Tim Longhurst's Blog

Are we a generation of sell-outs?

July 25th, 2005 · No Comments

In 1999, America’s Business Week magazine published this about “Generation Y”:

[Born] between 1979 and 1994… [they are] 60 million strong, more than three times the size of Generation X, they’re the biggest thing to hit the American scene since the 72 million baby boomers.”

Today, Melbourne’s The Age newspaper quoted Richard Neville on the same group:

“The iPod generation hold the key to the future…”

At first, the thought of being part of the iPod generation seemed ridiculous. What’s going on here? Can an entire generation be identified by our worship of an electronic gadget? It seemed to cheesy. Surely baby-boomer Neville had stumbled: there must be a greater glue bonding my generation than a portable music player? Perhaps something a little more noble, something a little less self-serving?

There probably is, but I think we’ll have to earn it.

Think of the iPod: it’s constructed using a cocktail of toxic chemicals, but not many owners would even be aware of that. There are more advanced, less expensive rival music players, but still some consumers pay a premium for the iPod because of its advertising-driven status. With a button, the iPod seperates owners from their community.

Uninformed, materialistic, disconnected. Yep, I guess a few of my peers are tuned-out iPod owners, but iPod Generation goes too far: when I look at my gen-Y friends, I see another picture.

We are informed. We know that information on the world and our place in it doesn’t come home-delivered on TV. Our understanding of the world also comes from the mp3’s, blogs, conversations with friends, family and strangers. We watch 7/9/10 news running dog-on-surfboard stories, and wonder when the billion-people-on-less-than-$1-a day stories are going to seem more important to the Baby Boomer news directors.

We’re not materialistic. Yes, we like to look nice and yes, we do like the idea of living in a house. But many of my friends have taken jobs
We can become known as the iDeal generation. Informed, values driven, connected.

This is a vision where we may not all have portable music players: we might not be defined by our possessions, but we might find ourselves a world worth living in.

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Category: Understanding people

July 4th: Dependence Day?

July 4th, 2005 · No Comments

the 4th of July. The United States government calls this
“Independence Day” and it’s true that in 1776 thirteen colonies
declared their independence from Great Britain. Sadly, however, a brief
exploration reveals that many Americans are among the most dependent
people in the world…

Dependent on Weapons of Mass Destruction

“In God we Trust” is written on the bank notes, but rather than relying
on God, the United States prefers to stock up on ammo. For every $100 of
military spending in the world, $47 is spent bulking up US “defense” –
including the maintenance of more than 10,000 nuclear warheads.
Source: The Brookings Institution

Dependent on Debt

Many Americans spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t
need to impress people they don’t like… The total US charge-card debt
has now reached over $1.5 trillion. That figure doesn’t include
mortgages, car loans or student loans. Americans are more dependent on
financial institutions and department stores than ever before.
Source: Fox News

Dependent on High Energy foods, despite Low Energy Lifestyles

You put calories in your body with food and you take them out with exercise: the balance hangs around your waist…

“Nearly two out of every three Americans are overweight or obese.” -US Surgeon General, July 16, 2003
Source: US Surgeon General

Dependent on Fossil Fuels – despite Climate Chaos
“The Kyoto treaty [which calls upon all nations to collectively address
climate ‘change’] would have wrecked our economy, if I can be blunt.” –
George W Bush, July 3, 2005
Source: Special Broadcasting Service

Dependent on “tax cut” Presidents that forsake the millions by rewarding millionaires

“Over two decades, the income gap has steadily increased between the
richest Americans, who own homes and stocks and got big tax breaks, and
those at the middle and bottom of the pay scale, whose paychecks buy
less.” – CBS News, 13 August, 2004

Rather than contributing to the systems that allow wealth to be
created, sustained and protected (by paying tax), the wealthy consider
tax an impost they deserve to avoid.

If it wasn’t for the state-run judicial system how would contracts be
enforced or patents protected? How would ‘property’ be defended without
a police department? Almost all measures of a person’s material wealth
are dependent upon the government’s protection.

The poor don’t rely on these forms of protection anywhere near to the
extent that the wealthy do, yet the wealthy have won successive tax
cuts, reducing their proportional contribution to government in recent years.
Source: CBS News

So instead of celebrating an event that occured in
1776, Americans may be better off declaring – and addressing – their current state of dependence.

Agree? Disagree? Post below.

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Category: Peace between people

Advertising keeps rich wanting more? Give me a break!

May 5th, 2005 · No Comments

RUSH MOTTLING is a guest columnist. While Rush’s views do not
reflect those of this website, we feel our readers deserve access to
ideas from a variety of perspectives. We hope you enjoy the words of
this popular and charismatic commentator.

ogilvy.jpg“While children are dying at a rate of 30 000 per day
because of poverty,” Tim Longhurst complains, “a billion-dollar advertising industry
exists to make sure that we in the West never feel we have enough.”

I’ve got a message for Tim Longhurst: where did you find the keyboard
to type that complaint? In your treehouse? Or did an ADVERTISEMENT tell
you about keyboards? Wake up, Longy, you’re an idiot.

Tim is, of course, commenting on research
that shows that 62% of Australians believe they “can’t afford the
things they really need”. Longhurst argues (unconvincingly) that the
vast majority of Australians are, by global standards, incredibly
wealthy and the vast majority have their basic needs met.
In the very statistic he quotes, Tim is showing how out of touch he is
with the Australian people: clearly 62% of Australians think he’s wrong.

Is all this ‘lack of contentment’ the
fault of advertising, purely because advertising encourages people to
want more things? I’m sorry, but I don’t see the link.

Let me tell you something – I never thought I’d use this column to
take sides, but it’s about time the battlers in the advertising
industry had a champion. I humbly accept that role.

At first glance, “a child dies from poverty every 3 seconds” seems like a compelling call to action, but let me ask you, have you ever met one of these “11 million children who die each year from poverty?” Even one? Of course you haven’t. So if this stopped happening, would you even notice?

Let’s imagine for a moment that you lobbied your government to contribute more funds for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and that you began supporting organisations that campaign to cancel crippling debt in developing countries. Even if you did create a ‘fairer world‘, how would that change your life? For one, you’d probably have less money to spend on things. Now who cares about the kids?

A world without poverty? You’re not in poverty, so let’s get some perspective on this issue.

A world without advertisements? Now that’s a scary place.
Without consumer brands, how would people find their sense of
individuality? Imagine walking into a bar and having no idea which
beverage best expressed your personality? How would people know if you
were a sophisticated, worldly type or a relaxed, happy-go-lucky type?
By meeting you? I don’t think so.

How would you even know which beer you liked? By taste testing? They
all taste about the same for goodness sake! The point that you and I
know, and obviously Tim has missed, is that brands allow us to cut corners. We don’t have to taste all the drinks on the shelf, we can narrow that list substantially to just the drinks we’ve heard of, and finally, to the drinks that we have an emotional connection
with. Advertising, dear Timothy, is how we connect people with
products. Advertising is useful because it relieves us from having to
work out our priorities for ourselves.

Advertising is the art of shaping priorities. If it just so happens
that the only people wise enough to invest millions of dollars shaping
the priorities of our citizens are corporations, then what do you
expect? Do you expect General Electric to turn around and get people
thinking about the kids who aren’t getting nourishment, or about the shiny new refrigerator they’re trying to sell? Get serious, Longhurst.

Rush Mottling is not real. He is made up.
Rush’s essays are published here with permission.

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Category: rush mottling

Are our leading ‘consumption critics’ simply ‘cultural snobs’?

April 28th, 2005 · No Comments

americanbeauty.jpgTHIS magazine in Canada has a great story about consumerism – how it works and why rebellious consumption won’t fix it… Essentially, the essay demonstrates that the protagonists of films such as Fight Club and American Beauty rebel by making dramatic shifts in their consumption choices, but continue to consume. The essay discusses how “rebelling” through consumption choices is what keeps economies rolling over. The article was written, ironically, to sell a book on the anti consumption movement.

It’s a long article, so I’ve lifted some of the main paragraphs and presented them as key points below.

The Rebel Sell – If we all hate consumerism, how come we can’t stop shopping?
BY JOSEPH HEATH AND ANDREW POTTER – Edited notes. Full essay available here. [editor’s note: unfortunately this resource is no longer available online and we have therefore removed the link]

Thomas Frank’s take on consumerism: books like No Logo, magazines like Adbusters, and movies like American Beauty do not undermine consumerism; they reinforce it. This isn’t because the authors, directors or editors are hypocrites, it’s because they’ve failed to understand the true nature of consumer society.

…What matters is the competitive structure of the consumption. Once too many people get on the bandwagon, it forces the early adopters to get off, in order to preserve their distinction. This is what generates the cycles of obsolescence and waste that we condemn as “consumerism.”

What we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction. People consume in order to set themselves apart from others. To show that they are cooler (Nike shoes), better connected (the latest nightclub), better informed (single-malt Scotch), morally superior (Guatemalan handcrafts), or just plain richer (bmws).

The problem is that all of these comparative preferences generate competitive consumption. “Keeping up with the Joneses,” in today’s world, does not always mean buying a tract home in the suburbs. It means buying
a loft downtown, eating at the right restaurants, listening to obscure bands, having a pile of Mountain Equipment Co-op gear and vacationing in Thailand. It doesn’t matter how much people spend on these things, what matters is the
competitive structure of the consumption. Once too many people get on the bandwagon, it forces the early adopters to get off, in order to preserve their distinction. This is what generates the cycles of obsolescence and waste that we condemn as “consumerism.”

[Naomi Klein in No Logo] complains about the commercialisation of her neighbourhood – these complaints nothing but an expression of this loss of distinction. What she fails to observe is that this distinction is precisely what drives the real estate market, what creates the value in these dwellings. People buy these lofts because they want a piece of Klein’s social status. Naturally, she is not amused. They are, after all, her inferiors—an inferiority that they demonstrate through their willingness to accept mass-produced, commercialized facsimiles of the “genuine” article… Emma Goldman, we are told, “the famed anarchist and labour organizer,” lived on [Klein’s] street! How exciting for Klein! What a tremendous source of distinction that must be.

Once we acknowledge the role that distinction plays in structuring consumption, it’s easy to see why people care about brands so much. Brands don’t bring us together, they set us apart. Of course, most
sophisticated people claim that they don’t care about brands—a transparent falsehood. Most people who consider themselves “anti-consumerist” are extremely brand-conscious. They are able to fool themselves into believing that they don’t care because their preferences are primarily negative. They would never be caught dead driving a Chrysler or listening to Celine Dion. It is precisely by not buying these uncool items that they establish their social

We find ourselves in an untenable situation. On the one hand, we criticize conformity and encourage individuality and rebellion. On the other hand, we lament the fact that our ever-increasing standard of material consumption is failing to generate any lasting increase in happiness. This is because it is rebellion, not conformity, that generates the competitive structure that drives the wedge between consumption and happiness. As long as we continue to prize individuality, and as long as we express that individuality through what we own and where we live, we can expect to live in a consumerist society.

In many cases, competition is an intrinsic feature of the goods that we consume. Economists call these “positional goods”—goods that one person can have only if many others do not. Examples include not only penthouse apartments, but also wilderness hikes and underground music. It is often claimed that a growing economy is like
the rising tide that lifts all boats. But a growing economy does not create more antiques, more rare art, or more downtown real estate, it just makes them more expensive. Many of us fail to recognize how much of our
consumption is devoted to these positional goods.

Furthermore, we are often forced into competitive consumption, just to defend ourselves against the nuisances generated by other people’s consumption. It is unreasonable, for example, for anyone living in a Canadian city to own anything other than a small, fuel-efficient car. At the same time, in many parts of the North
America, the number of big SUVs on the road has reached the point where people are forced to think twice before buying a small car. The SUVs make the roads so dangerous for other drivers that everyone has to consider buying a larger car just to protect themselves.

Because so much of our competitive consumption is defensive in nature, people feel justified in their choices. Unfortunately, everyone who participates contributes just as much to the problem, regardless of his or her intentions. It doesn’t matter that you bought the SUV to protect yourself and your children, you still bought it, and you still made it harder for other drivers to opt out of the automotive arms race. When it comes to consumerism,
intentions are irrelevant. It is only consequences that count.

This is why a society-wide solution to the problem of consumerism is not going to occur through personal or cultural politics. At this stage of late consumerism, our best bet is legislative action. If we were really worried about advertising, for example, it would be easy to strike a devastating blow against the “brand bullies” with a simple change in the tax code. The government could stop treating advertising expenditures as a fully
tax-deductible business expense
(much as it did with entertainment expenses several years ago). Advertising is already a separately itemized expense category, so the change wouldn’t even generate any additional paperwork. But this little tweak to the tax code would have a greater impact than all of the culture jamming in the world.

What we need to realize is that consumerism is not an ideology. It is not something that people get tricked into. Consumerism is something that we actively do to one another, and that we will continue to do as long as we have no incentive to stop. Rather than just posturing, we should start thinking a bit more carefully about how we’re going to provide those incentives.

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Category: culture jamming