may be me!
Listen, friends, you have to face the truth: you are never going to be rich. The chance of that happening is about one in a million. Not only are you never going to be rich, but you are going to have to live the rest of your life busting your butt just to pay the cable bill and the music and art classes for your kid at the public school where they used to be free.
And it is only going to get worse. Forget about a pension, forget about social security, forget about your kids taking care of you when you get old because they are barely going to have the money to take care of themselves.
If you are still clinging to the belief that not all of Corporate America is that bad, consider this example of what our good captains of industry have been up to of late.
Are you aware that your company may have taken out a life insurance policy on you? Oh, how nice of them, you say? Yeah, here's how nice it is.
During the past 20 years, companies including Disney, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan Chase and Wal-Mart have been secretly taking out life insurance policies on their low- and mid-level employees and then naming themselves - the corporation - as the beneficiary! That's right: When you die, the company - not your survivors - gets to cash in. If you die on the job, all the better, as most life-insurance policies are geared to pay out more when someone dies young. And if you live to a ripe old age, even long after you've left the company, the company still gets to collect on your death. And regardless of when you croak, the company is able to borrow against the policy and deduct the interest from its corporate taxes.
Many of these companies have set up a system for the money to go to pay for executive bonuses, cars, homes or trips to the Caribbean. Your death goes to helping make your boss a very happy man sitting in his Jacuzzi on St Bart's.
And what does Corporate America privately call this special form of life insurance?
Dead Peasants Insurance.
That's right. "Dead Peasants". Because that's what you are to them - peasants. And you are sometimes worth more to them dead than alive.
* These edited extracts are taken from "Dude, Where's My Country?" by Michael Moore, published today by Allen Lane, price ?16.99.
Face it, you'll never be rich
Saturday October 18, 2003
Nicholas Lezard reviews Tim Kasser's "The High Price of Materialism"
The High Price of Materialism
by Tim Kasser
Journalists are often furtively grateful for the studies churned out by certain universities that supply hard, empirical data confirming the very obvious. (My favourite, released two or three years ago, revealed that children are very fond of their pets. Who would have guessed?) This academic book operates, you might think, at the margins of original thought, by setting out to prove that an attachment to material goods does not lead to happiness.
But it is useful to have such matters explained to us with graphs, controlled experiments and first-principle thinking. The book isn't designed for "the general reader"; but whoever the general reader may be, he or she may well find this interesting, entertaining even. This is not just a matter of Kasser's straightforward prose and neat, short chapters, which come with handy summaries and prefaces which, somehow, do not seem otiose or repetitive. It is because his findings are evidence, the kind Michael Moore, say, might use with more of a polemical flourish.
Being a professor of psychology, Kasser cannot avoid jargon entirely. But that which he employs is attractive, and oddly illuminating - as the best jargon can be. The good thing about a term such as "discrepancy theory" is that it gives a name to what advertisers do, even if the term is not used in the industry. Put simply, discrepancy theory is about noticing the difference between the lifestyles of people in adverts and our own; the greater the discrepancy, the more urgent the need to buy the product, and the more miserable our lives appear without it. There is a very telling graph (in a chapter entitled "Fragile Self-Worth") that plots average income in the US since 1956 against the percentage of people who say they are "very happy". The income has risen more or less steadily from $9,000 to $20,000; the very happy line stays more or less constant at around 30%.
What is most pleasing about this book is its use of the wide-eyed gaze of the social scientist. This has its pitfalls. In discussing "Materialism and the Family", Kasser comes up with the remarkable statement that "Parental practices have been recognised for decades as playing an extremely important role in children's lives", which I submit as the most unintentionally comic use of the word "decades" to have appeared in any printed work since Caxton. And yet he does go on to make, or support, his point that materialism rises with insecurity, and that children from anxiously poor families turn out to place higher value on material goods.
But how could you not be won over by the term "Terror Management Theory" to uncover the link between consumerism and fear of death? This, it would appear, is what conspicuous consumption is all about. To test this, Kasser took one group and asked them their feelings on the prospect of their death; a control group was asked what they felt about music. He then asked each group what they expected to earn and spend on luxury items in the next 15 years. Those who were invited to contemplate their mortality "said they would spend an average of $813 per month on entertainment, leisure and clothing, whereas those who wrote about music expected to spend an average of $410".
The book concludes with a series of practical solutions to the problem of incessant exhortation to buy stuff you don't need. These involve vetting the ads one's children see on TV. It must be hard work being one of Kasser's children, who, if the internal textual evidence is to be believed, are taught how to distinguish the sales techniques of children's advertisements, or are read the story of the Rainbow Fish, who gives away all but one of his brightly coloured scales that he may eventually, "happy as a splash", play with all the other fish. (I am not wild, either, about his description of sex as a "risk activity".)
We should bear in mind that, although he makes use of studies from around the developed world, his main area of research is America, where "educational" TV shows played to children are interrupted by ad breaks, and where soft-drink manufacturers do not put orange juice in their school vending machines.
Things are bad across the pond. But they'll get worse here unless we're vigilant.
Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2003
Ready, Set, Relax!
Fed up with the fast track, people are banding together to find ways to slow things down
by SONJA STEPTOE/RIDGEWOOD
A few weeks ago, after picking up her daughter Renee from school, Donna Olsen committed an act of soccer-mom heresy. Instead of heading to soccer practice, Olsen drove Renee, 10, to the Bookends bookstore in Ridgewood, N.J., where they whiled away 2 1/2 hours listening to Lemony Snicket - Renee's favorite author - read from his new book and lingered for an autograph and a chat with the writer afterward. Then, instead of snatching a fast-food dinner from a drive-through window so they could rush off to their next activity, they drove home and, joined by Renee's older brother Scott, leisurely cooked burgers on thefamily grill. "She's only 10, and there are plenty more years left for soccer," explains Olsen, "but not another opportunity to meet Lemony Snicket."
Like moms and dads everywhere, Olsen and other Ridgewood parents are worn out from dragging their kids through the frenzied after-school ritual of dinners on the go and crosstown SUV shuttle runs among practices, competitions, private lessons and club meetings. Unlike most parents, however, the folks in Ridgewood decided to do something about the situation. Two years ago, leaders in this affluent community launched Ready, Set, Relax!, a citywide initiative that encouraged frazzled families to put down some speed bumps in their fast-paced lives. Before Ready, Set, Relax!, Donna Olsen says, "I might not have made the choice to skip soccer practice."
Years of multitasking and workaholism have left Americans across the economic and geographic spectrum feeling exhausted. In his book Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life, journalist Joe Robinson offers both anecdotal and statistical evidence of rising incidences of burnout, depression and divorce caused by overwork as 80% of men and 62% of women put in more than 40 hours a week on the job. An August 2003 poll for the Center for a New American Dream, an organization based in Takoma Park, Md., that focuses on quality-of-life issues, revealed that although 60% of Americans felt pressure to work too much, more than 80% wished for more family time and that 52% of them would take less money to get it.
"Americans are reaching a breaking point," says John de Graaf, one of the authors of Affluenza, a book that criticizes materialism and overconsumption. What the country needs, he says, is a day off. So he has organized the first National Take Back Your Time Day, scheduled for Oct. 24. The idea - really a nationwide version of the Ridgewood initiative - is for people to take time out to protest what de Graaf and his cohort see as "an epidemic of overwork and overscheduling threatening communities and families." Events ranging from forums on how to create a society that operates at a slower pace with fewer time pressures to parties extolling the virtues of a simplified life have been planned in 60 cities, including Boston, Seattle and Beverly Hills, Calif.
Families started down this road back in the 1980s, when sociologists said structured activities would prevent juvenile delinquency and keep kids safe. At the same time, globalization was heating up, and education experts felt that American schoolchildren needed to work harder to compete. The result: a cottage industry of organized after-school pursuits - lessons and tutors and clubs and teams - to baby-sit and enrich. Then, thanks to overzealous parents, things got out of hand, says William Doherty, a University of Minnesota professor of marriage and family therapy. "Adult notions of hypercompetition and overscheduling have created a culture of parenting that's more akin to product development, and it's robbing families of time together," he theorizes, adding, "Frantic families equal fragile families."
That message stirred up parents in the Twin Cities suburb of Wayzata, Minn., when Doherty lectured there five years ago. His talk sparked a communitywide initiative called Putting Family First. One project: a book, written by Doherty and coalition organizer Barbara Carlson, filled with such advice as making family vacations a priority and strategies for finding time to talk with kids about their day. The group also launched a website and published a Consumer Reports - style guide to local after-school activities, providing analyses of the time and travel demands involved in pursuing each undertaking - not exactly a laid-back approach to overscheduling, but at least a nod in that direction. Nearly 5,000 families in the surrounding eight-city area snapped up copies.
Two years ago, the Wayzata prescriptions caught the eye of Marcia Marra, a busy mother of three in Ridgewood who works part-time for a local family-services agency. In professional and personal conversations, Marra had been hearing more and more complaints from soccer-and-ballet moms about their hectic, joyless lives, and she was having similar misgivings herself. With the backing of her boss, she convened a meeting of parents, clergy and community leaders. They shared their alarm over the growing numbers of elementary students wearing knee braces because of injured and overused limbs, the burnout among high school students who wanted no part of varsity athletics and the homework load that forced schoolkids of all ages to lug backpacks heavy with books. "We're creating a generation that's overscheduled by parents, overtested by teachers and overtrained by coaches," Garland Allen, director of wellness for Ridgewood schools, told the attendees.
The group developed the first Ready, Set, Relax! project for March 26, 2002. The concept was straightforward. Elementary and middle schools would not assign homework. Youth sports teams would cancel practice. Clubs and tutors would schedule no meetings or lessons. And parents would come home from work in time to have dinner with their kids and focus on family matters. "A lot of people were grappling with these issues, but no one was sure how or where to cut back because no one wanted to risk having their kids miss out or lose their place academically or athletically," says Marra. "It was just one night, but we wanted to send a message. If parents wanted to give something up, Ready, Set, Relax! let them know it's O.K. to follow your instincts. Your kids won't suffer, and most importantly, the community values that decision."
No one knows how many of the town's targeted 2,400 families with children in grades K through 8 participated, but nearly 500 of them sent back surveys saying they enjoyed the experience. By the time the second event rolled around last March, Mayor Jane Reilly says, it seemed as much a local tradition as the Christmas-tree lighting and the Fourth of July parade. And there are signs that some families consider the effort to slow down something more than just a once-a-year affair. "Ready, Set, Relax! was a sanity check for us," says David BaRoss, a manager at a big telecommunications company who habitually worked late and missed dinner with his wife Beth and daughters Kelsey, 11, and Rochelle, 14. David and Beth, a former commuter mom who now works closer to home, have placed a cap on extracurricular activities for the girls and have made spending free time together a priority. "We just couldn't keep going and going and piling on more," says Beth. "We were missing out on life."
David still works late a lot, but now the BaRosses set aside one night a week for family get-togethers that feature either a restaurant outing and a movie or a themed dinner at home followed by board games. David has a perfect attendance record. There have been institutional changes around the town as well. Wellness director Allen is urging community-league coaches who use school facilities to give youngsters some time just to have fun. Parents, meanwhile, are being encouraged to stand their ground against demanding coaches, and coaches are being told to be more empathetic. "If you don't want your child on a traveling team, or if your child doesn't want to play the same sport year round, you should be able to approach the coach about it without being told no, or facing the threat that your kid won't make the team," says Frank Giordano, a past president of the town sports council.
Still, if the Ridgewood experience is any indication, taking back your time is going to take more effort than it would seem at first. Even the BaRosses have found it hard to slow down. David admits that leaving work early adds stress because it puts him under the gun to finish his undone tasks and new projects on time in order to avoid a poor performance evaluation. "I'd love to cut back," he says. "But I also want to maintain the lifestyle we have." Outside considerations are on Rochelle's mind too. A few weeks ago, she announced that she had decided to run for eighth-grade vice president. The campaign, she explained, would look good on her college applications.
Teenagers have been the most reluctant to slow down. A crammed schedule is a badge of honor at Ridgewood High, and Ready, Set, Relax! is considered kid stuff. "My friends and I don't feel overwhelmed," says Ethan Frenchman, a busy senior with pals on the varsity sports squads. "You just have to set up a schedule and stick to it." His classmate Marielle Woods says she would love a night off, but that doesn't fit in with her plans to get into a top college. Last year on Ready, Set, Relax! night, she drove to New York City to audition for a gig as the voice-over narrator on a radio commercial. That's just one of about a dozen extracurricular activities she juggles while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average. After a day of advanced-placement and honors classes, she spends two hours at tennis-team practice. And if she doesn't have an evening rehearsal or performance with the school wind ensemble, she tackles her duties as a yearbook editor, the sailing-club president or the head of a charity for the homeless she founded - before turning to homework. "There are times when I'm up late with my textbooks with so much to do, so little time and my head in my hands, wondering how I'm going to get it all done," admits Marielle, an early-decision applicant to an Ivy League school. "But I'm doing stuff I enjoy, and that's almost as good as relaxing for me." In a tacit admission of just how hard it is to get off the hypercompetitive track, next year's Ready, Set, Relax! night in Ridgewood has been scheduled for March 22. It's a date that won't conflict with the season's high school academic competitions, sports events and student theater productions.
Ready, Set, Relax!
Monday, October 27, 2003
How the rich kids live, HBO documentary looks at the lives of those 'Born Rich'
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) --Champagne overflows glasses. Guests glide around wearing vintage 1920s attire -- handsome men in top hats, beautiful women in flapper dresses. Laughter mixes with the sound of Glenn Miller's "In the Mood."
It's Jamie Johnson's 21st birthday party and a regular ol' beer bash simply won't do.
At midnight, the heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune receives the ultimate gift: inheriting more money than most people can spend in a lifetime.
Johnson examines the travails and good times that result from wealth and privilege among 10 young adults in the HBO documentary "Born Rich," airing Monday at 10 p.m. EDT.
"When people talk about money, they are nervous that that calls into question their right to have the money and the wealth that they possess," he said.
Some of Johnson's interview subjects are his close pals, including high school classmate S.I. Newhouse IV, heir to the Conde Nast publishing empire; Ivanka Trump, daughter of real estate developer Donald Trump; and Luke Weil, heir to the Autotote gaming empire.
"I felt very comfortable talking to him, which is good and bad because you let down your guard a little bit more than if I was talking to basically anyone else," Trump said.
Still, it wasn't easy convincing the rich and, in some cases, famous kids to talk about a subject that's so gauche. Johnson was turned down by heirs to the Rockefeller and Campbell Soup fortunes. And his own father questions why Johnson wants to pry into wealthy people's lives.
"He always told me from a very early age, don't talk about money, deny being wealthy if people ask you," Johnson said. "He was seriously against it and really discouraged me from doing it. It actually encouraged me and I thought this film needs to be made."
'It's something you don't like to think about'
Johnson gets his fellow rich kids to open up about what he calls the "voodoo of inherited wealth." Having millions and billions affects everything from their dating lives (several agree a prenuptial agreement is essential) to who their friends are to what they plan to do with their lives since none of them ever has to work.
He wonders how they'd react to getting cut off from their inheritances.
"It's something you don't like to think about," Weil said.
Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, admits having her last name stinks because people don't always see the person behind the name. Josiah Hornblower, heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes, stands outside New York's Whitney Museum and asks, "Don't you have a family museum?"
At least Stephanie Ercklentz, daughter of New York City socialites, tried a career as a New York investment banker. It ended, though, because the job required "too many hours." The admitted shopaholic, who is shown espousing the virtues of designer handbags, wanted to be off by 7 p.m. to socialize with friends.
Cody Franchetti, an heir to the Milliken textile fortune in Italy, believes guilt about having money is "absolutely senseless." Franchetti works as a model, a gig some of his family looks down on.
Some of the kids talk freely about their drinking and drug use.
Weil is downright arrogant, bragging how he taunted poorer peers by saying, "My family could buy yours." Later, he slams the Hamptons nightlife as being "as despicable as it gets."
Weil later turned on Johnson, suing him for defaming his character in the documentary. A judge later tossed out the lawsuit and Johnson says, "Everyone tells me getting sued for the first time is a serious rite of passage."
Juliet Hartford, whose uncles started the A&P grocery chain, jokes about giving all her money to the homeless. ("No, I'm kidding," she adds.)
Trying to avoid mistakes
Not all of his subjects are shameless partiers who frivolously while away their time. Hornblower left college for two years to work as a machinist in the Texas oil fields, an experience that taught him "working hard makes me feel good."
Newhouse explains how his family warned him that if didn't work or put his time in he wouldn't get anything.
Johnson, now 23, spent three years working on his first film, which he produced and directed. It caught the attention of HBO executives at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
His motivation for making the film was personal. He recalled stories of family members who were young, healthy and seemingly had everything going for them, yet they lived unhappy and sometimes tragic lives.
"I really want to avoid that," Johnson said. "I want to figure out why it happens to people."
Johnson's grandfather married a third time late in life to the family's maid. Scandal ensued and Johnson remembered his intensely private father cringed at the ongoing headlines in The New York Times.
"My grandfather made some serious mistakes," Johnson said. "He was born rich and I really didn't want to be in the same situation that he found himself in at the end of his life."
How the rich kids live, HBO documentary looks at the lives of those 'Born Rich'
Wed, Oct. 29, 2003
Essence of U.S. freedom: materialism
by Kathleen Parker
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
-- Preamble to the
Declaration of Independence
Remember when shopping, dining out and going to Disney World were proposed as patriotic acts? If we didn't do those things, we were told, the terrorists would win.
I tried to do my part. Half-heartedly at times; guiltily perhaps. How could I enjoy indulging myself -- pursuing happiness -- in a time of war?
That's a question many of us asked ourselves, and now Carl Cannon, White House correspondent for the National Journal, has answered it in a book -- "The Pursuit of Happiness in Times of War" -- that is possibly the best explanation yet for how and why we got here.
Not necessarily how we came to war, but how the pursuit of happiness has focused our policies, both internal and external, through 200 years of history. And why the pursuit of happiness is not only appropriate to wartime, but is the best weapon in our arsenal for the protection of liberty.
In a nutshell -- and in perfect tune with Bush's imperative that we "get back to normal" -- Cannon (disclaimer: a longtime friend) posits the Darwinian notion that the opportunity to pursue happiness is what fuels our drive and willingness to fight for liberty.
Being materialistic is, in other words, a good thing. A cell phone in every pocket, a grill on every deck are what we enjoy and therefore part of what gives us purpose.
Writes Cannon: "Chasing dreams, pursuing happiness, and even achieving material success, are not embarrassing by-products of American freedom; they are the essence of American freedom."
It is also what our enemies, contemptuous of what they see as our self-indulgence, fail to comprehend. They see our material pursuits as a sign of weakness, when in fact, our materialism combined with our free market and other expressions of freedom -- as well as our pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge -- constitute our strengths.
In his book, Cannon tracks the 1776 ideal of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and the notion that they are "unalienable rights" from Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers through various American leaders, including every president.
He found that throughout our history the power of those words have galvanized generations to rise to deeds and occasions greater than themselves. Included in the book are wars, but also other American crises, including the Great Depression and the civil rights movement.
"Throughout history, our leaders have used this language from the preamble to rally America to these causes, a cause larger than themselves, extending these inalienable rights to people who don't have them yet," Cannon told me. "We don't want their land or their riches, we just want them to be free."
Contrary to what our enemies think, Americans aren't slack, lazy and soft. We're like Kid Shelleen, the character played by Lee Marvin in "Cat Ballou." It is true that sometimes we can be found in the hammock cradling a six-pack of beer. But it is also true that when necessity calls, we can rise to the occasion and sober up right fast.
The problem is "they" -- you know, the ones who hate us and some who pretend to be our friends -- confuse our pursuit of happiness with hedonism and mistakenly infer a lack of purpose. As Cannon demonstrates -- and as the U.S. military recently made clear in Afghanistan and Iraq -- freedom and lack of purpose are not axiomatic.
Cannon, who was himself agnostic toward the war in Iraq, wrote that he is no longer.
"I became convinced in the research and writing of this book that those rights areunalienable, that the yearning for them is universal as well, and that, ultimately, there is no real safety or satisfaction to be had until all the people of the world are free."
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Contact her at email@example.com.
Essence of U.S. freedom: materialism
Fri, Oct. 31, 2003
MARK E. MCCORMICK: CONSUMERISM HABIT HURTING BLACKS
Consumerism habit hurting blacks
The Wichita Eagle
by Mark E. McCormick
Perhaps the sweetest gift my mother gave me was her almost daily lessons on how to spend -- or not to spend -- money.
My father always jokes about my mother's frugality by saying she squeezes a nickel so tight that the Indian on one side of the coin ends up riding the buffalo on the other side.
She saves like a Florida Marlins closer.
Whereas most people enjoy shopping, such outings fill her with dread.
I vividly remember her sighing heavily and whispering sharply to herself, "My goodness!" when the grocery-store checker announced our total.
Mother Dear rarely allows herself the luxury of a new dress or a pair of nice earrings or much of anything, really.
While I was growing up, she saved and stretched everything we had in case our old Impala broke down, the water heater had a heart attack or I needed a new coat.
Her money savvy crossed my mind recently, reminding me of the pitfalls of consumerism in the neighborhood where I grew up.
Just about every black neighborhood I've ever lived in -- from Louisville, Ky., to Oklahoma City and even here -- seemed to have the same set of businesses. Among those:
A check-cashing place.
Roughly 4,327 liquor stores.
A furniture-rental store.
These businesses reflect our buying habits, and they certainly don't reflect well on us.
Check-cashing windows, which attach fees to their services, cater to people who either can't or won't use banks.
Neighborhoods that can least afford to have any liquor stores, because of high rates of alcohol-related illness there, often have more than their share of them. Many also double as grocery stores, selling marked-up goods in the absence of supermarkets.
Pawnshops and furniture-rental businesses have been known to tattoo consumers with prices far exceeding the items' value. People could probably buy that new watch or washer much more cheaply with a little planning and patience.
These businesses play on some of black folks' deepest insecurities, but that's not the whole story.
Freedom and responsibility intersect where we spend our money, and too often we've acted irresponsibly.
If money is power...
People in my mother's generation -- children raised in the ashes of the Great Depression -- saw money as something to save.
She'd always say, "Just because you have a little money, Mark, that doesn't mean that you have to spend it."
That doesn't seem to be the prevailing view of my generation, however.
We aren't saving, investing or preparing for our long-term financial futures as much as we should be.
I'm not allergic to nice things, but so much of what we buy seems so shortsighted and superficial -- FUBU, Tommy Hilfiger, Sean John, Nike, K-Swiss, jewelry.
Superficial ideas of wealth tend to develop when you don't have much. Perhaps we're grasping for the dignity long denied us by buying things we associate with status.
Award-winning Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom told a Wichita audience a week or so ago that people on their deathbeds don't whisper to loved ones to please roll the big-screen television closer to the bed for one final picture-in-picture experience. Rather, they want their loved ones gathered close, because possessions aren't nearly as important as people.
You'd never know that considering how strung out so many of us are on the drug of consumerism.
But we'll have to kick this habit if we're going to make any progress. We should ask ourselves, "If money is power, why are we giving it away?"
No price tag for stability
It's no coincidence that my thrifty mother maintained an incredibly stable home. Sound money management can help make for a stable home.
The way she fretted over every dime drove me crazy when I was a kid, but now as an adult, it's like she's some kind of Harvard Business School professor. Leaning on her example, I've tried to clean up my act.
Her thesis boils down to this:
What we spend helps to carve our economic landscape. The world is what we want to make of it. We have more power than we realize.
What a gift.
Mark E. McCormick is the leader of The Eagle's crime and safety reporting team, and an employee representative on The Eagle editorial board. Reach him at (316) 268-6549 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consumerism habit hurting blacks
Friday, October 31, 2003
RICH BUT UNEMBARRASSED
Possessing five hundred pairs of shoes can be risky business
The Telegraph, Calcutta, India
by Ashok Mitra, Cutting Corners
It was a panel discussion in a television channel on the pros and cons of the galloping consumerism that has overtaken the nation. A panelist could not have been more forthright. No, he would have no sense of shame to own five hundred pairs of shoes. He realizes such indulgence is the epitome of luxury living, but why should he suffer from any prick of conscience? How does it matter if, in this poverty-ridden country, large sections go barefoot because they do not have the means to buy even a single pair, or if close to one-third of the nation goes to bed every night with hunger in their belly, or if India has about the highest infant mortality in the world? Why should he bother if one-half of the nation is still illiterate, and malnutrition and pestilence claim millions of lives every year in different parts of the country? He is concerned only with himself. If the others are not in a position to enjoy the goodies of life in the manner he does, that is their problem, why should he be involved?
It is an interesting point of view, and there need be no surprise either at the fact that considerable sections of the audience present in the television studio warmly applauded the unabashed hedonist. No use putting blinkers over our eyes, globalization and liberalization have marked a watershed in the cerebral processes of young and not so young Indians. Issues of social welfare are bunkum, the Impossibility Theorem worked out by mathematical economists has proved beyond a shadow of doubt that there can be no such thing as a social welfare function, my preferences do not bear comparison with yours, my value system is as much a sovereign entity as yours. I would therefore rather concern myself with my own preferences alone; you and the rest of the so-called society can go to dogs. This is at the core of the neo-liberalism held in total regard in American society, and there can be no running away from the reality of American modes and manners increasingly tending to be the beacon-light for the enlightened Indian community.
Socialists of the old school, we are being told, are an anachronism. Such being the hard datum, mor- al issues are an irrelevance, we are not, must not be, our brother's keeper; let us pay homage for the present to the Impossibility Theorem and leave issues of conscience aside. In any case, the conscience of the panelist was clear: he had absolutely no guilt complex: was he not spending his own money?
What about the problem of aesthetics though? We are supposed to be well-versed in literature and the arts, the history of impressionism, post-impressionism, pointillism, fauvists, post-expressionism, far-out abstractism, and so on, rolls off from our tongue, we know the ins and outs of post-post-modernism, we discover symmetry in aspects of organic and inorganic phenomena, symbolic poetry bowls us over by its innate urge to explore layers and layers of convergence in seemingly autarkic impulses and experiences. And yet, a cross-section, a non-negligible cross-section, belonging to this stratum of society, is inviting us to extricate ourselves, from the fetish of aesthetics.
Why should we not spend fifty thousand rupees in the course of a single evening on dinner and drinks at an exclusive restaurant merely because thousands are facing starvation deaths in adivasi belts? Why should we not move into a mid-town penthouse costing ten crore of rupees even if millions are without a covering over their head in village after village and shantytown after shantytown? Why should I adjourn my scholastic activities ? such as writing a fat tome on 18th-century French cuisine and its linkage to Napoleon's Civic Code ? on the ground that these would be incomprehensible to the unlettered genus who constitute the Indian multitude: in short, because it would not look nice?
This is tricky territory. Aesthetic questions, it can be argued, are in large measure a red herring, we must not flog the horse of aesthetics beyond the point of reasonableness. As human beings, we subsist on asymmetry; there are as many asymmetries in nature as are symmetries. Human existence is riddled with myriad instances of both unity and contradiction. It is puerile to suggest that because my neighbour is out of a job, I too should join the reserve army of the unemployed. On the contrary, the expenditure I incur from my income will conceivably create work for some people who are currently out of work. Or my buying five hundred pairs of shoes will provide a fillip to the nation's leather industry. This is good rhetoric, but may not happen though. With our high import propensity, our footwear fixation may actually buoy up the Italian shoe industry, howsoever marginally. That apart, if the country is in the first place directly in need of capital formation, diversion of potential savings to frivolous expenditure would not boost either production or employment.
Even so, as with moral issues, the lobby pressing for discarding aesthetic reservations is formidable. We are not yet out of the woods though. The real issue concerns our own narrow self-interest. Frontiers have of late been flung open, including frontiers of information and awareness. Till very recently, our ignorant and impoverished millions used to catch glimpses of outrageously high living in affluent households, abroad as well as inside the country, from motion pictures or glean ideas from folklore narrated about the rich. Sometimes stories would filter through newspapers, the radio and other media.
Now, as imitative luxury-living percolates through the system, even the poorest of the poor see with their own eyes the conspicuous display of wealth right in their own neighbourhood. Thanks to the electronic media, even villagers are no longer immune from the enchantment of the fabulous lifestyle of the wealthy set. The filthy rich are no longer a fictional category. The down and out millions are no longer dependent on gossip or occasional peep shows to learn the details of ethereal existence of the crOme de la crOme. The hiatus between the rich and the poor in our country has widened at a ferocious pace in the course of the past decade; moreover, the poor are now direct witnesses of the excesses flaunted by the rich: they occupy ring-side seats at the spectacle of rampant conspicuous consumption.
In biological terms, the poor still are human beings. They nurture the same urges and emotions as the affluent do. They suffer from hunger, but they are afflicted by curiosity, greed and lust as well. To live up to the Joneses is a dictum equally applicable to them. The state may adopt measures to prohibit strikes, ban processions and rallies, declare unlawful, on the plea of national security, attempts at organizing the wretched of the earth. The history of humanity has however demonstrated over and over again the futility of such endeavours. Discontent will out, aspirations too. The panelist on the television programme may be proud of his lack of conscience, he may be devoid of the minimum of aesthetic taste, but he has no control over other people's demands and wishes.
If X takes pride in his possession of five hundred pairs of shoes, others too will get into the act. The idea of possessiveness is infectious. The idea is also dangerous. It can induce others into nurturing and fostering similar ideas. That apart, five hundred pairs of shoes have to come with other concomitants of high living: a galaxy of imported cars, a palatial house, Fifth Avenue dress and dTcor, and all the rest. If the Xs have arrived, the Ys cannot be far behind. They, however suffer from a technical handicap which must be overcome right at the start. They have no money. That situation has to be redressed. The Ys set about the task.
They begin with small-time operations such as snatching and pilfering. From there, they graduate, slowly but surely, into high-tech murders and hijackings. And accidents do happen in society. Those without the talent to take directly to highway robbery may take to organizing politically the discontent of the masses. Things could then go out of hand. The organized or half-organized masses may one day decide to declare open and violent rebellion, whether formal or informal, whether guerrilla or something else. They may go to the length of making a serious try to topple the political infrastructure which permits our television discussant to boast of his five hundred pairs of shoes.
So better take care, possessing five hundred pairs of shoes can be risky business. It can create a murderous riot in the neighbourhood, and uprisings are contaminating.
RICH BUT UNEMBARRASSED
Tue Nov 25, 2003
An 'Epidemic' of selfish kids has let loose
by By Deirdre Donahue
The ultimate frenzy of American consumerism approaches the holidays and your credit card is ready to max out as you buy your beloved offspring all the electronic and digital delights they crave.
Stop. Take a deep breath. And peruse Robert Shaw's The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children. Yes, the title is overwrought. The kid on the cover defines the word "sullen," and the premise is overly simplistic: "Our society has become toxic to children," Shaw warns. (Related item: Read an excerpt from The Epidemic)
A psychiatrist who practices in Berkeley, Calif., Shaw has worked with affluent and underprivileged troubled children for several decades. He offers refreshingly parent-centered advice. Reading his book is like having a bossy grandmother sit on your shoulder, doling out old-fashioned common sense. You're not supposed to be your child's pal, making him happy every second; you're supposed to be raising him to be a self-reliant, honest, helpful citizen who doesn't bully other children. And don't turn your house into a toy pit out of guilt for working.
Emotionally healthy kids need old-fashioned things like chores, set bedtimes and firm parents who are available to them. Nothing you find in The Sharper Image catalog can replace time with children.
On several topics, he takes no prisoners. Severely limit all media, from music to TV to movies to video and computer games, he says.
The most refreshing aspect of the book is Shaw's theory that you are better off kicking the ball around in the backyard with your kids or taking a walk rather than zooming to countless organized activities.
Moreover, Shaw writes, parents have certain rights, like making an uninterrupted phone call or eating dinner as a couple on occasion. A new terror has swept the nation's most involved parents: "the fear that somehow the imposition of limits will destroy some spirit in our children."
And any spirited sass or eye-rolling must be nipped in the bud. Ignoring problems or calling them stages will just create more trouble down the road.
Nor it is good to spend all your time making money so you can send the kids to Harvard, because they'll probably head to rehab for drug and alcohol abuse.
The book's acknowledgements contain the biggest shocker. The good doctor is the child of, yes, that most dreaded of modern blights, a working mother. Shaw reveals at the book's end that he loved his mother, who taught him determination. But for the first 12 years of Shaw's life, it was his adored German nanny who nurtured him. He also was close to his father.
Shaw agrees that newborns need to have parents devoting themselves to their infants, trying to fulfill every need. The problem, he writes, is that parents never change gears. Baby gets bigger but doesn't grow up. The result: kids long out of diapers who torture their parents with tantrums and whining.
Shaw focuses on problems such as school violence, the complaints teachers have about rude, mean kids and the insecure parental behavior he observes. Many parents focus too much on having bright, competitive, athletic kids. Considerate, kind kids are becoming an endangered species, Shaw says.
An 'Epidemic' of selfish kids has let loose
Sunday, November 30, 2003
Materialism provokes debate as holidays near
by Chris De Benedetti, Staff writer Michelle Meyers contributed to this report.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year, typically kicks off the holiday season for retailers.
For small business owners such as Channa Sreng, the end-of-year spending may be a soothing financial tonic.
"Hopefully people are getting out to shop," said Sreng, co-owner of All Stars Donuts across from Bayfair Mall in San Leandro. "It'll be good for the economy, overall."
Not everybody likens the holiday spirit to joining shopping mall visitors seeking day-after-Thanksgiving sales, however.
In fact, an anti-consumerism organization called The Media Foundation advocates just the opposite.
The Vancouver, B.C.-based group started "Buy Nothing Day" 12 years ago to encourage people to live more simply by "stepping outside of the consumer stream" for 24 hours.
Observed on the day after Thanksgiving, "Buy Nothing Day" has grown to include people in more than 60 countries, said Kalle Lasn, founder and editor-in-chief of Adbusters, an anti-consumerist magazine.
Lasn said he and other fellow activists founded the day in the early 90s in response to the idea that corporations, TV stations and advertisers had come to control our culture.
Instead of sharing culture with people, corporations have taken it from the people and were giving it to them "from the top down," he said.
Further, the overconsumption that occurs during a "Christmas shopping binge" is psychologically damaging to people, Lasn believes.
Studies show that "we're exposed to 3,000 marketing messages over a 24-hour period each day," he explained when reached by phone at his Pacific Northwest home Friday. "During Christmas, that (exposure) intensifies. As a result, we finish up the holiday season feeling stressed out."
Some locals agree with the notion that gift shopping often overshadows what the holiday season is supposed to be about.
"It's depressingly materialistic," said Howard Beckman of San Lorenzo. "People can't wait for Thanksgiving to be over so they can move on to the Christmas sales. And then they can hardly wait for the holidays to be over so they can get to the post-Christmas sales."
That mentality explains the success of big box stores, such as Wal-Mart and Costco, Beckman said.
"They don't sell high-quality items, but people don't want quality. They just want things and more of it."
Materialism provokes debate as holidays near
Friday, Dec 12, 2003
Shop 'Til They Drop
Teens Charging Up Chic Wardrobes
by John Stossel, ABC News 20/20
Dec. 12 ? Designer fashions are not just for celebrities and the red carpet ? they're finding their way into classrooms and hallways as teenage girls seek out glamorous trends.
Adolescents have always had a thing for fashion, but now they're spending serious cash on clothing, jewelry and handbags from the "right" designers. These young ladies are interested in products from Tiffany, Coach, and Armani Exchange.
"Logos are everything," said Suzanne Zarilli, owner of Wishlist in Westport, Conn. "I get phone calls [asking] what came in this week."
The designer labels also contribute to their social ranking. "There's almost like this ? boundary that you don't want to cross ... because then you'll just be like, weird," Melanie Burg, a 13-year-old from suburban New York, said during a panel discussion 20/20 held with several teens and their moms.
Cheryse Pickens, 17, explained the merits of a $200 bag, which she called a "magic bag" for its mix of style and convenience.
"You have everything you need in there," said the New Jersey teen. "I mean you don't need a huge bag. You just need the cute little ? you know, don't overstuff it."
When asked why a less expensive bag, of the same size, would not do the job, she replied, "It's not the same."
Financing the Fashion
These mall-trotting teens carry credit cards, some using Visa Buxx, prepaid plastic that functions like a debit account. But for parents on a budget, these fashion aspirations are a challenge.
"She sort of expects to just get [what she wants]. Get me and give me," said Ellen Burg, a fitness instructor who can't afford to satisfy all of her daughter's fashion indulgences. However, Melanie argues that as a fan of Abercrombie & Fitch, she's not that demanding.
"I think today people are spending a lot more than me," she said.
Some of the teens have jobs of their own and are fueling a very profitable market. Last year young shoppers spent more than $170 billion ? double the amount just 10 years earlier.
The shoe collection of 16-year-old Nakeisha Williams of Hamptom Bays, N.Y., illustrates the point.
"I have over 20 pair of sneakers," said Nakeisha. "And boots, I have probably like 20 ? If I could have a shoe for every day, I wouldn't repeat a pair of shoes once." Her dad disapproves of all the shopping, leaving her to sneak new fashions into the house when he's not around.
Several of the parents who spoke to 20/20 were critical of their materialistic kids, such as Cheryse's mom, who says her daughter's expectations are too deluxe. She recalls getting a beat-up car when she passed her driving test, whereas Cheryse aspires to be a singer and wants a Land Rover.
All in Fun or Damaging to Self-Esteem?
As teens shop around for the latest fad they may also be picking up some shallow values.
"Some of the girls talked about how good they feel when they go shopping," said Harvard psychology professor Dan Kindlon. "The risk is that ... they can be empty when they get older."
Nakeisha was among the teens to admit shopping makes them feel better when they're having a tough day.
This type of attitude concerned Kindlon, whose book, Too Much of a Good Thing, encourages parents to stress traditional values. "If they have only materialistic values, they're not going to respect things that are more important in life," said Kindlon.
He said parents should consider giving kids a fixed allowance, instead of handouts, to teach money management. Getting kids involved in charity work can also give them a better sense of values.
Cheryse shared her wealth with others by donating her old clothes to the Salvation Army. She says she can't afford to give the charity money, but, as she puts it, it's "'amazing' for a homeless person to have a chance to pick up a pair of her old Coach shoes.
Melanie's father took her to feed the homeless for a night, with good results. "I'm not going to go saying that, you know, I'm going to change my way of life now," said Melanie. "But feeding the homeless made me aware that ? it's not all about the material things, there are other things that are more important in life."
Shop 'Til They Drop
Dr. Dan Kindlon - "Too Much of a Good Thing - Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age"
January 5, 2004
Balancing family, work: More Americans decide they can't have everything
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
by RHONDA BODFIELD BLOOM
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Can we have it all simultaneously? The great career, enough family time, the house, vacations, college savings?
While casting about for the answer, some, like Charles Hassen, have chosen a new formula for success.
Hassen, 43, was a chronic overachiever with a master's in mechanical engineering and an MBA from Harvard, until his two children came along. Now his wife, Leslie Boyer Hassen, the medical director of the Arizona Poison & Drug Information Center, brings home the mortgage payment while Hassen takes care of the kids, ages 4 and 6.
"It's too easy to buy into the lie that American materialism and consumerism promote every day, all day long, that you define your success in life by how much money and influence you have rather than looking at issues like how happy you are," he said.
There are sacrifices measured in finances and intellectual stimulation. But he's happy with his choice. "It's a tradeoff. You can't have everything."
Whether Hassen's point of view reflects a new trend is hard to quantify. What is clear is that there's been a growing chorus of voices uniting against blind materialism, from simplicity groups preaching clutter reduction to the first-ever Oct. 23 "Take Back Your Time" celebrations telling Americans they're working harder than ever and should emulate the more laid-back working conditions of their European counterparts.
Seattle resident John de Graaf, "Take Back Your Time" coordinator, said the events generated 5,000 new members, with 4,000 new visitors to the Web site every day.
It simply wasn't supposed to be this way, he said. Back in the 1960s, his professors told him the big issue at the turn of the century would be filling the excess leisure time granted by increasing technology.
"It hasn't happened," he said. "It's ridiculous what we're doing."
Catalyst, a New York-based non-profit working to advance women in business, surveyed more than 800 of America's executive women in Fortune 1000 companies and released a report attempting to measure women's satisfaction at work. The women surveyed reported working an average of 56 hours a week.
Only 24 percent said they believed they could turn down a work opportunity for family reasons without jeopardizing their career, and 51 percent said they thought it was difficult to balance the demands of work with their personal lives. To accommodate their careers, 1 in 5 women said they postponed having children and 1 in 4 did not have them at all.
It's not just Fortune 1000 execs waiting either. About 18 percent of women between 40 and 44 don't have children -- nearly double 1976 numbers. At the same time, federal labor statistics show 60 percent of women are in the civilian labor force, compared with 74 percent of men.
Meanwhile, male participation in the work force has been on a downward march since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started collecting data in 1948, falling from 86.6 percent to 74.1 percent -- a fact Labor analyst Mary Bowler attributes to earlier retirement and labor market conditions.
At the same time, though, women's participation has steadily climbed, from 32.7 percent in 1948 until it maxed out at 60 percent in 1999. For the past three years -- and it looks like 2003 is headed the same way -- there has been a hiccup in the 50 years of upward trending, with every year falling below 60 percent.
Additionally, the Census Bureau this year recorded the first-ever decline in the labor force of mothers of infants since it started collecting data in 1976. The rate dropped from 59 percent to 55 percent.
Women like Tracy Smiles, 38, are contributing to that decline. Smiles, who taught writing in middle school for 15 years, had her son, Kyle Palmer, last year and went back to work three months later. By summer, she decided to quit her job.
"I just wanted to be a part of what he's doing every day," said Smiles, who went back to school to work on her doctorate.
Smiles knows she's in a privileged group that has the luxury of being able to make it on one partner's salary. A recent New York Times magazine piece raised the question of whether these women -- the more affluent and educated, who are precisely the ones who should be taking leadership positions -- are letting down the sisterhood.
Smiles said a part of her still feels some sense of guilt because her husband now has the sole burden of supporting the family.
She said the system needs to be reconfigured for more flexibility for working parents, although she doesn't have the answers.
Balancing family, work: More Americans decide they can't have everything
January 13, 2004
Face value, Hidden camera investigation: Do looks really matter?
by Keith Morrison
Anybody who watches reality TV knows that when it comes to landing a date with a beautiful woman, the "Average Joe" doesn't stand much of a chance against a handsome hunk. But does the preference for physical attractiveness go deeper than just romance? Even when looks shouldn't count -- for instance, at a bank or the doctor -- are beautiful people treated better than everyone else? With our hidden cameras watching, Dateline set up some tests to find out.
Everybody knows how much importance we attach to beauty, maybe too much sometimes. But have you ever wondered how different life might be if you were just a little better looking?
Anthony Bernard and Allison Meiersonne are models. Good looks help them make a living. Both of them know they are lucky -- it's what they were born with. But we wondered if their genetic advantage in the beauty department could be helping them in ways they never imagined?
For example, would a stranger come to their aid before assisting an average-looking person? Might they be receiving better service from repair people? Do people trust them more, just because they're good looking?
"A person's physical attractiveness -- the look that they're basically born with -- impacts every individual literally from birth to death," says Dr. Gordon Patzer, dean of the College of Business Administration at Roosevelt University. He's spent 30 years studying and writing about physical attractiveness. "People are valued more who are higher in physical attractiveness. As distasteful at that might be, that's the reality."
Valued more? We wondered and decided to find a group of average, nice looking individuals and super, highly attractive people to test this attractiveness phenomenon. We looked for people with similar traits: the same race, no discernible accents, similar age groups. That way the focus would be exclusively on attractiveness.
So we hired models Anthony and Allison, and asked two NBC employees, Loren and another Anthony, to hit the streets, a bank, an auto shop, and even ride the bus, all the time wearing hidden cameras to see just how much looks matter.
First, we gave our foursome folders filled with papers and had them drop the contents on a New York City street. Would anyone stop to help?
When model Allison drops her file, there seems to be a sudden change in the weather. Is it raining men? A man even uses his cane to stop the pages from flying away.
"It was just amazing how people would flock to me to clean it up," says Allison. "I have dropped my purse and wallet and people always help me pick it up. But I never really thought about if somebody else dropped their wallet, maybe they wouldn't help them. It just seems strange to me."
NBC staffer Loren is about to be that someone else. She drops the papers and people step by, rather than stop. About a dozen people pass by before, finally, a woman offers help.
But that's nothing compared to our other NBC colleague, Anthony. When he drops the folder, the sidewalk literally clears. Even as he spreads out the papers he's supposedly collecting, people just walk on by.
"I thought, hey I'm dressed in a shirt and a tie," says Anthony. "I looked pretty professional, so maybe someone may stop and help me out. And people just kept stepping over."
"I felt embarrassed," says Loren. "You know wait a second, I think I'm somewhat attractive. Why didn't anyone help me?"
Model Anthony wouldn't know how that feels. He drops the folder and immediately an entire family stops to help. We wondered if this was just random chance, or is something else going on? We asked Dr. Patzer about our findings.
"That was a classic example of everything we find in the scholarly research that we do," says Dr. Patzer. "Those of higher physical attractiveness are automatically or immediately assisted, provided help."
And, as we saw with the family helping Anthony, it's not just about appealing to the opposite sex. While our research was not scientific, Dr. Patzer says more controlled studies do show people go out of their way to help attractive people of the same and opposite sex because they want to be liked and accepted by these good looking people.
We watched for this willingness to help when our test subjects stood on the street for five minutes seeming hopelessly lost, not asking anybody for assistance, just waiting to see if any kind soul would notice and stop.
Our NBC volunteers had no luck, but our super-attractive models were a different story. Allison had lots of helpers. A man even rolled down his car window to offer assistance. And model Anthony? He'll never be lost.
"I would hold my map and I'd be looking at the map and looking around and I'd make eye contact with someone and boom, they'd be reeled in," says Anthony.
"The lady walks past him, comes back, offers a large explanation of the layout of the city, but even does an ultimate trust?and offers the general part of the city in which she lives," says Dr. Patzer. "So it verifies very well again we trust more those people of higher physical attractiveness."
Trust? We watched to see what would happen when our subjects ask passersby for change of a dollar. Everyone did pretty well here, but there were differences, especially when it came to trust.
Many people did not stop or respond to NBC's Anthony. But for model Anthony, not only did more people stop, but they seemed to feel Anthony was safer, more honest. Like foreign tourists who weren't even sure how much change equals a dollar, so they held out their money and let Anthony take the correct amount.
"We had situations where people were going out of their way to try to do stuff for us that other people didn't get," he says.
For Allison, even if people couldn't find the change to give her, they would offer helpful suggestions. And she says that people just start conversations with here, something we saw when she and Loren went for a bus ride during rush hour. We wondered if anyone would offer them a seat. While sitting proved not to be an option for either of them that morning, one man, who starts out standing equidistant between Loren and Allison, strikes up a conversation with Allison for the entire bus ride.
"He did see me and he chose to speak and maybe flirt a little bit with her," says Loren. "And I felt like the third wheel."
"There are things that happen everyday in daily life and you just don't think about, wow, maybe this person did this to me because I am maybe an attractive woman and they're interested in pursuing me or something like that," says Allison. "It's very interesting."
So does the world seems like a more accommodating and friendly place to her
"Yeah, sometimes people are just more willing to help us," says Allison. "It's strange, but you're given more credibility and you're given a lot more attention when you're attractive looking I guess."
In fact, many people seem to want to help the truly attractive on their journeys to anywhere, which we learned when we had our subjects ask for directions. They're going to approach people this time, walk right up and ask how to find a place that's actually two blocks away.
Nobody was treated rudely, but again, we saw some special treatment. People who simply overheard Allison's inquiry would come over to help. And only Allison was actually escorted to her destination
But we wondered about something else. When time is of the essence, would people still be so accommodating to our models? It's lunch time and everyone seems to want to go to a particular sandwich shop. The goal for our group is to try to cut the line. Shockingly, everyone is able to find someone to go ahead of. But again, the reactions are different. With our NBCers they are allowed in and the interaction, the conversation just stops. But with Allison, the person she cuts continues the conversation while they wait in line. And the women model Anthony went ahead of seem thrilled to have to wait a little longer to get their lunch.
But what about when the stakes are higher, like when money is involved, or when there is a potential to be ripped off? And might good looks ever be a hindrance? Do beautiful people get better service, better deals, even better medical treatment?
We've seen that life is not necessarily fair. It's even a different world at an auto garage.
With the help of the AAA, we had cars checked over to make sure they were in good working order. Now each of our group will make a trip to the same garage asking for an oil change. Will anyone be told they needed unnecessary repairs?
Everyone receives appropriate service for an appropriate charge, but , model Anthony does receive some different treatment.
"He just seemed enamored and was telling me that I should be on television that I looked like a movie star," Anthony says of the man at the shop.
"Did he give you a deal or anything?" asked Allison.
"No, he didn't," says Anthony. "He didn't even cut me any kind of a deal (you know that happens sometimes people get enamored and throw in an extra thing and say don't worry about it) but it was more that he was just so complimentary."
And good looking individuals get different treatment in some situations you might least expect it, such as a doctor's office.
"We see in medical interactions, patients who go to physicians ,and those of higher physical attractiveness, the physicians will spend more time with that person and will also spend more time answering individual questions that that person asked," says Dr. Patzer.
And this special treatment starts very early on.
"For example, in a nursery, before newborn babies are released from a hospital, those babies who are higher in physical attractiveness, at this level defined as more cute , are touched more, held more and spoken to more," says Dr. Patzer, who notes the trend continues in school. "You see that those teachers when they interact with children of higher physical attractiveness, they ask more questions, they prompt them for more answers. We expect those children to do better and consequently they fulfill our expectations and they actually do do better."
And says Dr. Patzer, we are just hard wired to respond more favorably to attractive people. EVen studies with babies show they will look more intently and longer at prettier faces.
"This is something anthropologically that has existed for as long as history exists," he says.
However, we did find a situation where looks did not matter. At the bank, where we inquired about rates for an auto loan, the information was punched into a computer and the same rate was given to everyone.
For the bank loan, it didn't seem to make any difference, and yet if Dr. Patzer's theory is correct, presumably it would be easier to get a loan if you're better looking.
"And that offers us a glimmer of hope," says Dr. Patzer. "Where we're taking objective data, statistics and numbers, putting them into a computer program to get a decision, when we take it out of an individuals hands, it takes the differential treatment out of the equation.
Of course though, in life, we interact all the time with people who do, however unconsciously, make judgments about us based on what we look like.
So it does make a difference, and most likely always will, no matter what we try to do about it. But it doesn't hurt to know that next time we're drawn to one human being over another, that our reasons might not be quite be quite as rational, nor even as fair, as we like to think they are.
In fact, Dr. Patzer says even justice is not blind to beauty. Studies have shown that juries find arguments more persuasive if they're made by attractive lawyers. But if beauty's in the eye of the beholder, getting 12 jurors to agree beyond a reasonable doubt on who's attractive could make for some long deliberations.
Face value, Hidden camera investigation: Do looks really matter?
January 29, 2004
Poor Little Rich Kids
by Benjamin Wallace-Wells
During college, I dated a girl whose friends hailed from what might be called the Paris Hilton set: the socially connected children of New York's inherited wealth class. One day I found myself at an Upper East Side party celebrating the first anniversary of an oil heiress' debut. We got there early, and my girlfriend and the debutante chattered off to the kitchen to get drinks. It was a very nice apartment, but I'd seen a lot of very nice apartments, and I found this one to be unexpectedly unspectacular ? a little ratty around the edges even, a lot of pillows and woven throws covering the aging fabric of the cushions. I sat with the heiress' two blond brothers ? the older one an investment banker, the younger taking a break from investment banking to try to be a model ? who kept up a laconic banter over my head.
They talked, almost wearily, about unsuccessfully trying to pick up the waitresses at the bar down the block; about the best restaurant bathrooms in which to blow cocaine; about a prep school friend who'd been pulled over for weaving along a Connecticut road and acted more drunk than he really was, hoping the cops would just write him up and not search him for the bag of weed he'd stuffed in his crotch. They had these brittle, smirking laughs. My girlfriend and the heiress came back with drinks for everyone; we sat around with the oldest money there is drinking Coors Light on ice, out of mugs. Somehow, I had expected martinis.
It was a strange evening. Demographically, there wasn't much to separate my own background from these heirs ? many of my friends had grown up pretty rich, in the same zip code, had gone to the best private schools. My friends and I were the children of doctors, lawyers and bankers ? competitive, high achieving kids. But we were also only second- and third- generation Americans, the children and grandchildren of Jewish and Asian immigrants, and we had been raised with the understanding that we had been born during the upswing of our family epic, bound to higher achievement than even our own (by any standard, inordinately successful) fathers and mothers. We also had no big trust funds waiting for us, and so had to work for our livings.
The kids at the party, by contrast, had grown up believing that they were presiding over the decadent decline of their families, and, without the grit to compete academically with the aspirants and strivers, ended up chasing the depravity sweepstakes. The Coors Light, the weed in the crotch, the coke in the bathrooms, the banter about slutty waitresses: These were all self-conscious signals that they knew that they represented families and fortunes on their downswing, and that they were determined to live that decline to the fullest.
The culture I glimpsed in that apartment is now playing out on gossip pages and TV screens. America has become rather suddenly obsessed with the antics of young, wayward socialites who dance topless on nightclub tables and pose shamelessly for publicity cameras at every Hollywood premiere and Manhattan after-party. There are near-daily updates about Lionel Ritchie's daughter Nicole trying to quit heroin and getting into fights at New York nightclubs; Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson indulging in plastic surgery and getting into fights at the same nightclubs; and Paris Hilton doing virtually everything and anyone. (Last November, millions of Internet-capable Hilton fans had the pleasure of watching a home video of Paris and a then-ex-boyfriend having bored, flamboyant sex ? in one magnificent moment, she demands that he pull out so she can answer her cell phone.)
Those who wish for an even closer look ? if that's possible ? at the lives of our decadent elites can now choose from three documentary programs dedicated to exploring the psychologies of the young and extremely wealthy. The most successful, ratings-wise, has been Fox's show "The Simple Life," billed as a non-fiction version of "Green Acres," which sends Paris Hilton and her best friend, Nicole Ritchie, to spend two months on an Arkansas farm.
MTV recently aired "Rich Girls," which documents the shopping-and-sentimentality-heavy summer before college of New York heiresses Ally Hilfiger and Jamie Gleisher. Then there's "Born Rich," a documentary which debuted at Sundance this summer and is now showing on HBO, in which a 24-year-old heir (Jamie Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson fortune) interviews more than a dozen of his friends, all also heirs, about growing up very rich. They talk about everything from the cut of a fine suit to the blind chance of their social station to, defensively, the need to set up safeguards like prenuptial agreements to protect their fortunes from too-quick erosion. The nation's current super-elite, one and two generations removed from the middle classes, understands that class status rests on the thin ice of dumb luck.
Decadence amongst the inheritance class is nothing new. It has been a repeated literary theme from Prince Hal in Shakespeare's Henry IV cycle to Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. But there have been several cultural shifts in recent years that explain why we're seeing so much dissolute wealth in our pop culture. The inheritance class, following the two biggest economic booms in American history, is bigger than it has ever been. At the same time, the children of this class, for all their financial advantages, now operate with a profound aspirational disadvantage. Quite simply, it has become harder and harder for them to find something useful and rewarding to do with their lives.
In previous generations, children of the super-rich had respected slots at the top of certain American institutions set aside for them. After an all-but-guaranteed education at Ivy League schools, they could expect to work at family-owned corporations, or investment banks to which their fathers had ties. They would serve on the boards of foundations and other charitable organizations, and by dint of their wealth, would host parties, salons, and other social gatherings that would get them written up in the newspapers.
Today, these slots are no longer reserved for the children of the rich but are open to competition, and that competition is fierce. Legacy status guarantees only a few points on a Harvard application. Shareholders have little patience with sinecured executives who don't perform. Even high society in New York and Los Angeles is no longer dominated by heirs but by professional publicists, club promoters and pop celebrities who throw the most glamorous and coveted parties, to which the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers try to wrangle invitations.
As meritocratic competition has expanded upwards, undermining the sheltered workshops that once gave rich kids outlets for their energies, the mentality of these heirs has changed. For better or worse, they've internalized meritocratic values, which are really just broad American values ? in particular, a disregard for status gained by dint of one's birth rather than by virtue of one's talent.
This disregard manifests itself in various forms of self-loathing, apparent in almost every scene of shows like Born Rich and "Rich Girls." This generation of rich kids is perhaps the most unhappy in history. And their peculiar predicament has prompted an en masse attempt to experience, in ways both admirable and depraved, what life is like outside the bubble of their privilege.
Park Avenue Mom
One of the reasons that these shows are appealing and have been successful is that they give the viewer a chance to sneer at these loopy, out-of-touch, dysfunctional rich people. But that doesn't explain the appeal entirely. The chance to sneer might keep viewers tuned in for an episode, but likely not a season. The reason people are watching may very well be that the characters are simply more sympathetic and interesting than the shows' publicity make them out to be.
"Born Rich" is the most self-consciously literary and also the best of these programs. In interviews, Johnson, the film's director, has said that his goal was to document the "voodoo" of inherited wealth, the pathologies and stunted ambitions of growing up very rich. Because Johnson is an heir himself, he gets a rare level of candor and depth from his interview subjects, who are also frequently his friends. Some of them, like the textile heir Cody Franchetti, are interested mostly in detailing the prerogatives of vast wealth ? the great suits, the fab polo horses.
Others are more thoughtful and complex, like Johnson's childhood friend Josiah Hornblower, an heir to the Whitney and Vanderbilt fortunes who took two years off from college to work as a machinist in the Texas oil fields, and, improbably, Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka. The collective portrait that emerges from these more intelligent rich kids is one of guilt and unease. They're a little bit embarrassed by being so wealthy and have a powerful, discomforting suspicion that their station has restricted the options open to them.
This theme runs through these shows, expressed sometimes in touching, sometimes ludicrous ways. There is a moment, majestic in its own way, in the second episode of "Rich Girls," the one in which Jamie, the unattractive, sad and shallow rich girl, slumps against a big wood staircase in someone else's house and gives the camera a look of impossible fury because the boy she thinks is cute is kissing another girl five feet away. To viewers, this is ludicrous: The boy is far more attractive, mature and intelligent than Jamie, way out of the league, and, besides, the girl is his girlfriend ? and Jamie can't compete with her either. But Jamie's frustration is positively making her quiver. Three episodes later, she's still talking about the same event.
Part of her frustration stems from a rich girl's sense of frustrated entitlement, an inevitable coming to terms with an object she wants but can't have. But there is something more complex going on here, too, which lends the show its propulsive tragic theme. We know from her previous conversations and escapades that Jamie is beginning to see her life as a closed loop. She knows she is not a success at school. She tells us that she knows her tastes are juvenile and that she is far more spoiled, dependent, and immature than other kids her age. And she knows, too, that she is no great shakes at romance, being unattractive to most of the young men in her circle. Everything she is likely to have, she tells the camera and her friends again and again, comes down to the money she was born into.
The dominant image of an inescapable future, for Jamie, is the Park Avenue Mom, spending her days walking her dog, talking on the phone and doing little else with her life. Jamie knows this is not a satisfying life, she tells Ally in the second episode, but she believes that's what she'll become.
The rich kids interviewed in "Born Rich" and shown on "Rich Girls" have, far more than any other children I know, a painful awareness of the trajectory of their lives, and the stereotype of their social station. They know how rich kids are typecast: lazy, ineffectual, their wealth and family name the only source of their success. And so each time they fail at ventures which are not dependent on their wealth or family name, even when they are ventures that anyone would fail at, like trying to date someone far out of your league who already has a girlfriend, they become more convinced that they are bound to enact that stereotype, that there is no way out.
When they embrace that stereotype, they become like the heirs I met through my college girlfriend, passionlessly trumpeting the details of their decadence. This tension is what gives these shows their edge, and the characters their vulnerability and humanity: Their stories are pitched by the television networks as comedies, but to the rich kids themselves they are living classic tragedies, trying, and usually failing, to find a way to deny the inevitability of a sneered-at existence.
Surfing in Biarritz
For those rich kids smart and aware enough to recognize it, these can be debilitating circumstances. It's the dilemma suffered by a close friend of mine, the only super-rich kid I knew growing up. His parents, both born in India, weren't socially prominent in the same gossip-pages way as parents of the kids from these three programs, but they were just as rich and successful, and his ancestors have been among India's wealthiest families for centuries.
My friend also had something most of these heirs don't: a vital and active mind. I remember in particular an astoundingly clever and quick, off-the-cuff interpretation of his, from our twelfth grade European history class, of how Gladstone and Disraeli might have debated the merits of incorporating former Soviet states into the European Union. In a class full of grinds that sent more than eighty kids on to Ivy League schools each year, he finished first, effortlessly, and sailed through Harvard with equal ease.
But, out of school, starter jobs in every profession weren't glamorous enough, paid too poorly, and were generally just much less exciting, relevant, and cool than the way he had been living his life so far. What he really ought to have done was go to grad school, but the life of a young academic simply had no pull for him: Why would he want to spend 15 years working at some state school in the Midwest, grading bad papers and teaching uninterested students, when even if he never worked a day after college he could spend his time eating at the finest restaurants in New York with the most glamorous people and boating on the weekends in Long Island Sound?
He made a few half-hearted stabs at investment banking (what his father, raised equally rich, had done), but didn't have the interest or energy to compete with the kids whose whole lives depended on how fully their work pleased the managing director. He spent a few months working on a start-up in L.A., but found he had little interest in the busier parts of small business work, and passed his weeks contriving to spend his weekends in Rome and driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway in rented Lamborghinis.
Soon my friend was back in New York. For a while, he tried to give in to the prerequisites of the born rich, tried to set himself up as a social mover-and-shaker in New York, out every night, spending a thousand dollars a pop to get a booth and bottles of booze for his crew at clubs. His credit card bills averaged twenty thousand a month. He wasn't particularly successful at this either: He had spent his life cultivating a patrician manner and approach to things, and to be successful in New York, even at going to parties, demands a scrappy, working-class energy.
He furthermore ran up against a sort of immovable fact: Celebrity and energy are far more important than simple cash in throwing the hottest parties, making it on the club scene. I was working as a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia at the time. He would call me from New York around midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, so excited, and tell me to meet him at a particular club. "Dude," I'd say, "I live in Philadelphia, remember? I can't meet you in Tribeca tonight." When I did see him, he'd spend the evenings telling me how insincere his new friends in New York were, and then, very late, we'd go back to his parents' gorgeous apartment, where he lived, and he'd tell me long stories about Indian history, and linguistics.
He was doing worse and worse, seesawing back and forth between a kind of tragic desperation and a forced come-what-will bonhomie. I once got a call from him before I went to work: "I am observing the surfing at Biarritz," he said, "and it is very sad." He made a poor romantic.
Someone eventually prevailed upon my friend to go to business school, where he is now. It has been difficult to watch him thrash about while far less talented classmates of ours succeed, and though there are certainly many reasons my friend has had a difficult time of it so far, there is a certain oppressiveness about the fact of his family's vast wealth and success which has colored every choice he has made.
Going to grad school or going to work at an investment bank or a newspaper out of college doesn't seem like a sacrifice to most of us, but an opportunity. For my friend, who couldn't hope to earn by working what he had simply in return for existing, it meant giving up a life of nearly unmatchable glamour and excitement. Where I, coming out of college, saw chances everywhere, he saw trade-offs.
Andrew Carnegie's Revenge
None of this is meant to excuse the idle rich for being idle. The instinctive response of most viewers to much of what is on offer from these programs is to want to shake these spoiled kids by their shoulders and say, "Suck it up and start working at something, like the rest of the world." The popular scorn for the born rich is understandable, the stereotype mostly on target. But this thrashing about, looking for a way out that both my friend and the kids in these shows have gone through does explain in part why this generation of rich kids differs from previous ones.
There is a scene in "Born Rich" in which Jamie Johnson asks his buttoned-up father, more or less, what he ought to do with his life. His father, who himself has never worked a day in his life, suggests that Jamie make himself useful by joining some charitable organizations and figuring out how to productively give some of his money away. Jamie presses further: What if he doesn't want to do that, what if he wants to have a career? His father looks confused, then suggests that Jamie could also take up a hobby, "like collecting old maps."
One might think that it ought to be a simple thing for Jamie to take his father's advice about a career in philanthropy. After all, that's how extraordinarily rich young people have long found meaning in their lives, from the Rockefellers to the Fords. And some heirs still do so today, such as John Walton, who inherited the Wal-Mart fortune and used the money five years ago to endow the Children's Scholarship Fund, which each year sends 34,000 poor kids around the country to top private schools, tuition-free.
There is no doubt that the social utility of the vastly wealthy resides in their ability to fund, through charitable endeavors, social programs that the government is unwilling or unable to take on. But from interviews in "Born Rich," it seems that the current generation feels like such efforts are still too much in the bubble, merely another way of piggy-backing on your family's accumulated fortune.
It's an understandable feeling, but not good news for society as a whole. Now that we're saddled with the largest, wealthiest, and least-happy inheritance class in America's history, it seems like a good idea for someone to come up with something useful for these people to do with themselves and their money. At the very least, shows like "Born Rich" are good advertisements for a return of the estate tax, which the great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie favored as a spur for the rich to spend their wealth on good works during their lifetimes, rather than lose it to the government.
Uninterested in lives of noblesse oblige, unwilling to compete in the meritocracy, and unable to find satisfaction in merely spending their bequests, rich kids today seem to want nothing more than to escape the bounds of their privilege. This explains, I think, the mass class-mixing that we're seeing on TV ? a phenomenon playing out in both good and bad ways. Some rich kids, convinced that they can't break out of the stereotype of decadent decline, are simply trying to live that decline to the fullest, more or less slumming. (Some, like Paris Hilton, take it a half step further, using the public image of the morally lapsed wealthy to leverage a crass and grimy half-fame, living archetypes of rich kids gone to seed.)
For others, class-mixing is a real form of education, one that both toughens and tenderizes the world-view of these heirs, who, because of their wealth, have enormous potential for influence. Watching Josiah Hornblower struggle gamely to figure out how to use his wealth for good, you have the distinct sense that his two years in an oil field will prompt him to some sort of socially beneficial action.
And that sense that a well-lived life must include attempts to understand how most people experience the world is one of the heartening themes to emerge from these programs: Whatever else they are, most of these kids have at least the ambition to be in touch with common people. The protagonists in these programs, like my friend, profess a need to be useful ? as Ally Hilfiger says, "to do something." They feel like their wealth keeps them locked up and artificially divorced from middle-class people with whom they have a lot ? values and ambitions ? in common.
Poor Little Rich Kids
Poor Little Rich Kids
Wed, Feb. 11, 2004
Find strategy to battle financial temptation
by Mary Hunt
If you have ever stopped by the store to pick up milk and walked out carrying a week's worth of snacks as well, you know the power of temptation.
Experts say the typical adult is exposed to 3,500 commercial ads in any given day. These glitzy persuaders are designed to manipulate our behavior. With consumer debt at an all-time high, it would appear that as a nation, we have been losing a lot of battles with temptation.
But I have learned it's possible to face down temptation and win.
Identify the weakness: Fess up. What are your areas of temptation? Clothes? Shoes? Collectibles? Movies? Food? Gadgets?
Stop flirting with danger: If you're ever going to win over temptation, you must stop cozying up to the very thing that causes you to stumble. If you're easily tempted by clothes, don't spend hours cruising the mall. In fact, don't even go to the mall unless you have a specific need and a reasonable plan.
Don't open mail-order catalogs: Take them to the garbage and push them way down to the bottom to head off a middle-of-the-night retrieval.
Develop a diversion: Temptation is usually fueled by emotion, rarely by reason. It flares and disappears depending on our moods and thoughts and can appear quite unexpectedly. When it whispers in your ear, divert your attention to something equally enjoyable but less injurious to your financial health. For me, it's ironing. You might be more drawn to a book, crossword puzzle or nap.
Identify true needs: Note the difference between a need and a temptation. Needs are never realized while standing in the aisle of a store, while flipping through the pages of a catalog, surfing eBay or watching the Home Shopping Network. Those sudden desires are temptations. You, not retailers or advertisers, should set your own agenda. And if you don't have a need, don't go shopping. You'll only set yourself up for a fall.
Assess the true cost: When you spend compulsively, you're doing more than giving in to temptation. If paying with credit, you're building debt. That $30 item is going to cost you more like $60 or $75 by the time you finally pay for it. If you pay with cash, you're also giving up the opportunity to put that money to work for you for the rest of your life. The money you spend plus the forgone interest earnings represent the real cost of spending.
Seek accountability: It takes a great deal of courage and character to be accountable to another person for your actions and behaviors, but it's one of the best ways to win over temptation. Make a pact with your spouse or a friend. Set an amount over which you will not spend without first discussing. Set boundaries and then ask for help to stay within them.
Winning over temptation is as rewarding as it is hard work. It takes commitment, tenacity and, for some, a heavy steam iron.
Mary Hunt is the creator of the Cheapskate Monthly newsletter, which can be ordered online at www.cheapskatemonthly.com/um.
Find strategy to battle financial temptation
Mon, Feb. 16, 2004
New Study Shows Tall People Are More Likely to Be Promoted, Better Paid
San Antonio Express-News Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
by Analisa Nazareno
Feb. 14 - Sometime between toddling at 2 feet tall and standing 6 inches taller than the average American man, Edward Torres learned to become a successful business leader.
According to a study of 8,590 American and British men and women, with each inch Torres grew, his chances for success soared that much more.
The study, scheduled to be published in the spring issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology this March, found that taller people earned more money -- an average of $789 more per year per inch -- and commanded respect more easily than people who were shorter or of average height.
"Height matters for career success," said Timothy Judge, a University of Florida management professor who worked in conjunction with University of North Carolina business professor Daniel Cable on the study.
"These findings are troubling in that, with a few exceptions such as professional basketball, no one could argue that height is an essential ability required for job performance nor a bona fide occupational qualification," Judge said.
The study used income as a gauge for career success and controlled for the gender, age and weight of the subjects. The researchers found that height mattered slightly more for men than it did for women, but regardless of gender, if a person was taller, that person was more likely to earn more money.
Additionally, in subjective performance evaluations, as well as objective measures such as sales volume, height was associated with workplace success, according the study.
"If height has the social status we think it does, it stands to reason that tall people would sell more cars because they're seen as a more authoritative source on the matter," Judge said.
The study adds to the growing body of organizational psychology literature that points to this instinctive notion: People who are physically attractive are more likely to get ahead in life.
"When humans evolved as a species and still lived in the jungles or on the plain, they ascribed leader-like qualities to tall people because they thought they would be better able to protect them," Judge said.
"Although that was thousands of years ago, evolutionary psychologists would argue that some of those old patterns still operate in our perceptions today," he said.
Today, the average American man is 5 feet 9 inches and the average woman stands at nearly 5 feet 4 inches.
Judge noted that it has been more than 100 years since U.S. voters elected a president who was shorter than the average man -- William McKinley, who stood at 5 feet 7 inches tall when he was elected in 1896 and whom the press ridiculed as a "little boy."
People observing tall persons are more likely to perceive leadership attributes and view them as stronger and more persuasive, the professors said.
And as a tall person grows up, being picked as captain of the grade-school kickball team, then senior class or glee club president, he or she takes on the identity of leader.
"When a person is highly esteemed, he may be described as a 'big man," and we 'look up' to and admire those who are tall," the professors wrote in their study.
Torres -- like other tall people who live and succeed San Antonio -- pooh-poohed the report and called it "silly."
"Anybody can come up with a study and come to their own conclusions," Torres said.
Torres served as co-chair for last year's Leadership San Antonio, a Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce program that grooms future city leaders, and said he didn't notice whether the class loomed larger than average or not. Standing at 6 feet 3 inches, Torres said his height played no role in his own success.
"I've never, ever thought about it at all," Torres said. "Height doesn't have anything to do with it at all. It has more to do with drive and ambition. I don't think my height has helped me at all."
He noted that plenty of shorter people in the city have been able to achieve great levels of success despite their height.
"It is often easy to locate outliers that do not individually fit a trend -- think about Tom Cruise (who is 5' 7")," Cable wrote in an e-mail. "But that's why statistics are valid -- they allow us to identify trends above the level of 'my aunt Tillie' or 'this mayor that I know.' "
In other words, there always will be people who'll succeed despite being short, fat, not very attractive or from the wrong side of the tracks.
But in the broader scheme of things, height makes a difference.
Torres' co-chair for Leadership San Antonio last year said while height and good looks may play a role in first impressions, a person's performance on the job is what enables him to move ahead in an organization.
"In my opinion, the size of a person has zero to do with mastering the job," said Steve Dufilho, CEO for Compass Bank, San Antonio. "It may give them an advantage but only for an instant."
Dufilho said he couldn't deny that height played a role in determining the leaders in the schoolyard.
"The tall boys were always the ends or the quarterbacks, and they were the stars in basketball, the forwards and the centers, as opposed to the guards," said Dufilho, who at 5 feet 11 inches is a couple inches above average height.
"You look to the big guy on campus, and that maybe goes back to childhood, where people related strength to height and interpret that to business strength."
As the big guy on campus most his life, Jim Dublin mused on the study's outcomes and recalled that as the tallest in his fifth-grade class, he was elected class president.
The following year, a girl named Virginia hit a growth spurt, overtaking him as tallest in class, as well as class president.
"That's been my only experience with taller trumping tall," said Dublin, who is president and founder of public relations firm Dublin & Associates. "I can't think of any other reason why that happened."
Standing at 6 feet 6 inches, Dublin said he's most aware of his height standing in elevators and sitting in cramped coach accommodations on airplanes.
"Nobody hired us because I'm tall, I can tell you that," Dublin said. "I hope it's not a determining factor. Hey, if you know someone who is looking to hire a tall PR guy, tell them I'm here."
New Study Shows Tall People Are More Likely to Be Promoted, Better Paid
May 2, 2004
A Lovelier You, With Off-the-Shelf Parts
The New York Times
by ALEX KUCZYNSKI
It is a commonplace of anthropology that every culture has its own set of standards defining beauty. But in American culture - at least from the point of view of reality television - the parameters appear to be rapidly narrowing.
Viewers of "The Swan" on Fox and "Extreme Makeover" on ABC - reality programs that take pudgy, snaggle-toothed Americans and put them through a cosmetic-surgery juggernaut - know that at the end of each program the participants emerge, transformed, to the oohs and ahs of family, friends and surgeons.
But as the patients make their appearances, week after week, viewers have also begun to notice an eerie Stepford-spouse similarity. "They all get a chin implant, all get a brow lift, all get their lips done," said Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc, a New York plastic surgeon who has watched the programs.
The cheeks of the patients are all planed upward; lips are uniformly swollen to rubber-doll proportions; breasts stand at military attention. The men have new superhero chins. Mouths, to a person, are packed with teeth as big and white as Chiclets.
"It's very cookie-cutter," said Dr. Peter B. Fodor, a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles and president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Critics of American popular culture have long looked down their noses at the quest for bland conformity. We are a nation, they say, of follow-me consumerism. We all wear the same clothes, eat at the same restaurants and drive the same S.U.V.'s. But these television shows seem to signal that the herd mentality has reached alarming new levels. Are we now all going to have the same face - one that looks like whoever is on the cover of Us magazine?
Dr. Nancy Etcoff, author of "Survival of the Prettiest: the Science of Beauty" (Anchor, 2000) and an instructor in the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School, said the assembly-line look ultimately damages the notion of personal identity.
"We are in danger of doing something unthinkable, which is making beauty boring," Dr. Etcoff said. "When it is all so overtly about appearance, personal identity becomes almost trivial. It's as if people would rather choose a mask, than look like themselves, or their mother, or daughter."
The numbers speak for themselves. Of 17 candidates on "The Swan," all received tooth veneers, 16 had liposuction, 15 had forehead lifts, 13 had nose jobs, 13 had lip augmentations and 11 had breast augmentations. Dr. Randal Haworth, one of two surgeons on "The Swan," said the "graduates" bear a certain resemblance to one another partly for technical reasons.
"There is a certain finite number of procedures you can do," he said. "And when humans think of beauty, they go to those hot points - nose, brows, lips - and that's what we work hard to define."
There may be other reasons, said Dr. Steven A. Teitelbaum, a plastic surgeon from Los Angeles. A surgeon on such a program may not only listen to a patient's requests, he said, but may also think of the show, which is practically an infomercial promoting his services.
"In other words, you're going to think of what is most broadly appealing to the public," Dr. Teitelbaum said.
The patients on these shows are not entirely out of step with the rest of the country. At the hands of cosmetic surgeons, Americans underwent a total of 8.3 million procedures last year. The number of procedures rose 12 percent, to 1.8 million, and the number of non-surgical procedures, like Botox, rose 22 percent, to 6.4 million. While playboys and socialites were jetting to Brazil in the 1950's for facelifts, cosmetic surgery is no longer the sole domain of the rich. Surgery is less expensive, and many banks even offer loan packages for those who want to upgrade from an A-cup to a more robust model.
In some social sets, it is a simple fact of life that one will have some major procedure every year. In March, for example, when Lionel Richie's 37-year-old wife filed for divorce in Los Angeles, her list of financial demands included $20,000 a year for plastic surgery. Bruce Wagner, the Los Angeles writer whose novels focus on the dissolution and anomie of contemporary life, regards the current interest in surgical enhancement as a terminally adolescent desire for acceptance.
"I grew up in Beverly Hills, where 25 years ago the summers were the time when girls and boys had their noses done," Mr. Wagner said. "But the fact that we now watch it, uncensored, and what might have been considered lurid, ghoulish or macabre even five seasons back is now part of sweeps week shows just how bent the culture has become. There is an addiction to conformity that is bred in the bone."
Who do all these surgically enhanced people want to look like? "Our religion is celebrity, and our gods are celebrities," Dr. Haworth said. "When we conform to the dictates of taste, that's who we look to."
Dr. Terry Dubrow, the other "Swan" surgeon, said the women on the show turned out looking alike because they are all relatively young and come from a similar socioeconomic background, and so they share - and want to look like - a similar beauty prototype.
"The younger girls think that beauty is raised cheeks, a higher brow, big breasts and fuller lips," Dr. Dubrow said. "You know, Pam Anderson."
OF course, women have long tried to look like their favorite movie stars and were not above using surgery to capture Twiggy's nose or Angie Dickinson's bust.
"Any place on the body where you can have an ideal, cosmetic surgery will cater to that ideal," said Marilyn Yalom, author of "A History of the Breast" (Knopf, 1997). "You had a certain kind of pointed breast that was popular in the 50's. In the 80's, it was softer and bigger. Now, it's a large, almost muscular breast. It is a very interactive relationship between cultural icons and the plastic surgeons themselves."
But there is something chilling in the way that patients today see Pamela Anderson, an obvious consumer of cosmetic surgery, as a paradigm of beauty. Will we become a nation of plastic-surgery pod people?
Plastic surgeons aren't worried. Not every patient has a mass-market vision of beauty, Dr. Fodor said.
"These shows really trivialize the process," he said. "Most people are not coming in and asking for five or six procedures all at once."
But others believe that the plastic surgery craze plays to the nation's tendency to favor youth over experience, the immediate over the past.
George Orwell said that at 50, every man has the face he deserves, noted Christopher Hitchens, the Vanity Fair columnist. To erase the lines of one's face is a way of destroying one's history.
"And that does mean something about your character," Mr. Hitchens said. "At least in the sense that if you decide to obliterate it and fall in step with a lot of other people who have obliterated it, you may in fact end up looking like nothing else on earth. You may be blank."
The New York Times: A Lovelier You, With Off-the-Shelf Parts
Aug 16, 2004
BOOK REVIEW - How the corporate big picture affects the little guy
Los Angeles Times
by Merle Rubin
"Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom and What You Can Do About It", by Jamie Court - Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin: 324 pp., $15.95 paper
The corporate mega-giants that have mushroomed in today's hothouse climate of deregulation, mergers, takeovers, bailouts and globalism may not yet have attained the absolute power famed for corrupting absolutely, but they seem well on the way to doing so. By 1999, according to a survey cited in Jamie Court's eye-opening "Corporateering," "fifty-one of the largest 100 economies in the world were corporations
As Court explains, the forces that have traditionally served to counterbalance corporate power -- government and labor unions -- have been severely weakened, making it all too easy for corporations to do as they please, regardless of damage to workers, consumers, the fabric of society, the national interest or the natural resources on which human life depends
"Corporateering" provides a trenchant look at the extent of the power currently wielded by the largest corporations. Court, who is executive director of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, attacks the subject from three angles
He begins by detailing the ways in which corporations have encroached on our private lives and commercialized our public spaces. Next, he examines the underlying assumptions -- the "prevailing logic," as he calls it -- that have enabled them to get away with this. And finally, he suggests ways in which individuals can resist or fight back
While many fear a threat to freedom from the heightened security measures taken by the government in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, few seem aware of the more commonplace (and less justifiable) incursions on our personal freedoms by corporations
Among the rights Court sees as endangered are privacy (when corporations share our personal information without our knowledge or consent), free association (when companies interfere with the right to join a labor union) and legal recourse (when employers require workers to waive their right to a trial and submit to binding arbitration as a condition of employment).
Still more disturbing is Court's account of how corporations have managed to transform the climate of public opinion in their favor. Thanks to a long campaign of vilification against union leaders (routinely dubbed union "bosses") and government (the buzzword here is "bureaucrats"), corporations have persuaded people to distrust the two entities capable of counterbalancing corporate power -- or at least setting some limits on it.
The campaign to enshrine corporate ideology has proved so successful that many now unthinkingly believe that freedom is identical with free enterprise and that society, culture and morality are all reducible to the marketplace.
Catering to (and sometimes artificially creating) the demands of the marketplace, as Court explains, is not the same as providing for the social, cultural and health needs of individuals. Television "news" consisting of scandal and crime may reap a high ratings share, but it does not keep the public well informed about its political choices. Junk food, recreational drugs, cigarettes, violent and pornographic films, and video games may sell, but they certainly don't enhance the well-being of those who consume them or of society in general.
The earliest corporations, Court reminds us, were granted charters by the state permitting them to operate provided that they served the public interest. If they didn't, their charters could be revoked. It was only in the late 19th century, the era of the "robber barons," that a perverse ruling by the Supreme Court proclaimed that under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, corporations had "rights" formerly believed to belong exclusively to human beings.
Thus, it became possible for a company to avoid safety inspections on the grounds that these would infringe on its "privacy." Or for arbiters to decide that limiting the amount of political advertising a corporation can buy would infringe on its right of "free speech."
Crisply written and lucidly argued, "Corporateering" will certainly strike a chord with those concerned about the erosion of their rights and looking for tips on how to fight back.
But one hopes it will also find readers among those who are not, at present, outraged by excessive corporate power: people who automatically assume that what's good for Wall Street is always good for the rest of us.
Court's astute analysis of this misguided mind-set -- and how it came to prevail -- should induce at least some readers to re-examine their assumptions and start thinking outside the corporate box.
Los Angeles Times: BOOK REVIEW - How the corporate big picture affects the little guy
Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom - And What You Can Do About It
Oct. 13, 2004
Consumerism can be harmful at an early age
by Barbara F. Meltz, meltz @ globe . com
Coming soon to your daughter's sleep-over party: viral marketing.
It sounds ominous, and it is. Viral marketing is when a manufacturer gives products away in the hope of creating a buzz that spreads via the peer group. It has already infiltrated the adult world, and now it's targeting our children.
The best example may be "Slumber Party In a Box" offered by Girls Intelligence Agency, a Los Angeles-based marketing firm. Here's the breezy pitch it makes to girls at GIAheadquarters.com:
"You and your 10 best buds hangin out all night with the hottest, yet-to-be-seen-in-stores, stuff for chicas like you! . . . Enter to win a chance to be a GIA Slumber Party Host."
When potential clients visit
girlgames.com, the come-on sounds more like a pitched battle:
"40,000 secret agent influencers and their closest friends. . . . Your product only, all night long. . . . Behind enemy lines -- GIA gets you into girls' bedrooms. . . . Obtain immediate, candid data from the trenches."
For 8- to 13-year-old girls who are in the vulnerable stage of development where fitting in is paramount, this is a chance to be cool, to be a trend-setter, to get free stuff and to be "special": As a "secret agent," you tell GIA what your friends think. For GIA's clients, they get a personalized focus group and they can watch their product spread by direct injection into the $75 billion female youth market.
Stuff doesn't bring happiness
Trouble is, many girls don't see that they are being used, that their friendships are being exploited. By 11 or 12, they may already be so deeply into the consumer culture that they have absorbed its values: Stuff can make me happy. The more I have, the better it is.
Trouble is, the opposite is true.
"The more involved children are in being consumers, the more (likely they are to be) dissatisfied with life," including having low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, a more distant relationship with their parents, and psychosomatic symptoms, says Boston College sociologist Juliet B. Schor. In her just-released book, "Born to Buy" (Scribner), she details the psychological effects of consumerism on 300 Boston-area 10- to 13-year-olds, the first study of its kind on this age group.
In a study on teens, psychologist Tim Kasser of Knox College in Illinois says students who place a high value on materialism are more likely to have conduct disorders and to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking and sex, at an early age.
Schor's research disputes the link most of us imagine exists between consumerism and unhappiness in children.
"It's not that depressed children are more attracted to consumer culture but that those who consume more are more likely to become depressed," she says. "It's not that kids who have a poor relationship with their parents buy more but that the more they consume, the more the relationship goes downhill."
Elmo diapers and SpongeBob pasta
Often, the process starts at birth. "What's marketed to babies are characters that they become attached to. But the characters are attached to products," says psychologist Susan Linn of the Judge Baker Children's Center.
When Ernie and Elmo are on his diapers, Disney characters are on her window shades and Barbie's on her socks, young children come to rely on these characters to feel good about themselves. The quiet time you buy when you plop your toddler in front of the TV so you can cook dinner comes back to haunt you in the grocery store when he has a meltdown because you won't buy macaroni and cheese with SpongeBob SquarePants on the box.
When products don't meet up to the TV commercial, young children just buy into the next pitch: "This will be as fun as it is on TV." Lacking the cognitive skills to understand the psychology of marketing, they can't think about why the product wasn't fun or turn to their own creativity to find enjoyment. In other words, the danger isn't just that children are consumers. It's that, through osmosis, they buy into the values of consumption: gimme, gimme, more, more.
"In this value system, what gets crowded out is creativity, sharing, kindness, altruism, and compassion," Linn says. She also has a new book for parents, "Consuming Kids, The Hostile Takeover of Childhood" (The New Press).
In the face of so much marketing savvy, Linn says, we need to think about the commercial landscape as a huge industry that is working 24/7 to undermine parents and children. "It's a safety issue, like any other safety issue," she says.
Setting limits is one way to protect children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV under age 2 and no TV in any child's bedroom. For older children, limit it to no more than two hours a day, preferably for all screen-time combined.
Ultimately, the best antidote is to create a home life where children see more of your values reflected than of consumer values.
Boston Globe: Consumerism can be harmful at an early age
Mercury News: Consumerism can be harmful at an early age
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Costs of a consumer society are high for kids - extended article
November 1, 2004
"Consumerism" Didn't Come About By Accident
The National Investor
by Christopher Temple
(NOTE: This is an excerpt from Chris Temple's provocative Special Report entitled "Understanding The Game". For more information or to order this latest report-part of Temple's Bear Market Survival Package-visit www.nationalinvestor.com)
With the benefit of the foundational information on how our fractional reserve system works in the preceding pages, let's spend a few minutes addressing "consumerism."
Many of you, as I, have had occasion to visit with older relatives in particular who talk about how things were back in "their day." Life was much simpler in many respects. One of the evidences of this is just how much debt was not only sparingly used, but was once actually scorned by our parents and grandparents.
Apart from a home mortgage, members of generations past worked and saved their money. From their earnings, they bought a washer-dryer. A television set. A new car. If their particular middle-class job paid especially well, maybe even a few luxuries?a boat, a summer cottage, a vacation?could be afforded. In every instance, though, virtually all of these items, needs and wants alike, were purchased after folks had first worked for and earned their money.
Today, the average American does things in reverse. Armed with offers too tempting to pass up for a fist full of credit cards, a line of credit drawing on their home equity and similar mechanisms, today's American consumer spends money at a far greater rate than past generations. Short of working for the money first, however, most today go into debt to buy the latest gizmos, gadgets and such (more of which fall into the "want" category than "need.") They do so not only because the credit is so easily obtainable, but because they have the underlying optimism that the great American economy will never let them down.
Our parents and grandparents look at this kind of behavior in horror. Among other things, they feel that today's generation has become too materialistic, if not downright decadent. To be sure, there's a lot of truth to this.
However, what one and all miss as the discussion of today's consumerism usually revolves around "values" is a deeper?and, in fact, much simpler?dynamic. In short, now that you understand The Game of fractional reserve banking, you should be able to recognize that the behavior of consumers today is more a question of simple mathematics.
Simply put, the fractional reserve system would collapse if new debt weren't continually being taken on. Copious and ever-growing amounts of debt need to be created in order that consumers, businesses and government can 1) service existing debt, and 2) buy more stuff, much of which they don't need. By this means, the system, which can only exist on credit creation and rising debt loads, continues.
Well beyond a sign of how our values as a nation have changed when it comes to money, debt and materialism, today's consumer behaves as he (or she) does because it has become an everyday, accepted part of life. Further, such behavior is both taught and encouraged by the system: the banks, corporations, their Madison Avenue advertising agencies and all the rest. Yes, technological advances and the economy's remaining creative impulses have brought us more and better products and services with which we can live a better life; and I do not disparage any of that. But the system's need to push us all farther into debt by borrowing and consuming so much is what is chiefly at work here.
On that score, we've seen a proliferation in recent years of ways in which Americans can more easily go into hock. It used to be that, for a mortgage, one needed to accumulate, say, 20% in cash of the purchase price of a home. Armed with this, the average person could walk into the local bank and borrow the other 80%. The bank figured that since it was not risking the entire amount (and assuming the applicant had a sufficient income to make the mortgage payment) the risk was one worth taking for the return (interest.)
Today, it's common for someone to be able to buy a home with no money down. Further?if your credit and payment history is sufficiently strong?you can even borrow more than the value of the home itself! For years now many banks have made "125% mortgages" or home equity loans available. If your home is worth $200,000, for instance, the bank will loan you $250,000.
To keep the fractional reserve system humming along we also have the means today to take out mortgages where no principal payments are required, at least initially. By these devices, many more homes can be sold to new buyers who would not be able to afford them via a conventional note where payments including interest and principal would have them in over their heads. The same effect occurs with adjustable-rate mortgages, where homes become "more affordable" that otherwise are not, because the bank charges a lower rate of interest tied to what market rates are. Everything here is hunky-dory to some extent provided, of course, that interest rates don't rise significantly and lead to payments becoming unmanageable.
Not only does the banking industry have to "force" greater levels of marginally serviceable debt onto the public to keep The Game (and the housing bubble) in tact, but it has now graduated to prodding consumption elsewhere in similar ways.
Faced with a plunge in new car sales following 9-11 and the subsequent recession, Detroit was desperate to goose sales. In the intervening time, we've seen all manner of incentives designed to get Joe Sixpack to buy a new car, truck or S.U.V. Given the "no interest til Jesus comes," big cash rebates and the rest, Joe has happily obliged; and until recently, car sales were going through the roof. More cars have been moving, more debt is being incurred, and the gimmicks to keep up a decent level of sales (that has sure changed for the worse in the last few months, though) have gone on.
Even department and furniture stores?computer makers?and others are getting into the act. In almost every Sunday paper now, you'll find the majority of merchants pitching "no payments til 2005" or even (I kid you not!) 2006 in a couple I've seen recently.
Far from being benevolent, all these merchants?whether they are selling homes, cars, computers or shoes?are simply doing what they have to do to keep the fractional reserve system going a while longer. In the end, though (unless you believe that the housing bubble is going to keep growing indefinitely AND that stocks are going to commence a new multi-year bull market) the U.S. consumption-driven economy is doomed. This is for two reasons that should be obvious.
First, the consumer is finally getting worn out. I have likened the current plight to the following analogy: Let's say that you and I go out to the nicest restaurant in town, and really put on the dog. We get the nicest entrees, have the before and after dinner drinks, dessert and all the trimmings.
About the time we think we're going to explode, the waiter comes with the check. About the time I'm trying to move my body enough to take it from him he pulls it back and says, "We're sure happy that you enjoyed the meal so much. The total bill comes to $100.00. But before you pay it and leave, the chef asked me to tell you that he still has a lot of food left in the kitchen that he doesn't want to throw away.
"So, if you'll stay here and order dinner again before you leave, we'll only add another $10.00 to your ticket. May I start you off with a cocktail. . .?"
I don't know about you, but I can't eat another thing. I don't care if they give us another meal. Consumers are in the same boat; they have all bought new homes, refinanced it a time or two, bought three new cars, the latest upgrade for their computer and more?most of it on credit. As the automakers are now starting to discover, all the price cuts and incentives in the world don't change the fact that consumers are pretty well stuffed.
And, there's a second problem here which, in the grand scheme of things, worries me even more where the long-term outlook is concerned for America's consumers and, therefore, our economy and financial markets. That problem is the recent stagnation in wage growth and the prospects for more of the same (or worse) in the future. It's bad enough that Americans have gone from working and saving before making expenditures to the present situation where most borrow first and pay later. To the extent that the ability to ultimately pay off all this crap is based on future earning ability, the picture is dire. Thanks to the fact that America's leaders?both in public office and in corporate boardrooms?have long since embraced the ultimately destructive regimen of so-called free trade, middle class jobs in America, with their attendant middle class incomes, have been vanishing. More and more today, your fellow citizens are losing a $60,000 per year job and having to take two new ones paying a total of far less.
When you remember that consumer spending accounts for roughly two-thirds of overall economic activity in America?and when you realize that consumers' ability to take on endless amounts of new debt has peaked?you can come to no other conclusion than that we face a road ahead of us that (if we're lucky) will be similar to what Japan has endured for nearly 15 years.
The National Investor: "Consumerism" Didn't Come About By Accident
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Material Girl And Boy
by Michelle Singletary
Our commercialized society is crippling our children.
I know that's a pretty scary statement. But am I overstating the situation? I think not.
Neither does the author of this month's Color of Money Book Club selection.
Consumerism expert Juliet B. Schor has written what should be a must-read for every new parent, seasoned parent, aunt, uncle and grandparent.
"Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture" (Scribner, $25) frightened me, and it will you, too.
"American children are deeply enmeshed in the culture of getting and spending, and they are getting more so," writes Schor, a professor at Boston College. "The more they buy into the commercial and materialist messages, the worse they feel about themselves, the more depressed they are, and the more they are beset by anxiety, headaches, stomachaches, and boredom."
Look at what Schor found based on various studies and her own survey of 300 children ages 10 to 13 in the Boston area:
* Children are becoming shoppers at an earlier age. Children 6 to 12 are estimated to visit stores two to three times per week.
* More children go shopping every week than read, go to church, participate in youth groups, play outdoors or spend time in household conversation.
* Children's top aspiration now is to be rich. Forty-four percent of kids in the fourth through eighth grades now report that they daydream "a lot" about being rich.
* Nearly two-thirds of parents report, "My child defines his or her self-worth in terms of the things they own and wear more than I did when I was that age."
* One study found that nearly two-thirds of mothers thought their children were brand-aware by age 3, and one-third said it happened at age 2.
Recently, my usually sweet and gentle little 6-year-old boy got in my face about something he saw on television and wanted me to get for him.
After watching a Saturday morning cartoon program, my son stormed into the kitchen and demanded that I take him to a certain fast-food restaurant so he could get some toy that was in a kid's meal.
He stood there with his hands on his hips asking: "When are you going to take me? How many times have you taken me?"
Then he had the audacity to answer the question for me: "Zero times, Mommy, zero times," he said, forming two fingers in the shape of a zero.
I was hot. Clearly, my son had lost his everlasting mind.
Usually I just ignore it when my kids nag me for stuff. But there was something in my son's manner that morning that made me take notice. He was product-possessed, and after I stopped fuming, I got scared.
I turned my son around and ordered him to go cut the television off. In fact, I went a step further. After that incident, I have severely limited his and his sisters' television watching.
In "Born to Buy," Schor outlines the numerous tactics that advertisers are using on our kids, many of which turn them into disrespectful tykes and teens.
For example, there is an "anti-adult bias" in the commercials.
"It's important to recognize the nature of the corporate message: Kids and products are aligned together in a really great, fun place, while parents, teachers and other adults inhabit an oppressive, drab and joyless world," Schor says. "The lesson to kids is that it's the product, not your parents, who's really on your side."
There is the practice of "trans-toying," or turning everyday items into playthings.
"Child development experts worry that this trend leaves little space for imagination, as every item in the environment becomes a toy," Schor writes.
How many times have you heard your kid say, "I'm bored." What he or she really means is: You need to buy me something that will entertain me because I can't possibly be put upon to be creative.
Schor concludes that kids who are overly involved in the values of consumerism become problem children.
"The prevalence of harmful and addictive products, the imperative to keep up, and the growth of materialistic attitudes are harming kids," she says.
People -- parents -- are under siege. And what's at stake isn't just a depletion of our assets to buy what our kids are brainwashed to believe they need. What's at stake is the well-being of our children.
Advertisers and marketers are turning our children into materialistic monsters. And sadly, we are aiding and abetting the enemy.
We let the enemy into our house when we allow our children to watch endless programming surrounded by a steady stream of messages that communicate they aren't worthy -- a somebody -- without certain products.
We deliver our children to the enemy every time we choose to entertain them by shopping.
I hope "Born to Buy" will motivate you to fight back, because our children -- my children -- weren't born to shop.
To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, simply read the recommended book and come chat online with the author at www.washingtonpost.com at 1 p.m. Nov. 24.
In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive copies of the selected book that have been donated by the publishers. For a chance to win November's selection, please send an e-mail to email@example.com. You must include your name, address and daytime and evening phone numbers.
Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.
Washington Post: Material Girl And Boy
Monday, November 15, 2004
Get-rich-fast ideal, celebrity culture lead 20-somethings to frustration
Cox News Service, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
by Don Fernandez
ATLANTA ? The one-bedroom apartment in renter's beige isn't featured on MTV's celebrity home-showcase "Cribs." No one hails the Honda Civic as stylish transportation. There's no Prada purse. No plasma TV. Just a nail-biting wait to see if that Visa card will clear the Target checkout.
Well . . . where is that lush life? That was the promise, right?
"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."
Brad Pitt ? a millionaire movie god if there ever was one ? mouthed this dialogue in the 1999 film "Fight Club," a fan-favorite flick for the 25- to 35-year-old sect. And his sentiment is being echoed from a host of 20-somethings.
"Anybody who says popular culture doesn't play a role in their perception of the world is either lying or lives in a commune," said Russell Tanton, 25, who holds an English degree but is currently unemployed. "I don't think anyone was straight with people my age about how low our expectations actually should have been."
With little social or political upheaval marking their generation, television, movies and music define their history. But as they mature, the images ? perhaps illusions ? they've been fed through the gilded filter of media begin to crumble.
The burden of the recently named "quarterlife crisis" may not have been caused by popular culture, but those images surely haven't helped.
"Everyone who is successful is on TV," said khalid kamau, 28. kamau ? who changed and lowercased his name when he turned 18 ? studied film at Ithaca College in New York. He is now training to be a flight attendant and lives in College Park, Ga.
"You begin to think that it's not only possible, but probable, that you too can make your first million by age 25," kamau said.
MTV, once the barometer for musical trends, is now a channel devoted to the luxuries and excesses of wealthy youth. There's the aforementioned "Cribs," which showcases the grandiose homes of the young and rich; "Rich Girls," which details the shallow lifestyle of two spoiled heiresses; "The Ashlee Simpson Show," featuring the lip-syncing sibling of Jessica Simpson ? a celebrity based on her mere bloodline; and "MADE," where insecure teenagers are given the chance to find an identity that revolves around popularity, beauty or athletics.
Cathy Stocker, 34, calls this inflated ideal the " 'American Idolization' of career expectations." Stocker runs the Web site quarterlifecrisis.com. She also co-wrote the upcoming book "Quarterlifer's Companion."
The frustrations, she said, go beyond career. Many are shocked when they don't easily find post-graduation a tight group of companions a la TV's "Friends."
These godchildren of MTV and Madison Avenue ? slowly wisening ? are now fighting to reclaim some perspective in a world still obsessed with over-the-top portrayals of accomplishment.
"I think a lot of folks have been shocked by reality," said Carolyn Gerrits, 31, a marketing developer in Atlanta. "We actually have to work for success."
When she was 25, Gerrits moved to Atlanta, had a great job but felt she had no "tangible effect" on the world. She's made peace with her career choice, but she still has several friends who are toiling to make it in the music business.
"I'm quite happy," she said, "right in the middle."
Conditioned by media
Many experiencing the quarterlife crisis were pounded by more media stimulus than any prior group of young adults in U.S. history, experts say.
"They're the least nurtured, least supervised generation in modern American history," said Chuck Underwood, founder and president of The Generational Imperative, a Cincinnati consulting firm which advises corporations about generational marketing. "They grew up isolated from older generations by the media. They had their own radio stations, TV channels, the computer."
Not to mention a more fractured form of family.
In 1971, the divorce rate was 165 percent higher than a decade earlier, according to U.S. census statistics. That number continued to rise. Dual-income households soon became commonplace.
Another part of their reality: a lack of monumental social change and reference.
Baby boomers experienced the furor of the civil rights movement, women's liberation, wars of protest, campus unrest and the sexual and drug revolutions. This generation had Madonna's cone-shaped bra, "We Are the World" and Rachel and Ross playing kissy-poo on "Friends."
Generations X and Y "came to age with very few such events," Underwood said. "Which means that the pop culture of their youth assumes a large importance in their lives. And advertisers swooped in on them."
But these are the progenies of yuppies, after all. And they want the same things. Only more. And faster.
"You couple the sheltered upbringing with get-rich-fast and this culture of celebrity, and you have this recipe for disaster when people enter the work force," said Judy Tso, a Boston social scientist, speaker and consultant who works with companies such as Procter & Gamble to incorporate diversity.
In what could be described as either evocative or exploitative, the very media that reared them to expect these treasures are now responding with sympathetic images and sounds. The producers behind the television show "thirtysomething" are now planning a program called "1/4 Life."
And while the perception of wealth and success can no doubt be influential, in some cases it's crippling.
"My desire to still be thought of as successful by society has kept me from pursuing my dreams," said Leslie Wright, 31, who works in Internet technology. For years, she's toyed with the idea of performing "meaningful" social work. But that career move won't make the payments on her BMW.
"You turn on the TV, and you see the 'The Apprentice,' the super-fab restaurants, the designer clothes. It's telling you that's what you should aim for," she said. "But I know that in 20 years, I won't have done anything better for the world."
As this breed becomes husbands, wives and parents, will their perspectives and attitudes evolve?
"The media has done such a number on them for so many years," Underwood said, "that we might never get their values and perspectives firmly placed on the ground."
Kristen Glass has completed an arc of sorts.
A self-proclaimed quarterlife crisis victim, she perhaps has found the ultimate escape: She counsels those experiencing this confusion as a vocational counselor at Augustana College in Illinois.
Describing herself as a "pop-culture savant," Glass, 28, notes a turning point for the sensibilities for her contemporaries: "When 'The Real World' debuted in 1992, it was the beginning of reality TV. You could be famous for just being yourself."
MTV's staple "The Real World," which features a group of seven singles living in a metropolitan mansion ? for free ? while pursuing flashy careers and romance, has been a voyeuristic treat for more than a decade. And perhaps a bit toxic.
Both Glass and kamau auditioned.
Glass said many of those she counsels seek careers in the very media that may have subconsciously raised them. "People now want to do something meaningful and make a lot of money," she said.
The stimulation saturation may have resulted in one benefit: savvy consumerism.
"Marketers that try to deceive them will be beaten to a pulp," Underwood said
And sooner or later, the hypnotic allure of glitz and materialism cools.
Marriage and a move to the suburbs were an awakening of sorts for Jason Shepherd, 28, though he felt the same career and social malaise at 25. Now an information specialist for Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, his friends are other married couples, and priorities include mowing the lawn and politics.
In other words: He grew up.
"Two years ago, there would not be a day when MTV was not on for at least some part of the day in my house. Now I can't remember the last time I watched it," Shepherd said. "Sometimes, I think my generation tends to know the price of everything and the value of nothing."
Cox News Service: Get-rich-fast ideal, celebrity culture lead 20-somethings to frustration
Friday, November 26, 2004
HERALD POLL Is Christmas lost in consumerism?, Topic Opinion
The Daily Herald
by Michelle Singletary
Today marks the start of the holiday season. While some traditional holiday activities, such as the lighting of Temple Square, will take place this evening, the main event heralding the start of Christmas took place in the early morning hours, before the sun made its way over the mountains.
Stores threw open their doors to hordes of shoppers huddled outside in the cold for the first Christmas sales of the season.
Today is known as "Black Friday," the busiest shopping day of the year. For retailers, the black means profits from sales, while consumers may link the black with blue from the bruises earned in fights over the last DVD player on the shelf.
With that in mind, we ask a question that has become a cliché: Has Christmas become too commercial, too much about the gifts and not enough about spirituality?
For Christians, Christmas is perhaps the most hallowed holiday on the calendar, with the possible exception of Easter. It marks for them the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, fulfilling Isaiah's prophesy that a virgin would conceive and her child would become the Messiah who would redeem his people.
The only mention of gift-giving in connection with the first Christmas is the story of wise men from the East bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Christ child. And that is only mentioned in Matthew's account in the New Testament.
Today it often seems that materialism has overcome religion. That's great for business, but it also indicates a spiritual drain. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York ends with the arrival of Santa Claus at the sponsor's flagship department store. Advertisements urge us to buy the most expensive gewgaws to show our loved ones how much we care about them. Some stores print Christmas toy catalogs to make it easier for kids to tell Santa what they want to find under the tree Christmas morning.
Tom Lehrer, the 1960s satirist, noted the commercial aspect of the holiday in his own version of a Christmas carol celebrating what he ironically called the true spirit of the holiday -- the commercial spirit. "Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy."
And the advertisements and store displays seem to come earlier and earlier each year. It used to be that Christmas wasn't mentioned in the marketplace until Thanksgiving week. Now, Christmas displays compete with Halloween displays. One shudders to think what will happen in the future. Christmas displays alongside racks of Independence Day fireworks, maybe?
The Canadian AdBusters magazine has designated the day after Thanksgiving as "Buy Nothing Day" to get people to think about the plight of the poor and the negative side effects of consumerism on the world -- sweat-shop labor, consumer credit debt, wasted natural resources.
But many see gift-giving as an extension of the spiritual aspect of the holiday. One of the teachings of Jesus was that it's better to give than to receive. Giving a gift can be a legitimate way to show someone you love them or appreciate what they do.
Gifts help a person or family in need. The people who buy gifts for the Sub for Santa program are not engaging in commercialism as much as they are heeding the Christian admonition to care for the poor among us.
Good Christians say that gift giving merely follows the pattern of their Lord. Believers note that Christ gave humanity the ultimate gift: the chance to be freed from death and sin. Giving gifts at Christmas can be seen, therefore, as a remembrance of Christ's atoning work.
But can a 48-inch plasma TV and home theater system really stand as a symbol of the Atonement? That's a question Christmas shoppers can contemplate as they recover from this morning's first round.
The Daily Herald: HERALD POLL Is Christmas lost in consumerism?, Topic Opinion
Thu, Dec. 09, 2004
Compulsive shoppers face risks during holiday season
Contra Costa Times, Monterey County Herald
by JESSICA GUYNN
'Tis the season of mandatory materialism. And some people will shop until they drop tens of thousands of dollars into debt.
Debtors Anonymous, which holds weekly meetings in cities across the country, says its fellowship swells this time of year.
April Lane Benson, author of "I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self," devotes an entire chapter to compulsive gift giving.
"There's a saying in the 12-step community that Thanksgiving is the compulsive eaters' holiday, New Year's Eve is the alcoholic's holiday and Christmas is the debtor's holiday," said one East Bay member of Debtors Anonymous.
Shopaholism is not a fictional disorder afflicting "Sex and the City's" well-heeled Carrie Bradshaw, who is obsessed with Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik stilettos and all else haute couture.
Nor is it a formally recognized disorder.
But Stanford University psychiatry professor Lorrin Koran and other mental health professionals are leading the charge to label compulsive shopping as a mental disorder - an attempt that has met with some skepticism from those who believe it is merely a symptom of an underlying condition such as anxiety or depression. Dr. Koran says compulsive shopping is not just a destructive habit but a bonafide medical condition that merits a separate listing in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual.
"We are talking about something that is very common," said Dr. Koran, who is in the midst of conducting a nationwide study measuring the pervasiveness of compulsive shopping.
Though this type of research is still in its infancy, one study estimates that as many as 8 percent of Americans suffer from this addiction, which can wreak havoc on relationships and finances. Yet few take it seriously. Retail as therapy is an accepted American pasttime. Called "the smiled-upon addiction," compulsive buying often ends up as a punch line in jokes.
"Unlike alcohol and drug abuse, society condones consumption; it fuels our economy," Benson said. "Debt is the American way. It's a national epidemic."
Consumer spending - much of it financed with debt - helped pull the country out of the last economic downturn. The typical household has eight credit cards with an average balance of $7,500. Many people don't finish paying for Christmas, interest charges and all, until July.
An entire industry -- shopology -- has sprung up to help retailers figure out how to get shoppers to spend more. Each year American retailers roll out the red-and-green carpet and sleighs full of advertising to reel in shoppers.
This holiday season, the average consumer plans to spend $702.03 on gifts, up 4.5 percent from last year, reports the National Retail Federation, and an additional $89.25 on themselves or their families.
While most people spend within their means, compulsive shoppers cannot. "The holidays exacerbate a problem that is present all year long," Koran said.
Feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem, loneliness or the pursuit of the ideal image all can lead people to shop compulsively, Benson said. People suffering from depression and anxiety also shop to self-medicate, she said.
Like gamblers or binge eaters, some people literally get a shopping rush, said Randy Frost, a psychology professor at Smith College. "(They) enter almost a dissassociative state or trance. Their focus of attention gets so narrow that all they think about is the item they are looking at and how wonderful it is," he said.
And yet, compulsive shoppers usually end up feeling remorse or shame, hiding their purchases from family and friends. "There are so many things that they think they need, but the truth is they can never get enough of what they really need, because what they are looking for is not something they can find in a store," Benson said.
This irrational consumerism can carry a high price: financial meltdown. Take the world's most famous shopaholic.
Karyn Bosnak, who was earning a six-figure salary as a daytime television producer in New York, wanted the lifestyle to match. She picked out a Manhattan apartment and a personal trainer. She indulged in a regular routine of manicures and pedicures, bikini waxes and blond highlights and frequent excursions to Fifth Avenue to indulge her expensive tastes for La Prairie cosmetics, Prada shoes and Gucci bags.
"Shopping gave me that extra boost of confidence that I needed," Bosnak said.
Soon she racked up more than $20,000 in debt on seven credit cards. Then she lost her job. "I always thought I could make the money and pay it back, that it was manageable. It was just $100 for this or $100 for that," Bosnak said. "But it was the $100 on top of the $100 on top of the $100 where I got into trouble."
So Bosnak took charge and stopped charging. She moved to a more modest pied a terre and got a roommate. She trimmed expenses and sold her fashionista wardrobe on eBay.
Then she grabbed her laptop and cyberbegged her way out of a tangled financial web by asking virtual strangers for handouts. Five months after launching SaveKaryn.com, she paid off her debt. And her misfortune found fame. Publicity led to a book deal which led to a screenplay for a Hollywood version of her story.
Monterey County Herald: Compulsive shoppers face risks during holiday season
Thu, Dec. 09, 2004
Easy money, ATMs have made our lives easier but, in some ways, far less rich
The Fresno Bee
by Don Mayhew
Once a week, Fresno dentist Lou Cohen walks into his bank to make a deposit and get cash. He knows the people behind the desks and teller windows, who greet him by name.
Slap a beer in his hand and put him in a Boston bar, and it's a scene straight out of "Cheers."
"I don't go to the bank to specifically talk to somebody," Cohen says. "But I think it's nice to work with people who know you. If I ever run into any type of questions with the bank, I know someone there personally. I can just pick up the phone and call."
A half-century ago, nearly everyone banked the way Cohen does. A weekly stroll into the bank wasn't just a typical financial transaction -- it was woven into the social routine of America.
That all changed during the past quarter-century, when automated teller machines became ubiquitous, revolutionizing not just personal finance, but also the way that we engage the world in the digital age. Efficient but impersonal, ATMs have had unintended consequences, helping to create a world in which it's easy to become isolated and withdrawn.
But it may be too late to object. Though it's hard to imagine a world without ATMs, newer options -- such as debit cards -- already have begun to push them out.
So as we bounce from one mall to another in the weeks before the holidays, it's a fine time to wonder how automated banking has changed the way we buy and what the future holds.
"ATMs are really at the heart of consumerism," says Lee Jampolsky, a psychologist and author who's written extensively about the way technology affects our lives.
No longer did customers need to wait in long lines on paydays. Nor did they have to worry about getting to the bank before the 3 p.m. closing time. (Note to young'uns: "banker's hours" were real, not just a figment of your grandparents' imaginations. However, be wary of tales of walking 3 miles to school through 6 feet of snow uphill both ways.)
"ATMs were really the mother of a lot of other inventions that came down the track," Jampolsky says.
The machines predated the Internet and e-mail.
"We really didn't have many fax machines at the time," Jampolsky says. "The ATM was one of the first devices that really said, 'OK, we can limit the amount of personal contact that somebody has with an employee to be able to make available services 24/7, with the idea that it's going to be a great benefit to our customer.' "
William McCracken, CEO of market research firm Synergistics Research, says automated banking bought us time.
"For consumers, that was priceless," he says. "Whether you're a family with work and children and soccer practice and so forth, the consumer doesn't have time to do everything that they could've done 50 years ago, because they had more time on their hands.
"It was a pleasant thing to walk to the bank and chat with the manager, who you knew, and the tellers that you knew. Those days, by and large, are gone."
According to Synergistics' latest research, 57% of households use an ATM at least once a year. Many people go years without seeing the inside of a bank. Some would endure the torture of "Christmas With the Kranks" on an endless loop before they'd wait in a slow line for the privilege of speaking to a teller.
But not everyone is comfortable with machines doing all the work, particularly when it's time to deposit the old paycheck.
Bill Trayler, a biology professor at California State University, Fresno, says he can't explain why he's compelled to hand his deposit to a person and get a receipt in return.
"I can look at it right then," Trayler says. "I guess I still believe in machines making mistakes, even though I don't really know the people in the bank."
Dan Doyle, CEO of Central Valley Community Bank, says bank customers like to have choices. Aside from ATMs and traditional tellers, people can bank by phone or the Internet.
"The customer wants them all," Doyle says. "People don't want to be forced to do anything."
Industry studies bear this out. While 380,000 ATMs nationwide handle 30 million transactions on a daily basis, the average transaction per machine held steady for a dozen years before actually dropping between 2002 and 2003.
One reason is customers such as Cohen, who says he hasn't used an ATM in more than 10 years. He still refers to them as "Ready Tellers," a trademark for a bank chain that hasn't existed since 1992.
"I would never take my week's worth of deposits and go place them in an ATM," Cohen says. "I would rather physically hand that money to somebody."
All access, all the time
The impulse to automate banking has been around for at least 65 years. An early, unsuccessful machine was patented in 1939. It took nearly 30 years for someone else to come along and make it work.
According to the Web site www.about.com, an inventor named Don Wetzel was struck by the idea in 1968 while -- surprise, surprise -- waiting in line at a Dallas bank.
It took Wetzel, an executive with a company that built automated baggage-handling equipment, and a couple other inventors five years to develop the machine to the point where a patent was issued.
The first working ATM was installed in a New York bank. It only dispensed cash. Since there was no network, the first machines were offline. Money wasn't automatically withdrawn from accounts.
Nevertheless, it was a creation so monumental that Jampolsky calls it "inventing the technological wheel."
It was the beginning of unlimited access to personal finances. Need to do banking at 2 a.m.? No problem.
"Now, what isn't open 24 hours a day?" Jampolsky says. "It changed the psyche of the individual to begin to expect that they would have complete access all the time. You can work out at 4 in the morning now."
McCracken, the market researcher, says ATMs paved the way for acceptance of other electronic devices such as personal computers.
"It made consumers comfortable with pushing buttons and knowing that the cash was getting there, or it was being withdrawn, and the totals were accurate, by and large," McCracken says.
Paying bills electronically and banking from home now are widely accepted options.
McCracken says customers figured, "ATMs worked, so I guess I feel OK hitting a 'send' button on my bill payment account and sending my mortgage company $1,000."
Trayler says ATMs made traveling simpler. He used to take $500 with him, even if he wasn't leaving the country. Now he's comfortable leaving town with much less because he knows cash will be readily available wherever he goes.
Jampolsky says there is a price to be paid for all this convenience. His next book, "Walking Through Walls" (available Jan. 1), looks at how to best use technology on a personal level.
He says compared to 50 years ago, despite our affluence, we're not happier.
"In the past 20 or 25 years, our culture has become increasingly materialistic and consumer-oriented," Jampolsky says. "In order to fuel that, one needs to have access to what? Money.
"So one can kind of look at ATMs and the onset of debit cards, which really are an extension of ATMs, they give you direct access to your money with a password. That fuels the materialism and consumer-oriented culture."
McCracken says there's no doubt people spend differently.
"If you send someone into a store with a card and another with cash, their spending habits are very different," McCracken says.
Doyle points out that nobody uses an ATM to buy a car. But for incremental purchases, having that money available makes a difference. It's no accident casinos have ATMs inside.
Jampolsky says that can be a problem for impulsive people, "whether that money is for drugs, gambling or other things that aren't good for them."
ATMs also have made us impatient.
"We've all experienced perhaps having a little bit too long of a line at the ATM," Jampolsky says. "We're so used to having everything now that when we don't get it now, we get upset."
Having access to personal finances whenever we want sometimes makes it hard to draw boundaries around our time.
"Although it's nice to be able to get online and do something at 8 at night, it's taking away family time," he says.
By design, the efficiency of electronic banking reduces human contact. That's not always a good thing.
Jampolsky works with people who have become isolated. They use ATMs. They pay bills online. They mail packages by leaving them on doorsteps and having freight companies pick them up without ever seeing the person doing the shipping.
"Pretty soon, there's really very, very little human interaction going on, which increases depression, loneliness, drug and alcohol use," he says.
Jampolsky is no Luddite. He hasn't been inside his bank for years and wouldn't recognize its tellers if one handed him a $100 bill.
"It's not necessarily an evil to have ATMs," he says. "But it's important for us to look at making conscious choices about the use of technology.
"Quicker is cool, as long as you use that time for something that is more important to you rather than the next thing on your checklist. Less personal interaction with the bank teller is fine, as long as you're filling that space with perhaps having coffee with a good friend."
Gone in 30 seconds
Even as people fret over a devaluation of the human touch and technology's role in it, the problem may take care of itself.
McCracken says the ATM industry is faced with the possibility that it won't exist before long. Debit cards have become more widely accepted at grocers and fast-food outlets -- and customers get cash there instead of at the bank.
He compares the evolution of personal banking to the development of television sets.
"When the first black-and-white TV came on, that was hailed as the end-all," McCracken says.
Color television replaced those old sets. High-definition sets are now all the rage.
Unless they can be reconfigured to dispense not just cash but other products, such as stamps and event tickets, McCracken says, "ATMs will just be another wall decoration that they have on the side of their bank -- a very expensive one."
But it's unlikely ATMs will perish overnight. As Doyle points out, it was predicted decades ago that people would stop writing checks.
"The number of checks written flattened a while back, then started to decline the past couple of years," Doyle says. "But it took a long time for that to happen."
No matter what, McCracken says, "consumers won't be shedding a tear, because they'll have something bigger and better."
Getting cash back while using a debit card has proven a popular alternative. Such transactions have nearly tripled since 1997.
As a bonus, consumers get that human touch at the grocery store, however briefly.
"You're going through the line, the whistles are going, the bells are ringing, and they're pushing people through," McCracken says. "But for that 30 seconds, you get a personal experience.
"That was never intended by the grocery chains. But in a unique way, they've been able to give you that."
The reporter can be reached at dmayhew @ fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6322.
The Fresno Bee : Easy money, ATMs have made our lives easier but, in some ways, far less rich
The Basics, Simple living yields simply millions in savings
MSN Money's editorial
by Janet Luhrs
Many people already lead simple-living lifestyles and don't know it. And many of them are millionaires.
Proof can be found in the best-selling book, "The Millionaire Next Door," by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. You'd never guess that the subject of millionaires could have anything to do with simple living, but it does.
Compulsive savers vs. the rest of us
The millionaires in this book were not born wealthy, nor do most of them have high-level, exotic jobs. What they do have are simple lifestyles! It's the simple lifestyles, not the big paychecks that turned these people into millionaires. According to the book, their wealth is the result of hard work, perseverance, planning and most of all, self-discipline.
So why aren't all of us hard-working souls rich?
Answer: We regularly and continually give our money away to other people so they can become wealthy, while we live paycheck to paycheck. We buy the latest cars, biggest houses, full wardrobes, daily espressos, high-tech gizmos and gadgets of all kinds. As a result, we're on treadmills, never allowing ourselves the time to create the kind of lifestyle we want. On the other hand, the millionaires are described in the book as "compulsive savers and investors." After surveying 1,115 millionaires around the country, authors Stanley and Danko came up with seven common denominators among those who successfully build wealth:
1. They live well below their means.
2. They allocate their time, energy and money efficiently, in ways conducive to building wealth.
3. They believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status.
4. Their parents did not provide economic outpatient care.
5. Their adult children are economically self-sufficient.
6. They are proficient in targeting market opportunities.
7. They chose the right occupations.
This list represents simple living at its finest. Here's why. Simple living is about living consciously and with a purpose. This means being in control of your money and your life. When you save your money rather than continue spending, you buy yourself control. Then you have a say in how you'd like to spend your time.
With money saved and invested, you can live for years without earning money, or you can at least afford yourself the luxury of working part-time. This is vastly different from living paycheck to paycheck. These millionaires have created lifestyles and jobs that are meaningful to them because they took a look at the big picture and made choices accordingly.
The millionaire next door
"The flashy millionaires glamorized by the media actually represent only a tiny minority of America's rich," Stanley and Danko say in the book. "Most of the truly wealthy in this country don't live in Beverly Hills or on Park Avenue -- they live next door."
The authors say that the typical wealthy individual is a businessman who has lived in the same town for all of his adult life, and owns a small factory, a chain of stores or a service company. He lives next door to people with a fraction of his wealth. Their survey indicated that while the paycheck to paycheck crowd drives new cars, most millionaires don't. They're not wearing expensive clothes and watches and their houses are relatively modest compared to their financial status.
You don't need to be a millionaire to lead a simple life, and indeed, no one said that money equals happiness. But you can learn from millionaires how to get off the treadmill and create a satisfying life.
MSN Money's editorial: The Basics, Simple living yields simply millions in savings
February 3, 2005
UNDER THEIR INFLUENCE
New York Post, Living
by MAUREEN CALLAHAN
February 3, 2005 -- IN addition to working as the creative director for the Soho and Tribeca Grand hotels and being a self-described "tastemaker," 36-year-old Tommy Saleh advertises for Prada, Chanel, APC, Paul Smith and Jeremy Scott - secretly.
"Chanel did a pair of gold sneakers for me, and a skull-and-bones brooch," he says. "APC gives me so much stuff - like small-collar white shirts. A small-collar white shirt means a lot to me."
Saleh also owns over 100 pair of shoes worth about $500 each, and a rack of suits by Prada and Paul Smith - a wardrobe worth well over $100,000, all given to him for free.
Which begs two questions: Why and how?
"A lot of people want to put their clothes on me, because of all the fabulous things I do," says Saleh, with no trace of irony.
Some of the fabulous things Saleh has on his schedule: attending fashion weeks in N.Y.C., Paris and London; going to the Miami Winter Music Conference, then the Coachella Music Festival in California; curating his "very strict guest list" for live music nights at the Tribeca Grand and club-hopping with members of Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
"My friends are tastemakers," Saleh says. "I get asked maybe 10 to 20 times a day what I'm wearing."
Saleh is part of a new kind of advertising phenomenon - one that goes beyond more established methods like street-teaming (campaigns orchestrated to look as though they're "up from the street," through graffiti or sidewalk chalk scrawls, for example) or stealth marketing (in which corporations hire young, attractive, charismatic people to go into bars and clubs and be "overheard" raving about a brand of alcohol or cigarettes).
"If the right person is wearing the right thing, people want it," says Kelly Cutrone, founder of the fashion branding firm People's Revolution. Cutrone gives thousands of dollars worth of free clothes to Saleh and other New Yorkers who aren't rich or famous, but who run in desirable circles and wield a lot of social influence.
"We call it 'mainlining,'" she says. "That means we take it out of the industry and put it on people on the street, so that they're seen."
Cutrone says the civilians on her gift list "don't have to be knockouts - they just have to have great style. And it helps if they're really skinny."
Like Natalie Joos - who may not be a boldface name, but who is exclusively casting the models in Marc Jacobs' shows this season.
"She looks really great in clothes, she's skinny, and people look to her because of the circle she runs in - they ask what she's wearing," says Cutrone.
Also on Cutrone's list: Bjork's best friend (but not the Icelandic singer herself, as "she's already sorted"); the kids who work at Patricia Field's (they got stuff from Boy George's new line), and, formerly, bartenders and waiters at places like 44, the Soho Grand, and Indochine - "where the beautiful kids are."
And this kind of secret advertising, in which your best friend, or their super-cool acquaintance - or your waiter - may be selling you something without you ever suspecting, is hardly limited to the realm of high fashion.
Ashley Gillespie, a 29-year-old marketing associate at Knopf, was working on publicity for author Haruki Murakami's next novel when she noticed that her friend Chriss Slevin was reading one of Murakami's books.
"Ashley was surprised," recalls 30-year-old Slevin, who works for the New York Foundation for the Arts, "because not that many people had heard of him."
As it turned out, Gillespie had recently compiled a mailing list of non-media contacts who were highly influential in their social spheres.
"Ashley gave me an advance copy and a link to the Web site," says Slevin. "She knows that I read a lot and talk about the books I'm reading to my friends."
Gillespie says she came up with the idea to send free books to select non-media types because she personally responds to recommendations from friends rather than traditional advertising or publicity.
"If I read a good review for a movie, I might not be immediately inclined to go buy a ticket - but if a friend of mine who went to a free screening was talking about it, I'd probably go."
Gillespie keeps her list small (about 100 people), and has strict criteria: "It has to be people who love to read, have time to read, but who also go to parties and are social. I don't want anyone who works 16 hours a day."
She has no problem turning down anyone who doesn't meet her standards, because "my goal is not to push books - it's to put books in the hands of people who will connect with them and talk about them."
Ken Weinstein, who runs the music p.r. firm Big Hassle, has a similar philosophy: "I don't have a list, but I'll send free CDs to friends who I love, and who will talk to their friends," he says.
The friends he actively courts "have discerning taste," he says. "They dress well, and their homes are well appointed."
And, more importantly, their own friends will copy that taste.
"I know if my friend Gary Meister tells his friend Jen about a record, then Jen will go buy that record," says Weinstein.
"I think I have a higher taste level," says Meister. "I like things that are edgy and weird and compelling. Then I get obsessive and berate people and make them listen to it and tell them they have to buy it."
Leigh Lezark, a DJ and promoter who throws the weekly downtown dance party Misshapes, is arguably one of the most influential New Yorkers in the music industry, though few outside her circle know who she is.
"I get a whole bunch of free stuff - free CDs, clothing, makeup," says Lezark, who is in her early 20s. "People will say, 'I see you around; everywhere you go people are looking at you and your style.'"
Since co-founding Misshapes - which has become the Saturday night destination for downtown scenesters and art-school kids - a year ago, Lezark has been given about $15,000 in free goods and services.
"Lacoste wants to give us free clothing; they heard about us through Misshapes," she says. "I get into sold-out shows all the time, like Interpol at Roseland - I don't even know how much it would cost to go see Interpol at Roseland. Fashion Week is not a problem - last year I was on line for the Marc Jacobs party and someone just pulled me out of the line and let me in. I can't remember the last time I paid for a drink."
But Lezark's true influence is felt in the music industry.
"At a place like Misshapes, they play a song, and all the cool kids will be like, 'Who is that?'" says Carmelita Morales, a publicist at addVICE Marketing.
Morales, who gives Lezark CDs to test out at her party, points to the recent mainstream success of the Killers (who played on "Saturday Night Live" a few weeks ago) as proof.
"It was important to give the Killers street cred - because if it comes from the radio, all the club kids and tastemakers would never go for it. You want them to hear it in the clubs first."
To that end, addVICE threw the band's record release party at Misshapes about a year ago. "This was right after they had played to a half-empty crowd at Bowery Ballroom," says Morales. "But tapping into that e-mail list to get those kids into the Killers was really the main thing. Misshapes is a part of their lifestyle."
"And," Morales adds, "if you get 10 Leighs in a city to support something, it'll be successful."
New York Post: The Basics, Simple living yields simply millions in savings
WORKINPR.COM: Kelly Cutrone, Owner, The People's Revolution
February 23, 2005
Luxuries you can live without -- and should
MSN Money, Uncommon Sense
by MP Dunleavey
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it wasn't that long ago when the mere concept of Williams-Sonoma (or Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, et. al.) would have struck most folks as . . . nutty.
Oh sure, I'll pay a premium price to buy upscale versions of ordinary stuff -- replacing functional things I already own -- because my lifestyle must reek of affluence!
Thirty years ago, people would have scoffed at such vanity. Today, inundated by high-end specialty stores in every corner of the retail market, more and more Americans are succumbing to the siren song of these so-called affordable luxuries. And at what cost?
A case of 'affluenza'
In his book "Luxury Fever," economist Robert Frank describes the rise of this swankier-is-better mentality -- and the toll it's taking on people's financial lives.
"Although it is the mansions of the super-rich that attract attention -- homes of 15,000, 20,000, even 40,000 square feet -- the far more newsworthy fact is that the area of the average house built in the United States is now more than roughly twice what it was in the '70s," he writes.
The trappings of affluence are no longer limited to those who can afford them. Increasingly, middle-class Americans will pay top dollar just to have the veneer of luxury -- and retailers, wizards that they are, continue to provide the fantasy of wealth, even when all you're buying is a garden trowel.
The things we can't live without
In case you have NO idea what I'm talking about, please scroll through this list of once-ordinary goods and services that now come in versions ranging from the merely overpriced to the truly outrageous:
Many of these examples show that no matter how much you're willing to spend for a little luxury, there will always be a newer, better version out there that's beyond reach, taunting you. It's an arms race that pits the middle class against the upper-middle, who in turn are striving with the rich, who are struggling to live like the super-rich.
- Pots: Now known as "cookware." Please think nothing of paying $125 for an All-Clad omelette pan. Eggs not included.
- Jeans: The $200 pair of designer denims is back. Which is good, because that pair of $75 Diesels just isn't cutting it anymore.
- Knives: Still called "knives," but a set of prestige Henckels can set you back up to $1,500.
- Cosmetics: The switch from Vaseline Intensive Care lotions ($2.49) to skin-sensitive Neutrogena ($7.99) is a slippery slope to Kiehls ($25) -- but then why not go ahead and splurge on La Mer, which starts at $90 for a fraction of an ounce.
- Strollers: There's no limit to what you can splurge on baby gear, so I'll just use this brief example: If you invested the $700 you're inclined to spend on the trendy Bugaboo stroller, your child could retire with an extra $100,000.
- Sheets: Now called "linens." It's amazing that people can justify paying $800 for 1,000-threadcount Royal Crest sheets when 20 years ago no one had any idea how many threads per inch their sheets had.
- Sneakers: Now called "athletic footwear," and they have us paying $150 for a pair of Air Jordans instead of $25 for a pair of Keds. But price isn't the only problem. We also expect to own several pairs for all the sports we do.
- Watches: Now they're "timepieces, but it's no longer about telling the time. For about $20, you can buy a watch with a quartz movement that won't lose a minute in the next 10,000 years. But even without the optional encrustation of diamonds, you'll still fork over $7,500 and up for a Rolex President or pay a couple hundred thousand for a Cartier watch. And we're still talking about a plain-looking gold watch -- not something Liberace would have worn.
- Chocolates: It was the humble Hershey Bar that won WWII. Then along came Godiva at $16 a pound. But why not spend $84 a pound on Debauve & Gallais chocolates with (note all the place-specific names that make ordinary ingredients sound exotic) Piedmont hazelnuts, Turkish grapes, Bourbon Island vanilla and West Indies rum as ingredients. Now, try saying that list of ingredients without the place names and see if you still want to cough up $84.
- Scotch: I can remember when people used to get excited about a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, which will set you back about $50 these days. How could we have been so pedestrian? Now, nothing less than 30-year-old single malt will do. Price tag: $250 and up.
- Bathrobes: You can get a nice flannel for about $50, or one made from Egyptian cotton (what's wrong with Texas cotton, anyway?) for $250. But really, the one we're all secretly lusting after is the $6,000 Daniel Hanson robe constructed (not made) with silk-trimmed pashmina. And where the hell did pashmina come from? Cashmere wasn't good enough anymore?
- TV: Sure, you could spend $700 for a 36-inch conventional TV, but that's so '90s. Why not spend $5,000 for a 60-inch plasma screen? It'll only cost you a few thousand more to acquire a house with a living room big enough.
- Wine glasses: Now called "wine stems," shelling out $130 for a set of six Riedel glasses is just the beginning. Now you need eight sets, each with a slightly different shape to "enhance individual grape varieties and styles of wine." And to think I used to believe that what was in my 6-for-$6 Ikea glass was all that mattered.
But it's an arms race all but the wealthiest are destined to lose. In the last five years, "the top 1% of earners have seen their wages shoot up like a rocket," says economist Chuck Collins, senior program developer at United for a Fair Economy, a research group in Boston.
Not so for the rest of us, writes Frank: "Middle- and low-income families have had to finance their higher spending by a lower rate of savings and sharply rising debt."
If all these upscale purchases put the financial screws to the average Joe, whose dollar is already stretched, why does it continue?
It's tempting to buy into the "quality is worth paying for" rationale some would have you believe. But often the difference in quality is all but undetectable. Can your body really tell the difference between 300 and 1,000 threads per inch? We like to think of ourselves as connoisseurs, but how many people can really taste the difference between 30- and 40-year-old scotch?
Sometimes, the difference in quality is real, but the price you have to pay for it far exceeds whatever you might gain in durability, usefulness or design. A silk-trimmed pashmina bathrobe can be a beautiful thing, but $6,000? Please!
In reality, many of us use these splurges, affordable or not, to make ourselves feel better. Paco Underhill, a retail analyst and author of "The Call of the Mall," says acquiring various high-end lifestyle "accessories" gives a psychological lift to people "who have had to compromise on other things," he says. "They'd like to drive a Jaguar, but can't afford it, so instead they'll carry a Coach bag."
The price we pay
Sadly, this cycle of spending on image and brand tends to escalate. What was once a luxury or a one-time splurge quickly becomes a necessity. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert dubbed it a pattern of "miswanting" -- because what people want (i.e. a life of wealth and luxury) can't be fulfilled just by acquiring the trappings of it.
And what's worse is that trying to buy the appearance of luxury can become a roadblock that stops you from building up your own, true wealth. Because -- as impressed as your friends are by your pricey "stems" or $700 stroller -- that's just money going toward a fantasy, instead of being invested in a way that might truly enhance your quality of life someday.
MSN Money: Luxuries you can live without -- and should
March 23, 2005
How much is enough?
MSN Money, Uncommon Sense
by MP Dunleavey
I came into a tidy little windfall, and my first thought was . . . I want more. But working the numbers helped me realize I might already have enough.
Editor's note: Columnist MP Dunleavey and six other women have come together online to strip away the myths surrounding money, speak frankly about their finances and liberate themselves from debt. Follow the quest for financial fabulousness of these "Women in Red" every other Monday in Dunleavey's column on MSN Money.
We all have dreams of a sudden windfall -- whether it's winning the lottery, inheriting from a distant relation or the old "bank error in your favor."
The underlying fantasy is that all you need is a little extra, and then you'd have enough to do X, enough to cover Y, enough to finally buy Z.
Well, I just got an unexpected windfall, and it wasn't the starry-eyed moment of relief and
possibility I'd always imagined. It was more like being handed a pop quiz by Fate with one question: "How much is enough?"
Where did 'enough' go?
Since I keep nothing from you, I have to admit the embarrassing reaction I had to finding out about my $29,250 windfall. Right off the bat, I wished it were more. I wished it were $50,000. For some reason, I was convinced that whereas almost $30,000 was not enough, $20,000 on top of
that would be.
As someone once said, "Enough is a little bit more than whatever you have now." Sigh.
I agree that this is crazy and pathetic. A miserly reaction to spontaneous abundance -- and I didn't even have to chant for it.
But what shocked me even more was how quickly my personal standard of "enough" evaporated.
It really made me wonder.
Is there ever a financial point in life, a dollar amount, a collection of assets or a lifestyle achievement that would enable a person to sigh: "Okay, now I have enough"? Or are so many of us brainwashed by the idea that More Is Better --more money, more things, just more -- that Enough
would always prove elusive?
Your prehistoric brain
The evidence is against us. It's not exactly that human beings are hard-wired to want more, but a growing body of research shows that many people have a hard time postponing financial and material gratification. (You don't say!)
Economists and psychologists have found that when faced with financial decisions, like choosing a reward now or a bigger one later, most people have a hard time overcoming the basic instinct to take the cash and run.
It's your prehistoric brain kicking in: Back in the Paleolithic era, a windfall consisted of a large animal, freshly roasted. Lacking dry ice, you had to eat your windfall while it was fresh. Then it was gone. The feeling of "enough" was fleeting.
Thus even today, the desire to pursue moremoremore often gains the upper hand. Knowing and accepting that you have enough is not a natural reflex.
In the decades since the Depression, advertisers and marketers have played on this natural vulnerability to create a climate of constant consumer dissatisfaction. Whatever you have today soon won't be enough. By next week, you'll want something bigger, better, hipper, trendier.
That Pied Piper tune is hard to resist. Shopping, buying, getting, owning -- these form not only the cornerstone of how we live, but our identities, as well. The unfortunate mix of human nature and the current Zeitgeist of relentless materialism may explain why millions of Americans are overextended.
Back to my windfall
Finding that sense of Enough in your own life, I've discovered, requires both a shift in how you handle money as well as a major attitude change.
In discussing my windfall (reluctantly) with my cigar-chomping editor, he suggested using the old 60% Solution as a guideline for how best to deploy these funds.
At first I wanted to scream: BUT YOU ALWAYS TELL US TO USE THE 60% SOLUTION. Because he does. And it brings to mind that repetitive quality parents have: "Well, if you'd only go to bed on time . . ." You've heard it so often, who cares if they're right?
But when we did the math, I realized that -- despite all my tortured cries of
"this is not enough!" -- my windfall is a hefty amount. Have a look:
Breaking it down
Under the 60% Solution, I would disperse my windfall thusly:
(Normally I'd use the 20% that's going toward debt to save for long-term expenses and retirement, but paying off my debt takes precedence for now.)
- 60% = $17,550 to pay taxes, insurance and other living expenses while I write a book.
- 20% = $5,850 for debt.
- 10% = $2,925 for irregular expenses.
- 10% = $2,925 for fun money.
This doesn't make me Rockefeller. But guess what?
Working with the 60% Solution, which provides for basics and also designates a key chunk for fun money, is one way to get control over your prehistoric brain. My modern mind appreciates the security of having all my bases covered.
- I will now pay off ALL my remaining credit card debt -- and have about $500 left over to put into my IRA.
- My husband and I can take a vacation.
- With the extra cushion for irregular expenses, we won't get hit too hard by the upcoming brake repairs we need.
And that provides a foundation for feeling like I have enough.
But wait, there's more
You can't stop there. Enough isn't financial, my brothers and sisters in red. It's in your brain, not in your bank account. And you have to be vigilant to keep the blood levels of Enough strong:
Here's another benefit to embracing Enough as a way of life. In the moments when I succeed in knowing that what I have is enough, I've witnessed an extraordinary biological event: This shift in thinking frees up vast quantities of energy in my brain. I am less anxious.
- Want what you have. When my Enough levels plunge, it's because I see my life, my home, my possessions as deficient. Nothing I have is good enough. When I can break free of materialism's death grip, I see that what I own is FINE.
- Don't want what others have. This is a recipe for envy, not for finding satisfaction. There will always be people in this world who have more than you do. Remind
yourself that wanting what others have will keep you wanting until Doomsday.
- Choose a richer future. Allowing yourself to feel like you have Enough now
means you're less likely to squander your money on stuff you don't need. Thus, you can save more. (A luxury they didn't have in the Paleolithic era.)
- Give yourself credit. If you were to keep a diary of every single thing that crossed your mind to want each day, you'd be amazed. But notice that for every 37 things you want, you probably only splurge on one or two. See? We are all capable of making smart choices. Now, make them more often.
Ask yourself one question
Instead of wanting more -- I can always want more, it's practically in my genes -- I have been trying to feel at home in what I have. I woke up one morning and looked around my not-very-big, non-doorman, five-flight-walkup apartment and said: What if this is enough?
Try it. Look around your life, your car, your home, your clothes, your furniture, and instead of seeing what's not there, see what is. And then ask yourself: What if this is enough?
I like phrasing it as a question, a consideration. That way there's no Old Testament-style pressure: THOU SHALT FEEL LIKE THOU HAST ENOUGH.
Because, what I have been feeling since I started proposing this alternative reality to myself (Hey, maybe you have enough! What if you do? What if everything you have is all that you need?), what I've been feeling is gratitude. And relief. And maybe I didn't even need a windfall to feel this way.MSN Money: How much is enough?
Kristine, posted on a BBS
I know I'm stating the obvious, but America is a place that rewards short-term gains. So even if people have a long-term plan and work hard towards it, people who want short-term gains will always undermine those with long-term plans. Even wise people learn to cut their losses and get into the short-term game because otherwise the lumpen will rob them blind and they'll have nothing to show for their efforts.
80% of the population can't see past the next day, so expecting them to understand someone's longer-range plan, or even to understand how it fits together, is beyond most people's capacity. It's the sad fact of this market-driven economy that you must either kill or be killed, metaphorically speaking of course. It reduces us to the level of cultural darwinism.
Most people haven't been brought up to understand historical relationships to things. Relationships between Egypt and Greece, Greece and Rome, Rome and England, England and America. If they had, they would realize that while a market-driven economy works in the short-term, it cannot last. Certainly America is not going to stay a superpower forever. The question is how long will it take before the vultures are circling? This sadly doesn't seem to be a concern for most.
March 23, 2005
COMMERCIALS 'R' US
These days, advertising seeks to remake consumers in its own image
by MICK FARREN
"Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster." ?Agent Smith
The poor guy makes dinner for his wife/girlfriend. The marinara sauce simmers as he chops veggies. Then feline hell breaks loose as a white Persian jumps onto the stove, knocks over the pan, and then compounds domestic disaster by diving into the resulting mess. Guy deftly scoops up the cat before too much red goop stains its fur, but, at that precise moment, w/gf walks in to find him with what looks like a bloody cat, a Norman Bates kitchen knife, and a psychotic expression. The commercial debuted during this year's Super Bowl, and I laughed my ass off. At the same time, however, even after multiple exposures, I had absolutely no idea what it was pitching, and had to consciously check to discover it was for mortgage broker Ameriquest. (Slogan: "Don't judge too quickly. We won't.")
Increasingly, TV commercials grab my attention but fail completely to communicate the particulars of their products. Some pharmaceutical ads wax so florally psychedelic, you'd assume they were pitching LSD-25 rather than allergy cures. The recent trend for quasi-mystic auto commercials leaves me wholly confused as to which make and model of SUV is being fired out of the erupting volcano, and which is driving to the edge of the Flat Earth, often to the music of yet another previously well-loved Pete Townshend composition. (Have you no shame, homes?) Again, only a deliberate check revealed it was the Buick LaCrosse that supposedly brought women to orgasmic ecstasy under a Tolkien-looking waterfall, or by a marble bath lit with a hundred candles. But what-me-worry I'm not getting the message? The concern should be on Madison Avenue.
Cradle to grave, we urban humans are subjected to continual advertisement. TV and radio, billboards and blimps, sporting events and rock concerts are the willing sponsor-slaves of logo and slogan. Our computers are actually attacked by viral adware. (Although who would buy a product after being mugged by it?) This column you're now reading is 100 percent ad-supported. Our only recourse has been to evolve (if I may use the word) tune-out mechanisms that keep us from walking around all day humming canned-tuna jingles. To preserve free will and independent self-image, we let the commercials flow over and around us, retaining as little content as we can. The ad people now counter this by coming in low under the radar, seemingly more concerned with psycho-shaping us to be more malleable consumers than hitting us, hard-sell, with the product.
I suspect the goal is a modification of the collective self-image. Notice the number of decidedly chubby actors (and I'm not talking Kirstie Alley) who are sympathetically cast in commercials? Or how the dumb are invoked when savant idiocy will sell? Husbands have always been more stupid than their primary-purchaser wives, but now the pecking order of relative stupidity between demographics is positively labyrinthine ? and when the brain surgeon drifts off into a Fantastic Voyage fantasy in mid-operation, I worry. Cultural infiltration would require a whole other column, but, mercifully, Huey has been going after the McDonald's "Micky Dee" hip-hop umbilical in Aaron McGruder's Boondocks.
Fortunately, ad-men are their own worst enemies. By definition sold-out talent, they tend to overreach themselves in their contempt for the very consumers they seek to manipulate. The alpha characters in the latest sci-fi-style ads for Transitions, the photo-responsive sunglasses, now gaze through their sun-darkened lenses at an endless Manhattan where the fallen World Trade Center towers have been replaced with a brave new mega-structure, and utopian order rules. A researcher should have reminded the account execs of Jake Blues' Laws of Sunglasses. We do not wear them for Ayn Rand visions of the promised land; we wear them to preserve our individual mystery and avoid eye contact with threatening strangers ? some of whom want to sell us things.
04-21-05, Mick Farren blogs at Doc40.blogspot.com.
Los Angeles CityBeat: COMMERCIALS 'R' US
June 5, 2005
The Upward Mobility Myth
Maybe we don't all have the same opportunities.
by Michael Kinsley
According to our founding document and our national myth, we are all created equal and then it's up to us. Inequality in material things is mitigated in two ways: first, by equal opportunity at the start, and, second, by full civil equality despite material differences. We don't claim to have achieved all this, but these are our national goals and we are always moving toward them.
The 20th century added two somewhat vaguer elements to the myth. One is that even material inequality will be limited, at the bottom end, by social guarantees against absolute deprivation or vertiginous plunges. Another is that prosperity will gradually make us all more equal even in the material sense.
Three of the nation's top newspapers have been examining the national myth recently. The Wall Street Journal has looked at social mobility. In recent decades, financial inequality has been increasing, not shrinking. That didn't matter, many said, because studies show a constant shuffling of the deck.
Where you are today says little about where you might be tomorrow and even less about where your offspring will be in 25 years.
But it turns out these studies were flawed. Where you are is the best predictor of where your children will be. And immobility over generations is what congeals financial differences into old-fashioned, European-style social class.
The Journal series included a wonderful story, straight out of Trollope, about a vulgar arriviste trying to crash the absurd charity ball society of Palm Springs.
Less fun, but more telling, was a New York Times piece comparing three victims of heart attacks. The series has been especially good at capturing the subtle ways in which privilege manifests itself and gets transmitted over generations. It's not just money. It's not just IQ or education or blue blood or even good values. It's how all these combine into knowing which hospital to ask for when the ambulance arrives.
The Los Angeles Times takes over with a scary look at downward mobility. The national myth imagines the ascent from poverty to the middle class as a ratchet. But sliding out of middle-class prosperity is getting easier every day.
You can do it by losing your job, as the result of an accident or other health emergency, by squandering your savings. Globalization and technology may make everyone better off on average (I believe they do), but they land like a boulder on individuals who lose their jobs to foreigners and machines. Healthcare becomes more costly and employers get stingier about paying for it. And President Bush wants to make Social Security more of an opportunity to do well and less of a guarantee against doing disastrously. In short, if insurance means shifting risks from individuals to society, what has been going on lately is the opposite: shifting risks from society back onto the individual.
Of the many questions raised by all this, the most pressing is: What happened to the Washington Post? If the Post wants in on the discussion, there are still rich veins to mine. For example, it might reexamine the role of civil equality as a consolation prize for economic inequality.
This conceit seems to be eroding in two ways. First, money is playing an ever-larger role in the mechanics of democracy. Second, whole areas of life that were part of everyday democracy have fallen to the empire of money.
People increasingly go to schools with people of their own class, live in class-sifted neighborhoods, hold their Fourth of July picnics in their own backyards rather than the public park.
Meanwhile, despite months of superb reporting by three great newspapers, the question of how closely our national reality resembles our national myth remains open.
Does it matter whether your place in life is determined by your IQ or your schooling or your parents' wallets ? all of which are beyond your control? As we learn more about the human mind, even qualities such as self-discipline seem to be a matter of genes, not grit.
The problem, in short, may not be that reality is receding from the national myth. The problem may be the myth.
Los Angeles Times: The Upward Mobility Myth
PBS NOW Transcript
Interview with Milton Glaser
by David Brancaccio
BRANCACCIO: I want to go deeper on one of these threads. We're very good in America at talking about stuff, often stuff to buy. We tend to talk about our iPods. We tend to talk about cars or new fads. But in terms of sort of grand ideas, like democracy, I don't know, that doesn't-- it's not what-- what you hear when you walk around the city.
MILTON GLASER: Well, those ideas are much tougher to deal with, and of course, we have been processed through the intersection of television and advertising to think of life in terms of what we own and also to think of our dissatisfactions in life with what we don't have and what others have.
I mean, the whole function of advertising to some degree, apart from the fact that it keeps the wheels of our civilization and our economy going, is to create a climate of dissatisfaction that can only be resolved by acquisition. I mean that is thematically what advertising lives on.
BRANCACCIO: Your car from 1999 which runs perfectly well just isn't good enough. You need something newer.
MILTON GLASER: You need something newer, and you need to change your clothes and your style and everything. Okay, we understand that in terms of economic construction. But what that leads to is that happiness is very much linked in America to acquisition and to owning things.
One of the other things that I've always been interested in is that advertising makes people accept misrepresentation, because advertising is always based on amplification or distortion of reality. And so it makes claims that basically are emotional, but not quantifiably true.
BRANCACCIO: Like what?
MILTON GLASER: Well, you know, if you buy this car, your neighbors will envy you and your social condition will be enhanced. Or if you buy this breakfast food, you'll have twice the vitality and you'll lose weight. Whatever it is, you know that sometimes there's a core of reality, but most of the time, the differentiation between identical products is based on the idea that you amplify certain characteristics symbolically.
So. But the fact about this that is most interesting is that even though people know that these are misrepresentations and very often lies, in terms of products and what products will do for you, they still buy the product, if the communication is entertaining enough.
So, there's been a kind of shift, it seems to me in America, from an idea that truth is valuable to an idea that entertainment is more valuable. And as a result of that, it -- lying in public no longer has any consequences, because you get crazy in thinking about all these public lies. You know with-- They use the term spin, and of course spin is just a nice way to say lie. But everything is spun in order to achieve a certain result. The fascinating thing about it is that the public who has grown up conditioned by advertising perfectly accepts political misrepresentation this way.
PBS NOW Transcript 07.01.05: Interview with Milton Glaser by David Brancaccio
July 20, 2005
If it's hip and trendy, they're not interested
In an age saturated with microtrends, some people are turning their backs on cool.
by Christian M. Chensvold, Special to The Times
For Melinda Wilferd, nightlife in Los Angeles was a lot like high school. The 35-year-old ran with a crowd that often went to parties in downtown lofts, "where all the faces turn around and look at you, assessing whether or not you're going to fit in the hipster club." Where if you enjoy watching TV, you're held beneath contempt. And where "they talk about music like it's some revelation."
The pretension and callowness finally got to her, and one night "I told my friends I can't do this anymore." She began exploring wine bars and jazz clubs in search of more fulfilling nightlife - and to get away from hipsters. "Now I'm more interested in what pleases me," says the employee of a major cable network. "I just want my little place in this mad, mad world."
The hypnosis of hipsterism is entrenched among many of L.A.'s urban sophisticates, especially those who work in the trend-driven industries of media, music and fashion. But for many twenty-, thirty- and fortysomethings, the appeal of being cool and edgy is rapidly deteriorating. "The last identity you would want to claim now is a hipster," says John Leland, author of "Hip: The History." "It's the worst of insults."
Just what is hip has become nebulous in a digital age of microtrends, when a cultural blip goes from underground to overexposed in one season. Likewise, the original concept of hip as something outside the purview of the mainstream has been replaced by the hipstream: mainstream cool packaged by corporate marketing departments.
The inevitable backlash - not against the bohemian veritas but the sycophantic consumer of cool - is well underway.
"The whole point of being hip in the pure sense of the word is to essentially be oblivious to it," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "Now the only thing you can describe a hipster as being is a 'hipster' in quotation marks. Almost by definition a hipster is a wannabe."
If hipness is losing its appeal, it may have to do with how difficult it is to stay ahead of the curve.
In a recent issue of his JC Report, a global fashion and lifestyle trend report, Jason Campbell prophesized "the downfall of the hipster." Staying cool, says the fashion trend forecaster, "has become a bit of a joke at this point. It's a rat race that's really difficult to keep up with, and a lot of people are bowing out."
A fashion-designer friend of Campbell's recently confessed that he was so overwhelmed by the endless barrage of new designer denim brands that he vowed to wear only classic Levi's 501s as a form of protest. "People aren't feeling they need to run out and pick up the latest thing that whatever celebrity of the moment has," Campbell says. "They're returning to things that resonate with them and are part of their personal style."
"I think people are exhausted by trends that have the half-life of a millisecond," Leland says. "You live in a state of perpetual whiplash, in which the minute you're up on one trend it's gone and you should be on to another."
Unlike the beatnik '50s, when discovering some gem of cultural arcana involved real detective work, today getting hip to the latest blog or indie rock band is as easy as logging on to the Internet. "We're in a post-hip era, which means everybody's hip," says Leland. "I can't tell you how many churches I've been in where the pastor has a goatee, tattoos and earrings."
So if everybody's hip, then let's be unhip, and indeed, what a very hip idea. Some people are just fed up with the whole enterprise.
Jane Fontana writes "hard, electronic music" for the entertainment industry and spent 10 years living in Hollywood before turning her back on hipster-infested urban life. Last year she bought a cabin in the Angeles National Forest near Tujunga. Though it's only 35 miles from Hollywood, in an industry where people judge your prestige by your area code, she might as well have moved to Idaho.
"If you connect in the hipster scene, you'll make it in [show] business," she says, "because all the people on the business side never think they're cool enough. The hipster scene avoids the search for oneself in a big way. It's not about finding your voice; it's all about conformity."
Fontana, 42, says that leaving L.A. has brought her peace of mind, boosted her creativity and helped her live more authentically. She recently threw a party at her cabin, where the appeal of getting back to nature - and away from Hollywood - was not lost on the hipster guests. The writers, artists and filmmakers in attendance checked their networking compulsion at the door and engaged in genuine conversation, Fontana says. "They felt like they'd gotten away from what they have to be and could be what they are."
Erica Timmerman realized she didn't care about trying to be hip anymore when, at age 30, her doctor told her she had thyroid cancer. The diagnosis annihilated her ambitions to be a walking pop culture encyclopedia or to cultivate a pose of ironic detachment. Cancer, after all, doesn't respond to wisecracks.
"When you think you might die, you look at your life and realize what's important to you," says Timmerman.
The now 40-year-old Silver Lake resident has felt pressure since adolescence to be considered cool. That pressure, along with her cancer, is now in remission. "And I'm not going to let anyone dictate how I'm supposed to look or act, and stop trying to be something I'm not," says Timmerman.
Like Silver Lake, its L.A. equivalent, New York's Williamsburg neighborhood has watched itself go from hipster epicenter to hipster punch line.
Twenty-six-year-old "office slave" and aspiring novelist Brian Bernbaum founded the blog hipstersareannoying.com, under the pseudonym Aimee Plumley, while living in Williamsburg. Based on the outcry against his mockery, "you would've thought there was a revolution going on," he says.
Bernbaum was inspired by what he viewed as a pose adopted by hipsters to deliberately obfuscate human interaction. "I felt people wouldn't level with you, that they were giving you their rTsumT of cool. You could never really get anything out of people that seemed like normal social interaction." Conversations at clubs and parties became "a one-upmanship of pop culture encyclopedias."
Any hip community eventually becomes a parody of itself, says Robert Lanham, author of "The Hipster Handbook" (2002), which many perceived as a marketing gimmick put out by corporate media but which was, in fact, a skewering of Williamsburg hipsters by the 34-year-old humorist and co-founder of freewilliamsburg.com, a neighborhood blog and culture guide.
Lanham's follow-up, last year's "Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic," takes the parody a step further and includes a chapter on "cryptsters," or aging hipsters. "There's also this new breed of pseudo-bohemians or fauxhemians," says the author, "a facade of hipsters trying to play the bohemian role, but their parents are paying their rent."
Dropping out of the hipster scene has made Bernbaum use his time in more personally fulfilling ways, he says. "And it's a lot cheaper." The downside is that he's floating in social limbo. "The youth of New York is geared toward hipster things. I've just withdrawn from the people I didn't feel it was worth my time hanging out with. But I haven't really found an alternate world of people."
Adrienne Crew stops short of using a term such as "new sincerity" but says she's noticed a growing interest among young urbanites to simplify their lives. Crew, a 40-year-old attorney and "brainiac" writing a novel on African American geeks, is the founder of labrainterrain.com, a blog and calendar listing of intellectual events around L.A.
"I'm seeing these youngsters who are really looking for expressions of unmediated experience, fun that's not created by consumer culture," she says. A growing trend she sees as a reaction to hipsterism is "granny chic," or social groups centered around archaic hobbies. Stitch and Bitch and The Church of Craft are two Los Angeles-based examples of groups that gather to work on quilting, needlework, paper craft and lace making - in unabashed earnestness.
Crew also cites the Machine Project, a group that combines performance art with science, hosting workshops on such topics as how to build a radio. Says Crew, "Every two days I get these e-mails that go, 'Hey, kids, we've got this goofy thing we're going to be doing, so bring anything you want demagnetized!' "
For Leland, cultivating one's inner garden is the perfect antidote to the overexposure of hip. He suggests nourishing "secrets" or "private knowledge" one keeps to oneself, like a diary locked with a key, rather than a blog for the whole world to see.
Bernbaum wonders if conservatism from the heartland may be infiltrating hipster-heavy metropolises, "making people seek out something more meaningful" in their lives.
In hipster and media-driven Los Angeles, it's easy to forget that most Angelenos ages 25 to 40 don't wear checkered Vans with distressed blazers or go to downtown gallery openings or Echo Park dive bars.
Craigslist.org, once an underground website for hipsters seeking jobs and apartments, now boasts an activities section packed with people seeking irony-free social connections in such humdrum activities as chess, badminton, lacrosse, foreign language study, outrigger canoeing and the Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.
Best get involved now, before they become hip.
Los Angeles Times: If it's hip and trendy, they're not interested
This is a comment that gets repeated on various internet blogs and newsgroups. I'm not sure who originally said this quote.
August 18, 2005
Only a few people can be rich and that is by design. Capitalism's big lie is that everyone can be rich. Capitalism would break down if everyone became rich. Capitalism works ONLY if a wealth differential is maintained by the government, in which the vast majority of people are intentionally kept so poor that they must keep working in the distasteful and menial jobs on which society depends.
September 8, 2005Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd: UN hits back at US in report saying parts of America are as poor as Third World
The lie of capitalism is that everyone can be rich. That is simply not so. Capitalism works only if there is a wealth differential. Capitalism can only tolerate so many rich people. All the rest must be kept poor, intentionally, in order to make them available to do the thousands of distasteful and unpleasant tasks that modern civilization requires. And it follows that the poorer they are kept, the more of them can be "rented" for the same amount of money by the very rich. Hence, the very rich are never satisfied by having money, the worth of their money in terms of the labor it can buy is dependent on keeping the poor as poor as possible.
September 8, 2005
Gold-collar generation: The world is theirs?
Coddled 20-somethings Enjoy Luxury on Blue-collar Salary
by Mark de la Vina, Knight Ridder Newspapers
SAN JOSE, Calif. ? They find solace in $325 Christian Dior sunglasses, a shot of confidence in a $600 Louis Vuitton handbag. Never mind that they still live with their parents and earn a modest salary in service jobs.
For these working-class young adults, luxury is not just for the rich. Just ask Danielle Garcia, a receptionist at Kaiser Permanente who is in the midst of planning her lavish 24th birthday bash for 75 friends at the trendy Vault nightclub in downtown San Jose, Calif.
She and her pals don't know it, but they're part of a new niche that marketers say is growing: the gold-collar generation, blue-collar's glitzy counterpart.
"I'm really in awe of name-brand things," said Garcia, who moved back in with her parents to pay off mounting credit-card debt. "I want to feel glamorous."
The appetite for designer labels and anything associated with celebrity has helped push luxury sales in the United States to $525 billion last year, up from $450 billion in 2003. By 2010, Americans are expected to spend $1 trillion on luxury goods, according to Michael Silverstein, co-author of "Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods."
The gold-collar contingent, ages 18-25, is doing its part by downing $12 Kettle One vodka martinis and sporting the sleekest rims on their Lincoln Navigators. To sustain a lifestyle inspired by rap videos and pop-culture magazines such as Us, they spend a disproportionate amount of their disposable income on expensive brand-name products and services.
For many, any interest in college and pursuing a career beyond retail or service industry is deferred, even abandoned, in order to maintain champagne tastes on a beer budget. Lacking an identity, they attempt to create their own through expensive clothing and accessories, said Ian Pierpoint, a senior vice president at the Chicago research firm Synovate.
"This is the best-dressed, least-able, least-equipped generation ever," Pierpoint said. "If you're 24 or 25 and you're still at home, you're not doing a lot of things, like paying your own utilities. They are in some ways very experienced, but they are more coddled than other generations."
There were about 20 million young people who could be categorized as working-class in 2003, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's more than half of the 18-to-25 population. In a phone survey of blue-collar adults within that age range, Synovate found that more than a third are what they have dubbed "gold-collar."
Garcia has never heard of the term, but her lifestyle and spending habits fit the bill: She once exchanged $305 Chanel sunglasses for $325 Christian Dior shades because a friend had bought the same pair. The owner of more than 100 pairs of shoes, Garcia built the theme of her birthday party around the Al Pacino gangster film "Scarface." The invitations read "The World Is Yours," a reference to the catchphrase on a Goodyear blimp that inspired Pacino's character to embark on a crime spree rooted in entitlement.
"I want everyone to look at me. I want to have a lot of attention," she said. "I realize how shallow it sounds, but you know what? It's just what I like. I can't help what I like."
Jason Leong, 24, a makeup artist at Stila Cosmetics in San Jose, said he's more charged by the thrill of a new trinket than the attention it generates. He holds up his right wrist to show off a prized find, a canvas Christian Dior bracelet.
"This one was $180," he said, "but it makes me happy, so it's worth it."
Leong has tried to cut back on his high-end purchases from a year ago, reducing his $1,000-a-month spending budget, which was 60 percent of his take-home salary, to about $400 a month. He now sets aside $25 a week toward the purchase of a house so that he can move out of his father's place in Hayward, Calif.
When he walked into the Hugo Boss store at Valley Fair on a recent shopping jaunt, three salespeople gave him a nod and acknowledged him by name.
"This," he said, "is where I go when I want to spend money."
His dad, Jack Leong, calls himself "a fairly lenient father" and said he doesn't charge his son rent because he's obligated to provide for his children.
"I've raised two boys, and I have always felt that as long as they were good people and didn't get into trouble, that's fine," Leong's father said. "They like the more expensive stuff, but as long as they earn the money to buy it, that's their business."
Jason Leong's love of everything lavish is emblematic of the country's snowballing obsession with celebrity culture, said Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, author of the upcoming book "Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture." Many young people, she said, are inspired to live like stars even as the economy becomes more uncertain.
"I don't know if these kids are responding to seeing their parents not getting the payoffs to the American dream," said Foster, a professor of English and film studies at the University of Nebraska. "But if they see that what their parents did is not working, or if they see someone who has worked for 30 years at United Airlines lose their pension, can you blame them?"
Knight Ridder Newspapers: Gold-collar generation: The world is theirs?
Kansas City Star: Blue-collar parents raising gold-collar kids
October 22, 2005
Young, footloose - and broke
Being hopelessly in debt won't stop me going shopping, confesses recent graduate Jessica Jonzen
I don't have a penny to my name. In fact, I owe thousands of pounds. I don't earn a regular salary - I am temping while I look for a job - and make only the minimum payments on my credit-card bills (yes, I have more than one). But does it stop me spending? No.
'There is something comforting about consumerism'
And I am not alone. In fact, I am a statistic. According to a new report from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS), people aged between 18 and 24 are the fastest-growing group of debtors, owing on average ?15,000. However, instead of living off baked beans and buying clothes from Oxfam - as my parents' generation would have done if in debt - I can still be found pounding the high street, laden with shopping bags.
While I don't lead an opulent lifestyle, I do live beyond my means. If I have to make a choice between paying off ?50 of my overdraft and buying a new pair of shoes, I tend to opt for the footwear. At the moment, my excuse is that I need to buy new clothes for my quest to find permanent work, but the main reason is that there is something comforting about consumerism, and, since I moved to London two months ago, it has helped me to settle.
For most young people, debt begins with their student loans. However, since we don't have to start paying them back until we are earning at least ?15,000 - temping doesn't pay well - my student loan does not seem pressing (we receive one letter a year reminding us how much we owe, which is promptly slammed in a drawer and forgotten). The debt is so high that it is difficult to comprehend; far easier, then, just to forget about it, and continue to spend using my credit cards and overdraft.
The amount of credit available to me is staggering. Barclays, for instance, automatically gives both a Barclaycard and an overdraft facility to everyone who opens a student account. Store cards also help us to fool ourselves into thinking we have money, enticing us with discounts, special offers and, most seductively of all, VIP treatment.
James Thorpe, of the internet bank Egg, believes that credit has become a necessity for young adults: "Nowadays, young people have to go into debt if they want to go to university. In that respect, debt is seen as a good thing, as it allows you to advance yourself in a way that you couldn't without it." Indeed, the CCCS claims that young people are now embracing credit "as a way of life".
Tiffany Forster, a 24-year-old job-seeker who graduated this summer, justifies her spending by telling herself that her degree has afforded her the privilege. While she may not have any money to her name, she is confident that she will get a job that will allow her to pay off her debt and make more sensible investments.
Until then, she will make the most of the considerable credit available to her. "I feel that I should be enjoying myself. I'm in my twenties: I have the rest of my life to worry about paying things back," she says.
"My philosophy is that, so long as I look the part, I'll become the part, and this is very important in the industry that I want to work in, fashion. I have to look like I belong."
Forster favours high-end shops, such as Reiss, LK Bennett and Kurt Geiger, in which the price of many items exceeds ?100. She believes that one of the key factors in her spending habits is that she has become accustomed to a lifestyle set by her parents, who have never been in debt. "I don't want to have to reduce the way that I spend and think just because I am having to fund myself," she insists.
Charlotte Morse, 23, who recently graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, agrees. "While I was brought up to think that you should never spend what you don't have, my student loan doesn't feel like a debt," she says.
"The pure excitement of having ?1,000 in the bank was just overwhelming. I wasn't paying rent, so the money allowed me to go shopping, on holidays and to the theatre. I felt the money was mine to spend as I wished. I told myself that everyone had a loan and, being a fashion student, I wanted to have the means to buy new clothes, beauty products and to fund my regular nights out."
Research carried out this summer on behalf of MTV identifies my peers and me as "Generation Y", young people whose "private lives are now partially or fully expressed through the purchase of branded products, services and experiences".
Scary stuff, but as a generation obsessed with celebrity, we are desperately trying to keep up with the Joneses - or, more specifically, the Beckhams - without a penny of the money needed to fund it.
And it seems that many of us will go to extremes, even into bankruptcy, to attain this; last year, the CCCS advised one in 16 of its clients to opt for insolvency, which, thanks to last year's Enterprise Act, is a far more viable option than it once was. Now, anyone made bankrupt (with some exceptions) will find themselves automatically discharged after only one year.
Personally, I would do anything to avoid this, because, for me, it still holds a stigma. Indeed, writing this article has forced me to confront my finances. I may go home tonight and actually read a bank statement, or even pay off a bit of my overdraft.
But then again, there was that lovely skirt I saw yesterday?
Telegraph Group Limited: Young, footloose - and broke
Nov 9, 2005
Author says pursuit of wealth can be unhealthy
By Matt Conn, Marshfield News-Herald
The American Dream spreads a contagious cultural disease called "affluenza," according to social academics who created the term to describe an endless pursuit of wealth.
Affluenza is the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County's study theme this year, and a book by the same name is circulating throughout the community.
"I think it's fairly realistic. Just look around the outskirts of Marshfield, and you see these huge houses," said Laura Lee, who used the book to highlight environmental issues in her environmental science class on the campus. "Urban sprawl, depletion of agricultural land we've paved over for new subdivisions - it's happening right here in town."
"Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic" describes the condition as a dogged pursuit of wealth that destroys an individual's mental health, the environment and civic participation.
The Marshfield Public Library received a Wisconsin Humanities Council grant for community-wide reading of the book and to bring author John DeGraaf to Marshfield in February. It will host an intergenerational discussion Thursday among people who lived through the Great Depression and young adults.
"The American identity has formed from a shared myth of abundance - it's there, and we're entitled to it," said Jeff Kleiman, an associate history professor at UW-M/WC who will review the phenomenon Thursday at the library.
A belief in hard work ending in success has combined with affluenza, leading to buying for its own sake. A person with a fully functional car feels pressure to buy a new car, arising from a feeling that a newer car will create a feeling of additional success. The price paid for this lifestyle, the constant chase of the newest products that no one really needs, is more than financial, Kleiman said.
"It's just not as fun as people thought," he said. "There's never enough."
Hard work for longer hours creates individuals who are too tired to participate in social activities. Stress creates a strain on the heart and mind, he said.
The huge houses built with wealth often have a room of escape, where this ostensibly successful person withdraws, perhaps to a television, rather than interacting with other people, even his or her own family, Kleiman said.
Before you buy something, consider why you're buying it, who gave you the idea to buy it and if you really actually need it, Kleiman said.
"Turn off the TV," he suggested, "or realize that the TV lies to you."
Matt Conn can be reached at 384-3131 or 800-967-2087, ext. 328, or at email@example.com. For more information go to marshfieldnewsherald.com and click on today's Web links.
Marshfield News-Herald: Author says pursuit of wealth can be unhealthy
Tuning into affluence: Television's role in American materialism
By Shrum, L.J., James E. Burroughs, and Aric Rindfleisch, University of Chicago Press Journals
While our insatiable devotion to buying more stuff is no revelation, it is not completely understood where this materialistic mentality comes from. A forthcoming study from the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research seeks to better explain the cultivation of this rather unattractive, yet inimitably American trait, arguing that television plays a significant role in creating materialists.
"The more television individuals watch, the more materialistic they apparently become," writes L. J. Shrum (University of Texas--San Antonio).
Of note, say the authors, is the growing American dedication to television viewing--an important piece of information for public policy officials concerned about television's effects. These officials are concerned with the messages conveyed and learned through the television watching experience. But more than just teaching bad habits, the authors argue that television is actually indoctrinating or 'cultivating' its watchers into a world of materialism. In this instance, American moral fabric is being rewoven into a troubling pattern.
"Predominant theories of television influence would suggest this is due, in part, to a cultivation effect. That is, television tends to glamorize affluence, and individuals who watch a lot of television gradually come to incorporate these 'televised' values into their personal values structures," the authors conclude.
Shrum, L.J., James E. Burroughs, and Aric Rindfleisch. "Television's Cultivation of Material Values." Journal of Consumer Research, Dec. 2005.
University of Chicago Press Journals: Television's Cultivation of Material Values
November 24, 2005
Could having it all be hazardous to your health?
By Bryant Stamford, Special to The Courier-Journal
It's Thanksgiving and no society on earth has ever had more to be thankful for than present-day Americans.
We have more stuff than anyone in history ever dreamed of having, and in just the past half-century we have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before us. Wow! That's a lot to be thankful for.
But are we truly thankful? Probably not. It's not that we are all greed-driven ingrates who are never satisfied, although there's an element of that present in too many of us.
The larger issue responsible for our lack of thankfulness is that, in general, as a society, we are not happy.
Consider this: In 1957, the percentage of Americans who perceived themselves to be "very happy" peaked, and since then, the percentage has been declining. This, even though we have lots more stuff and consume twice as much of virtually everything today compared to then.
This kind of information and more comes from documentaries and books about the American affliction known as "affluenza" -- the blind pursuit of material wealth for the sake of acquiring more stuff.
Here's a graphic example: A three-car garage common in larger homes today is the size of an entire typical home, 900 square feet, in the 1950s. The three-car garage is coveted by us all, but not because the average family owns three cars. Rather, it affords storage space for all the excess stuff we rarely use and certainly don't need.
Not only is the pursuit of possessions not a path to happiness, it can actually accomplish the opposite.
There is growing evidence that owning too much stuff can be stressful, particularly when it reaches the status of being clutter. Where will we store it? How can we find things we need in a timely fashion amongst all the stuff?
Clutter makes a home feel smaller, driving the need for a bigger home, more debt and working longer and harder to pay the debt. What's more, purchasing a larger home means needing more stuff to fill it up. It's a vicious cycle.
Is there a way out of this self-made trap? A recent poll revealed that among folks who voluntarily reduced their consumption and accumulation of stuff, a whopping 86 percent declared that they were happier and less stressed because of it.
A big part of this increased happiness comes from shedding workaholism for the sake of attaining additional material wealth.
Baby boomers are leading the way in this regard, because many of us have come full circle. It's all about the wisdom that living many years on this earth can bring.
To be sure, it hasn't been an easy journey, but then Life 101 rarely is. And most of us are far from the finish line, but at least many of us are trying.
A wise old saying applies here. "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment."
We baby boomers first had to get through the "empire building" stage that most of us are destined to traverse early in our careers.
When this didn't bring joy and fulfillment, many of us overreacted. We needed more -- bigger empires! This required more dedication, more effort, more working hours.
When that didn't work, we resorted to strange behaviors -- middle-age-crazy kinds of things. Sports cars, affairs with younger folks, etc.
Next, out of desperation, we began to reflect and perhaps even ask for spiritual intervention from on high. When we finally reach this stage, something clicks and we begin to see that we've wasted a lot of time on the foolish process of accumulating stuff (the experience arising from bad judgment).
In response, simplification creeps onto center stage (the good judgment arising from experience) and rewards us in powerful ways that all of our accumulated stuff could never accomplish.
Shed, don't dread
Sounds simple, but it's not. I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to finding it difficult to shed stuff, and I've gone through the familiar mental games.
What if I need this stuff later? This stuff has significance, and I cannot bear to part with it. Maybe a loved one will need this stuff someday. You know the drill.
I also confront temptations. Maybe I need a new car, because the one I have has too many miles on it. But once you realize that stuff is just stuff, and you gain a better perspective on what's really going on, the process of cleansing becomes progressively easier, and temptations don't seem to be as alluring.
The bottom line is, we can achieve happiness and be truly thankful once we realize that we have enough.
Unfortunately, knowing how much is enough may be the biggest challenge facing our nation at present. This is especially true when it comes to food, but that's a topic for another day. Happy Thanksgiving!
"The Body Shop" runs Thursdays. Bryant Stamford is professor and chairman of the department of exercise science at Hanover College and co-host of "HealthWorks" on WFPL radio. If you have questions or suggestions, go to his Web site at DrBryantStamford.com. Or address questions to "The Body Shop," The Courier-Journal, P.O. Box 740031, Louisville, KY 40201-7431.
The Courier-Journal: Could having it all be hazardous to your health?
FEBRUARY 9, 2006
Materialism is bad for you, studies say
By Carey Goldberg,The Boston Globe
As a Lexington, Massachusetts, psychologist and couples therapist, Aline Zoldbrod is all too familiar with this picture: A husband and wife no longer connect.
They are so exhausted from the pursuit of "nice things" - a big house, private school for the kids, fancy cars - that they are time-starved and depleted. Life is luxurious but unsatisfying and simply no fun.
Zoldbrod said it is not only her clinical experience that tells her such clients are on the wrong track. It's a growing body of research.
Using statistics and psychological tests, researchers are nailing down what clerics and philosophers have preached for millennia: Materialism is bad for the soul. Only, in the new formulation, materialism is bad for your emotional well-being.
In recent years, researchers have reported an ever-growing list of downsides to getting and spending - damage to relationships and self-esteem, a heightened risk of depression and anxiety, less time for what the research indicates truly makes people happy, like family, friendship and engaging work. And maybe even headaches.
"Consumer culture is continually bombarding us with the message that materialism will make us happy," said Tim Kasser, a psychology professor at Knox College in Illinois who has led some of the recent work. "What this research shows is that that's not true."
The research is more nuanced than that, of course. For people who are living paycheck to paycheck, more money unquestionably brings greater well-being. And for the comfortable, a raise or a new purchase can certainly feel good - for a little while, anyway. Also, economic research indicates that a hunger for money can motivate people to perform better and even more creatively.
There is also a question of cause and effect. Feelings of insecurity incline people toward materialist values, the research suggests, and that insecurity can also lead to relationship troubles and other problems associated with a materialistic lifestyle.
But Kasser argues that when people turn to material things to feel better, they compound the problem, because they seek experiences that "don't do a very good job of meeting their psychological needs."
Ed Diener, a University of Illinois psychology professor and happiness expert, said in an e-mail that he has found that "those who value material success more than they value happiness are likely to experience almost as many negative moods as positive moods, whereas those who value happiness over material success are likely to experience considerably more pleasant moods and emotions than unpleasant moods and emotions."
Studies show that poor people who emphasize materialistic goals are especially likely to be unhappy, while in some studies, materialistic rich people show fewer ill effects, presumably because they are meeting more of their goals. But even for the better-off, materialism can create a nagging appetite that can never be satisfied.
Materialism becomes "a more difficult goal than many," Diener said, "because it is open-ended and goes on forever - we can always want more, which is usually not true of other goals such as friendship. With friends, we have them and enjoy them but usually are not taught that we keep needing more."
There's also an opportunity cost to chasing the wrong goals, said Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor who focuses on people's flawed ability to predict their emotional reactions. When people spend their effort pursuing material goods in the belief that they will bring happiness, he said, they're ignoring other, more effective routes to happiness.
So why is materialism so common? The trouble is that the error is subtle.
"If it were the case that money made us totally miserable, we'd figure out we were wrong" to pursue it, Gilbert said. But "it's wrong in a more nuanced way. We think money will bring lots of happiness for a long time, and actually it brings a little happiness for a short time."
Whether warnings from social scientists will make a dent in popular consuming values remains to be seen. Kasser compared the expanding pool of data on the potential harm of materialism to the data on lung cancer caused by smoking. Preachers had long called smoking "the devil's work," he said, but it was only when the cancer connection was proved scientifically that smoking really began to wane.
Gilbert of Harvard, however, is skeptical. "Let's try. Let's give them the data. Let's shout it from the mountaintops," he said. "But let's not be too surprised when all the people in the valley nod their heads knowingly and then go on to covet a Porsche and a new home and tickets to the Super Bowl."
International Herald Tribune: Materialism is bad for you, studies say
February 09, 2006
Consumerism behind agony: Dalai
By Carey Goldberg,The Boston Globe
Varanasi, February 8 - EXPRESSING CONCERN over the growing consumerism worldwide, Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, said it had caused mental agony and restlessness in society. Even though external development of human begins had taken place through various means of consumerism, their inner pleasures and feelings remained unsatisfied.
"Love, compassion and mercy are necessary for the existence of humanity. I often say that the best religion is the one that can keep human beings away from sorrow," the Dalai Lama said.
The welfare of humanity is not possible without adopting love, compassion and mercy, he added.
While interacting with noted Buddhist scholars in the conference hall of the Central Tibetan Institute for Higher Studies in Sarnath on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama said Buddhism was not only based on faith, but also on discussions.
Focussing on the significance of Buddhist traditions, he said it consisted of the written tradition in Pali and Sanskrit languages.
The significance of Buddhist religious works had enhanced because of their translation in Chinese, Korean and Tibetan languages.
Expressing his views on the occasion, the 17th Karmapa, Dorje Trinley, said Buddhism contained a strong philosophical aspect.
Phayul: Consumerism behind agony: Dalai
Consumerism, capitalism not quite the same game
By ZAK SHARIF, Columnist
I was talking to a friend of mine about a paper I'd written on the roots of modern American ills, and he asked me, "So, what are we going to do about this crisis of consumerism you wrote about?"
It's one hell of a question. In proper, though accidental, tradition, I avoided answering it. Truthfully, I'm not sure I have an answer, but I do have a place to start. First thing's first --- we've got to get our terms straight. It's not a solution, but at least we'll have something to aim for.
From senior year in high school until about sophomore year in college, I used the words capitalism and consumerism interchangeably. I declared my petulant and uninformed war, then proceeded to commit all sorts of treason: shopping at Wal-Mart, buying name-brand clothes, enjoying commercials and working for corporate monstrosities.
More and more, my sporadically enforced vow to know my enemy began to result in an uncomfortable --- if still incomplete --- enlightenment. There are many, many results of capitalism I object to, but I'm not entirely sure it's evil. I'm not entirely sure it's really any one thing at all.
Marx made some damn fine points about ruining other cultures with cheaply priced goods and perverting people's occupations into labor. I can't for an instant defend the way wealth seems to get distributed in a capitalist system. No characteristic or success can make one human being worth one thousand dollars and another one billion.
However, I'm cool with people not starving to death. I'm OK with lower priced goods and I can even defend open trade and the loss of American jobs to that end. It's tempting to look at capitalism and see an unsteady --- at times precarious --- onward movement of human progress. For all my protests, I'm not entirely convinced that vision isn't untrue.
Consumerism, on the other hand, is an undeniable problem. That it's linked to capitalism gives capitalism a worse rep, but the two are not identical.
Consumerism is the unintended resurrection of the paralyzing desperation that characterized human existence before we began this self-destructive trek to luxury. We've re-created starvation in a nation where, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 30 percent of adults older than 20 are obese. We've bred a world of terror in an age that could, for once, afford to be at peace. We've invented a form of communication previously unimaginable and we've used it to become more isolated.
How? The value of an object --- even a person --- isn't in the characteristics it possesses or in the uses we have for it. Anyone can imbue anything with value the moment he convinces another person to accept this artificial worth. Capitalists have availed themselves of this process, transmuting the worthless to profit.
Amazon is selling collectible "Star Wars" toys for up to $599.99. The $1,325 king-size sheet set, at least, has some practical use. This system of manufacturing value perverts natural sensibilities. It alienates us from the real world and real needs, with practical boundaries --- where the value of things is based on what they are and what they can do.
Consumerism lies between our natural needs and these contrived things we try to sate them with. It lies there devouring the honest, the natural and the intimate leaving us no choice but to continue consuming anything that we think might satisfy us.
The utter failure to be complete while surrounded by every imaginable comfort kills some and maims far more. It's a sickness in society that ruins marriages, distorts people's self images and keeps us from clearly seeing anything of genuine substance.
After almost four years of college, all I can do is sketch out vague battle lines. I'm not sure how best to proceed. I'm as much influenced by this mindset as anyone --- knowing you're in the jaws of a dragon isn't escaping, and it certainly won't slay him.
Burn the puppets with Zak Sharif at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pitt News: Consumerism, capitalism not quite the same game
April 6, 2006
Probing Question: Does materialism harm kids?
By Lisa Duchene, Research/Penn State
Materialism permeates American culture. While the economy thrives upon it, songwriters have long warned against it: In the '60s, the Beatles sang "I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love" and today, Kanye West raps that "the prettiest people do the ugliest things for the road to riches and diamond rings."
Our scholars, too, have explored materialism's light and dark sides. Some believe it leads to greater human good, while others argue that excessive materialism can harm our happiness and quality of life.
Parents have reason to prevent their children from becoming too focused on material possessions, says Marvin Goldberg, chair of the marketing department in Penn State's Smeal College of Business, who has studied materialism and youth. "Balance is the key," adds Goldberg. Materialism is a value -- and there is no problem as long as it remains in balance with other values like family, friendship, spirituality, health and the outdoors.
"Nobody is suggesting implicitly or explicitly that we need to be monks, where the materialism value slips away to nil," Goldberg explains. "The issue becomes a concern only when someone makes materialism their main focus, because it can displace other values that we see as very important in our society."
Goldberg's advice to parents is to teach children the importance of non-material values. Show your children how much fun it is to go on a bike ride or how important it is to do well in school, he says.
Be aware of how much "family time" is actually time spent shopping and make sure to spend time with children in non-consumption activities. Build coalitions with your church, temple, or school?institutions that serve as alternatives to the consumer culture.
"It's very difficult to fight the consumer culture by yourself," says Goldberg. "It's not just a matter of saying 'let's buy less.' It's a matter of time away from the mall doing other things."
The heightened attention marketers pay to the nation's 9- to 14-year-olds led Goldberg and three other researchers to develop a tool to measure youth materialism. Goldberg was the lead author on the study published in The Journal of Consumer Psychologyin 2003.
The nine to 14 demographic -- "tweens" in marketing speak -- is 27 million strong and influences $170 billion in annual sales. Companies spend billions each year targeting this lucrative market.
In a national survey of 540 parents and 996 tweens, Goldberg studied connections between marketing, youth materialism, happiness and school performance. Those kids who scored the highest on the materialism scale were also the most susceptible to advertising and most interested in new products. Compared to less materialistic kids of the same age, they tended to shop more, save less, and have more purchase influence with their parents, who consider them the experts on products like soft drinks, popcorn, milk and shampoo. Among the tweens who had jobs, the more materialistic ones earned more money.
The study also found that the most materialistic kids went on more shopping trips with their parents than their less materialistic counterparts. Another finding confirmed the common wisdom that materialistic parents raise materialistic children.
Overall, the kids' grades were fairly high, but the most materialistic didn't perform as well in school as the least materialistic kids. And while the study found no connection between materialism and happiness, the most materialistic tweens were much more positive about their future financial well-being than the less materialistic ones.
Another interesting discovery: Today's nine-year-olds are just as materialistic as 14-year-olds. Says Goldberg, "This supports the notion that the effort to market down to a 'tween-age set is, in a sense, robbing children of their childhood."
One purpose of developing a research tool to measure youth materialism is to compare scores across time and cultures, Goldberg points out. He suspects today's adolescents are more materialistic than they were 20 years ago, in part because of marketing. Now more than ever, it's up to parents to keep materialism from running amok in their children's lives, drowning out other important values.
Marvin E. Goldberg is Irving & Irene Bard professor and chair of marketing in the Smeal College of Business. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Penn State: Probing Question: Does materialism harm kids?
Jan 16, 2007
Teenagers do grow more materialistic: study
Parents' fears that children become increasingly materialistic and less generous as they hit teenage years appear to be well-founded, according to U.S. research.
A survey by market researcher Harris Interactive found the majority of U.S children were materialistic with 71 percent of people aged between eight and 18 saying they would be happier if they had more money to spend on themselves.
Looking closer at the results, researchers and marketing professors found that teens (13-18 years) consistently scored higher than preteens (8-12) when queried on materialistic attitudes, and that older kids were also less generous.
When broken down by age, more teens (74 percent) than preteens (66 percent) agreed with the statement: "I would be happier if I had more money to buy more things for myself."
Teens, meanwhile, were less likely (81 percent) to say "I like to help kids who are new to our school" than younger children (91 percent).
The age difference showed up again in response to questions on gratitude, with 92 percent of preteens having "a lot to be thankful for" but only 86 of teens feeling the same way.
But despite the desire for more money for themselves, families rated higher than money with "mom" important to 84 percent of those surveyed.
Aric Rindfleisch, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the survey showed that "materialistic young people display reduced generosity."
"Although parents may be able to do little to squelch materialistic messages, they may be able limit the adverse effects of materialism by cultivating a sense of thankfulness and gratitude in their children," he added in the report.
Reuters: Teenagers do grow more materialistic: study
February 16, 2007
It's a mad world
by Oliver James, Guardian UK
We need to eradicate the virus of 'affluenza' and improve our mental health - and there are two fundamental policies that can help.
Next Wednesday, at the House of Commons, I shall throw down a gauntlet to James Purnell: admit you have been conned by Third Way bullshit, reject the ways of Blatcherism, offer the electorate policies that have their foundations in the reduction of mental illness by the meeting of the needs of small children and the eradication of the affluenza virus. As the Unicef report published this week shows, Nouveau (riche) Labour has done little to halt the decline in the welfare of our children which Thatcher began in 1979.
I shall propose two fundamental policies. First, hard commitments to end the massive inequality in income and private wealth. Second, the payment of the average national wage to all families with an under-three-year-old, to be used by both partners or one, as they wish, to enable them to care for their children - as the British Social Attitudes survey recently demonstrated that most parents wish to do.
A secondary proposal, which will go some way towards paying for this second proposal, will be based on the fact that the Ministry of Defence (or should that be "Offence"?) owns 1% of the British landmass. Just as Purnell must reject the spending of ?20bn on new Trident missiles and of nearly ?30bn a year on an MoD which has been far too busy attacking other nations under Blatcher, so he must call for the sale of all but the most vital defence land - why does that ministry need to own so much of Salisbury plain?
Next Wednesday, I shall also propose to Ed Vaizey that when the Tories get round to making firm commitments, they put clear red water between themselves and Gordon Bratcher (as he undoubtedly is, whatever the mood music with which he is about to pollute our ears). If they mean what they say about the family, climate change and hugging hoodies, many of the policy options required for an unselfish capitalism are ready and waiting for them in Denmark.
I shall exhort him to admit that the Blatcherite chant, "private good, public bad" has been a neocon excuse for robbing the poor to give to the rich. Private often means greed and incompetence, as well as fraud - think Enron, think the incompetence of the private companies supposed to be supplying computer systems to government departments, think the hundreds of millions paid to consultants by Blatcher. Confess sinner, there was no trickle down effect and the utilities were mostly flogged off to rich friends of Thatcher for disgracefully small sums, compared to their real worth, in order to get the investors queuing up.
Having made these points, I shall rebut some of the critics of my argument in the book Affluenza.
Daniel Finkelstein from the Times and Tim Worstall state that there is no connection between national inequality and mental illness, contrary to my evidence. But my claims concern this relationship in developed nations. Obviously if, as they do, you add in developing nations such as Nigeria, it is a different matter - my arguments regarding affluenza apply to developed nations. On top of that, wilfully or because they have not read the book closely enough, they misrepresent my argument as being based on inequality. Rather, my point is that selfish capitalism (of which inequality is a consequence) is what is doing our heads in.
In the Observer, Nick Cohen is open about his dislike of my writing style. While he admits this is not a ground for rejecting an argument, his critique seems to be wholly based on selective use of a review of my book by Andrew Oswald in the New Scientist.
Oswald has built a large edifice upon studies of happiness, life satisfaction and wellbeing. He accuses me of ignoring these. On the contrary, in footnote xiv on page 347, I offer convincing scientific grounds for rejecting such soft evidence. What Oswald finds disconcerting is that my argument is based on far more rigorous studies than his - the World Health Organisation study of prevalences of mental illness.
As Oswald will recall, I pointed out to him in person at one of Richard Layard's Happiness Forum meetings that this happiness evidence does not tally at all with properly conducted studies of mental illness - happy countries are often severely mentally ill. Since both bodies of evidence cannot be right, I am much more inclined to trust the very detailed and numerous questions entailed in evaluating mental illness. Many happiness surveys are based on one crude question: are you very happy, happy, unhappy or very unhappy, or somewhere in the middle? I find it implausible that answers to this question tell us anything significant about individual or, when collated for collective results, national happiness.
Finally, I shall take Richard Layard to task for having bought into the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and positive psychology industries. While I have great respect for Richard and am singing from the same hymn sheet as him on many issues, and while I am all in favour of the setting up of a network of therapy centres (as proposed in his Depression Report), he is wrong about CBT. Quite simply, if you read the evidence, it shows that it does not work in the long term (see the definitive review of empirically tested therapies by Drew Westen).
Above all, it is an American confection for returning workers to the workplace with a temporary and wholly false smile on their face. Studies of Americans show them to be living in a rose-tinted bubble of positive illusions. They are unrealistically optimistic about how much their friends like them or about the future. When asked to rate how sensitive they are to others, 90% of Americans believe they are in the top 10% of sensitivity - by definition impossible - and it is similar for their falsely bloated self-esteem or view of their own capacities.
Americans who have accurate perceptions of themselves are deemed by researchers to suffer from "depressive realism". That is a dangerously barmy formulation, personally and nationally.
If you do not know that things are going wrong, you cannot put them right. There is a real danger that CBT is often no different from the spin which political parties put on their performance. A spun society will find it harder to change direction when it is heading for the rocks. Likewise the CBT patient.
What we need is a campaign for real therapy, not this psychic face-paint, and nationally it is the same. We need a return to the ideals which informed us post 1945 - meritocracy, female emancipation, egalitarianism and democracy.
For nearly 30 years, all of these have been gruesomely perverted by the great neocon, whether served up by Thatcher, Major or Blatcher and in a few months time, Bratcher.
On Wednesday February 21, 2007, Oliver James will debate the policy implications of his book Affluenza at the House of Commons with Lord Layard, James Purnell MP, Ed Vaizey MP, Sue Palmer, author of "Toxic Childhood", and Neal Lawson, the chair of Compass. The event will be chaired by Derek Draper.
Guardian UK: It's a mad world
February 16, 2007
Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane, by Oliver James
by David Goldblatt, Independent UK
At the core of this book are some sharply stated truths. Beyond a certain level of material wealth, more does not equate to happiness; indeed, the pursuit of more is positively pathological. Where this pursuit is accompanied by increasing inequality and economic insecurity, the results are even more dire. Add to this the ever more insidious power of advertising, the new electronic circus of celebrity culture, and the workaholism of unregulated economies, and we are, as we know, in big trouble.
Oliver James argues that the spread of the US model of capitalism is responsible for the epidemic of emotional distress that has swept across the developed world, and is threatening to engulf the new China and Russia, among others. The competitive drive for money, status and power results in a profound deformation of the human soul. We end up treating ourselves and others as commodities, as mere means to vacuous ends. Our capacity to form authentic, loving relationships, to feel secure and balanced, is destroyed. Anomie, alienation and addiction await us.
In the face of this pandemic, James offers us a series of vaccines that might inoculate us against the psychological destructiveness of our contorted affluence. From China and its familial Confucianism, he calls for realistic assessment of ourselves and our contexts. In contrast to the insane perfectionism and achievement-only orientation of American life, he finds the importance of knowing when good is good enough, and wisdom in recognising the real social limits of our lives. In Denmark, he finds a more egalitarian society that continues to reject the false gods of fame and brands in favour of solidarity, integrity and authenticity.
Where James is at his strongest and most passionate is around the experience of childhood. In response to the great weight of disastrous parenting, he suggests we go and sort it out, disentangling externally imposed goals and motives from our own. With regard to our own children, he argues for loving, consistent, playful and educative parenting. Turn off the TV as much as possible, he advises, offer an alternative voice to the exam-driven drudgery of mainstream schooling, and play with them as much as possible. And, for God's sake, make sure you and your partner divide up the drudgeries and pleasures equally.
I agree that the single most important social and emotional intervention that most of us can make is to take more and better care of our kids and our partners. However, I found James's insistence on the emotional superiority of nannies to collective childcare for small children to be indefensible, and a rare intrusion of his own personal preferences and circumstances into an otherwise well-argued case.
To let my own circumstances intrude: as the main carer of our kids, I found his persistent use of "motherhood'' over "parenthood" irritating. How does he expect a new generation of men to take on caring responsibilities when the model is cast in gender-specific terms, or does he really think that only mother knows best? I also find it odd that a book that so correctly rejects the mendacious have-it-all optimism of self-help psychology should have a subtitle that so shamelessly apes its language.
James recognises the limits of his virus/vaccine model. Individual action might provide a cure, but only collective action is going to sort this out. In the closing pages, he bravely attempts to think through some political implications of his case. It here that we reach the limits of social psychology, and medical models. James is on sure ground when calling for a massively more progressive tax system, and an end to the grotesque instrumentalism and fake meritocracy offered by the education system.
However, his ventures into price-freezing in the housing market and the banning of attractive models from advertising are not thought through, to say the least. Nonetheless, I share his insistence that we think some unthinkable thoughts, that we refuse to accept that there is no alternative to our current ways of living. Sanity, balance and wisdom await us.
David Goldblatt's global history of football, 'TheBall is Round' is published by Viking
Independent UK: Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane, by Oliver James
February 20, 2007
Suffering from affluenza?
by Farhad J. Dadyburjor, Daily News & Analysis
Bigger, better, more! If that's the singular thought that haunts your waking moments 24/7, then pal, you've probably been hit by affluenza. A combination of 'affluence' and 'influenza', affluenza has been defined as 'the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses'. And in this age of Paris-ification, how much can ever be enough?
According to psychologists, affluenza rears its ugly head when an individual becomes obsessed with wealth, fame and all things material, which in turn causes 'luxury fever' ? over-consumption, overwork, higher stress, etc. The ensuing result: depression, anxiety, substance abuse and personality disorders.
"If you're insecure, aspire to be accepted by a particular society or want to be noticed, then you're bound to be taken in by something like this," says jewellery designer, Farah Khan. "You usually find this amongst women who don't work, are not famous or have no talent ? for them, having the latest brand means everything! Besides, the constant celebrity endorsements that surround us also add to it."
Indeed, it also has to do with identity theft. With rampant consumerism at an all-time high, if you allow yourself to be replaced by a bunch of designer labels, who exactly are you then?
"The pressure is a lot to keep up with what's 'in' because you get constantly judged by the people you meet," says model Sanea Shaikh. "And I have seen a lot of aspiring models who will do just about anything to be fashionable."
"There is a lack of understanding between happiness and success ? success can buy you pleasure but it can't buy you happiness," explains psychotherapist Varkha Chulani, who comes across cases of affluenza practically everyday. "The answer simply lies in defining what we value and what brings us peace of mind."
So, still think Paris Hilton should run for President? Erm, help is at hand!
Daily News & Analysis: Suffering from affluenza?
Mar 5, 2007
Materialism not a good match for marriage: study
NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - People who put a lot of weight on luxury vacations or designer decor may end up not being the perfect match in marriage, according to U.S. research.
Wives or husbands who place high value on possessions are more likely to experience financial problems, which puts a strain on the relationship, according to the first study analyzing how material satisfaction affected marriage.
The study showed that very materialistic couples had a 40 percent higher risk of having financial problems than other couples which can then impact marital happiness.
"For years there has been an emphasis on learning proper saving and budgeting techniques to avoid marital conflict over financial issues," said the author of the study, Jason Carroll, of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
"But our study found that financial problems have as much to do with how we think about money as they do with how we spend money," he added.
After studying 600 married couples who represented a varied ethnic, religious and socio-economic mix, he found about 35 percent reported high levels of materialism and more financial problems than the other couples.
Carroll discovered materialistic spouses put more emphasis on what they have and it took fewer financial problems to cause rifts.
"For a highly materialistic spouse or couple, it takes less financial disturbance to trigger a financial problem," Carroll said in a statement.
"Some would say, 'I'm not living a good life and I don't have a good marriage if we can't afford to go on that vacation or purchase designer decor for our home,' where a less materialistic spouse would not view these limitations as a major issue."
He added that the key to solving financial problems in marriage is to have realistic expectations and to separate needs from wants.
By lowering expectations, spouses are less likely to buy unnecessary things and can avoid argument and stress in the marriage. It could also make people more appreciative of what they have.
"We need to rethink the idea that financial problems are always money problems," said Carroll.
Reuters: Materialism not a good match for marriage: study
Nov 20, 2007
by Forrest Sanders, Style Weekly
It's a disastrous epidemic that's spreading from coast to coast, but this disease isn't harming your health, it's impacting your wallet. The name of the disease is Affluenza, the disease of affluence or the desire to appear wealthy.
You may laugh but doctors are actually getting involved in treating Affluenza.
Overspending is quite different from other addictions. Unlike someone with a gambling disorder or a person who abuses alcohol, a shopaholic can't just stop spending money cold turkey.
With this in mind, some doctors are saying a drug is the only way to cure a shopaholic during a time when Affluenza runs rampant.
Self-professed shopaholic Daniella has a taste for the finer things in life.
"Usually, if I go window shopping, I don't leave empty handed, so I really have to make an effort, to not leave without buying something if I go to the mall," Daniella explained.
And while there's a lot filling the shelves of her closet, Daniella's just one of millions of overspenders across America, living in the society of excess.
So, what are Americans supposed to do, when everyone has to have a bigger TV set, a faster car and a nicer house than the Joneses next door?
Celexa is an antidepressant that's sometimes taken to treat obsessive compulsive disorder. Now, some doctors are saying it could be effective in treating a different disorder--overspending.
Stanford University researchers have even put Celexa to the test, using two dozen chronic overspenders as guinea pigs.
"In that study, three quarters of people stopped shopping, often in a couple of weeks of starting the drug," explained Dr. Lorrin Koran, of Stanford University.
So, if it works, why isn't this drug already being prescribed to shopaholics? Koran says the medical community has yet to accept the seriousness of an overspending condition.
"The people who come seeking this treatment, frequently, have been divorced. They've quite often had to declare bankruptcy multiple times because they couldn't control their spending," Koran said.
But at Living Hope Baptist Church, financial manager Mark Gilliam says treating money matters with medication, sounds drastic.
"I would think there needs to be a lot of steps between giving someone a prescription and the discovery of their problem," Gilliam explained.
Living Hope has an alternative for managing money, one that doesn't require a prescription.
Every Sunday, church members meet up for small discussion groups.
Here, they discuss how to avoid being taken in by advertising images on TV, while also holding each other accountable for their spending decisions.
"Being in that group confirms that you are not the only one who's done something stupid with money. Then, there's the encouragement of thinking, it's still going to be difficult moving forward, but we can do this together," Gilliam said.
But no matter whether it's better to take your treatment with a sip of water, or just talk out your problems, the solution for overspending is all up to each individual shopaholic.
"Me, personally? I think you can do that with your mind without taking pills. Clothes are not that important," Daniella admitted.
Dr. Koran added that while he fully expects a drug to someday be marketed toward overspenders, it will likely be a decade before a shopaholic pill is taken seriously enough for that to happen.
wbko: Curing Affluenza
Blame the Rich, They made us who we are, some researches now say
by Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, December 2007
On a beautiful summer day in 1899, the fabulously wealthy Alva Vanderbilt Belmont sponsored a "motor carriage" parade on the lawn of her "cottage" in Newport, Rhode Island. The festivities included an obstacle course of dummy policemen, nursemaids and babies in carriages, with a prize going to the driver who "killed" the fewest of these innocent bystanders. Alva's son Willie K. went on to sponsor the first major trophy in American auto racing. (And at an early Vanderbilt Cup race, an innocent bystander was killed for real.)
So let's add auto racing to the long list of great ideas brought to you by what Canadian archaeologist Brian Hayden calls "triple-A" self-aggrandizers?people who are aggressive, acquisitive and ambitious about getting what they want. Hayden acknowledges that other words starting with "a" may also come to mind. Arrogant, say. Or even alarming.
But let's just call them rich.
In our hearts, we like to think that all the great ideas and inventions have come from salt-of-the-earth, self-made men and women. But students of "affluenza," the social condition of being rich and wanting to be richer, have lately come to credit rich people as the driving force behind almost every great advance in civilization, from the agricultural revolution to the indoor toilet.
This is of course a disconcerting idea, even for the researchers who have proposed it. And plenty of other researchers say they are wrong. But before we crank up our moral dudgeon, we should know that the rich in question are almost certainly family. Like it or not, we are probably descended from them, according to Michigan anthropologist Laura Betzig.
High status has almost always translated into reproductive success, not just in the animal world, but for humans, too. This phenomenon started back in our hunter-gatherer days, when the men who brought home the most meat won the most mates, and it has continued up through the likes of J. Paul Getty and Donald Trump. Betzig's research piled up historical examples, including extreme cases such as the Aztec strongman Montezuma, said to have kept 4,000 concubines, and a Chinese emperor whose harem numbered in the tens of thousands. On a lesser scale, the big houses of the British countryside before World War I often accommodated 10 to 20 servants, who were typically young, female and single. "Housemaid Heights," Betzig argues, functioned as a de facto harem for upper-class males. Thus an 1883 investigation in Scotland found that domestic servants accounted for almost half of out-of-wedlock births.
Other researchers have noted the baby-making propensities of alpha males among the Ache Indians of Paraguay and Venezuela's Yanomami. One found that the pinstriped chieftains on the 1982 Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans were out-reproducing their fellow citizens by as much as 38 percent.
But what difference does that make?
Not much, it seemed to Gregory Clark when he was first thinking about why the Industrial Revolution started in Britain, rather than in China, say, or India. Clark, an economist at the University of California at Davis, knew that in the past, British cities had an appalling mortality rate and prospered only by consuming a large annual crop of newcomers from the countryside. So he assumed that modern British people were, as he put it in a recent interview, "the remnants of rural idiocy"?that is, descended from less energetic, less educated types who stayed put on their farms. (The assumption was perhaps a byproduct of Clark's having grown up in an Irish Catholic family in Scotland, a pedigree unlikely to produce either Anglophilia or an admirer of the rich.) But his opinion changed when he undertook a detailed analysis of 3,500 British wills from 1250 to 1650, looking particularly at wealth and reproduction.
"To my surprise, there was a very powerful effect," says Clark. "The wealthy had many more children." He wasn't looking at the aristocracy, who tended to get killed in wars and power struggles (or to wane because of reproductive ennui). Instead, he looked at the enterprising gentry, people a notch or two down the social hierarchy, who devoted their lives to commerce and died in bed. "They had four surviving children in a society where the average was two," Clark says.
Other researchers have argued that the Industrial Revolution got started, in Britain in the 18th century, on the strength of coal and colonies. But in his new book, A Farewell to Alms, Clark proposes that what really made the difference was this "survival of the richest." In the relatively stable British climate after 1200, with limited resources and little population growth, "the superabundant children of the rich" inevitably moved down the economic ladder, displacing poor families. And something of their privileged past went with them. "The attributes that would ensure later economic dynamism?patience, hard work, ingenuity, innovativeness, education?were thus spreading biologically throughout the population," Clark writes.
This change may well have been "completely cultural," Clark says. But he is clearly more interested in the possibility that Darwinian evolution?with disease, accidents and starvation driving less successful families onto the scrapheap of history?produced a genetic change in the British people, preparing them better than those of other nations for commercial success.
He readily acknowledges that the idea is fraught with difficulty. A faculty petition had just prompted his university to disinvite a scheduled speaker, economist and former Harvard president Larry Summers, because of Summers' profoundly controversial 2005 suggestion of a genetic difference in science aptitude between men and women. This all makes Clark uneasy, he says, because his book "suggests that there might be a genetic difference between Europeans and Australian aboriginals." Then he adds: "Not that Europeans are smarter, just that they may be better adapted to a capitalist society."
An adaptation that particularly interests Clark has to do with "time preference," which can take the form of patience and long-term planning in some people and an impulsive urge for immediate gratification in others. When forms of such a trait already exist in a population, Clark says, natural selection could rapidly make one form predominant, just as blue eyes or fair skin can come to predominate. Thus the surplus reproduction of the rich may have turned England into the birthplace of industrial manufacturing by replacing impulsive traits with the slow and steady. "It may just be the drudges that have been left," Clark says. (Maybe that's why the British became known as a "nation of shopkeepers.")
But why didn't the same kind of evolution take place in other countries? In China and Japan, the rich seem not to have been so fertile, Clark writes. (The historical data for India doesn't exist, as far as he knows.) Moreover, the population in China tripled in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution, and in Japan it quintupled. So natural selection may not have been killing off the poor quite so remorselessly as in Britain, where the size of the population remained the same.
Other scholars have praised the detailed research and ambitious scope of Clark's work. But they have also questioned whether genetic, or even cultural, transmission of behavioral traits from rich ancestors is enough to explain the Industrial Revolution. Economists still generally argue that good institutions are the primary factor in such big leaps forward, because they make people feel sufficiently secure to focus patiently on long-term gain. And recent evidence suggests that when institutions change, as they have in China, Japan and India, people there seem quite capable of adapting to capitalism.
There is, however, another way the rich may have helped make us who we are: by their knack for "extreme selfishness." Like many scholars, Brian Hayden, an archaeologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, believed that leaders generally served the common good. Then he interviewed people in traditional Mayan villages about how their leaders had helped out during droughts and famines.
"I was completely blown away by the results," he recalled recently. "Instead of helping the community, people in power took advantage to sell food at exorbitant prices, or they hoarded food and wouldn't share it, or they used food in trade to take over land." In the ethnographic literature on traditional societies around the world, Hayden found frequent accounts of despots and psychopaths?leaders who took what they wanted even when it meant disaster for their neighbors. He came to think that the rich and powerful?his triple-A types?played a dual role in society. On one hand, they bent laws, exploited neighbors, seized every little advantage. On the other, their gaudy pursuit of status also made them role models who produced, or served as patrons for, all kinds of shiny new inventions.
Hayden's research focused on how "big men" in early cultures used feasts to build political alliances, arrange marriages or simply make lavish displays of wealth. Some feasts obliged rival leaders to return the honor?and generally one-up it. Other archaeologists regard the proliferation of feasts 10,000 or 12,000 years ago as a byproduct of the first successful attempts at domesticating crops. But Hayden argues that feasts may actually have caused the agricultural revolution. As in high society today, a brutally competitive round of feasts forced desperate hosts to seek ever fancier new foods and drinks?not only staples, but also delicacies. So they may have domesticated wheat not for bread, but for beer. They domesticated status foods, such as the chili pepper and the avocado. (Think guacamole.) They cultivated chocolate for the Mesoamerican rich.
Melinda Zeder, a specialist in the origins of agriculture at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, dismisses this as the "food-fight theory." The idea that competitive feasting led to the domestication of plants and animals "doesn't work," she says. "It's wrong from beginning to end. It does not jibe with the archaeological record." Hayden counters that there is archaeological evidence for his ideas. Moreover, he says his emphasis on the importance of hierarchy makes perfect sense to people who have lived with triple-A types in traditional cultures. Only academics who believe in the egalitarian character of traditional societies "don't get it," he says. "They think it has to be for the common good."
Even if crediting the rich with the agricultural revolution seems like a stretch, Hayden has marshaled plenty of other evidence that triple-A types have repeatedly driven the development of new technologies for the purpose of displaying their prestige?textiles, for instance, and metalworking, glass, indoor plumbing and illuminated books. Then the sweaty mob imitates them, gradually figuring out how to make prestige items more cheaply and put them to practical use.
This may sound like trickledown theory revisited. Or like a new take on social Darwinism, the 19th-century idea that the strong somehow end up smarter, fitter, more deserving?and richer. But the new affluenza theorists say that they're just explaining the way things work, not defending it. Hayden concludes that the status-grabbing, triple-A aggrandizers have created the world as we know it. But in their other lives as pirates, these same people have caused "90 percent of the world's problems" with a casual tendency to "ruin the lives of others, erode society and culture, and degrade the environment."
If he's right, the moral of the story might go something like this: the next time you come face to face with the rich and powerful among us, do the right thing and say, "Thanks for the secondhand status symbols." Then run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
Richard Conniff, a longtime contributor, is the author of The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide.
Smithsonian: Blame the Rich, They made us who we are, some researches now say
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