Consuming Desires: Consumption Culture and the Pursuit of Happiness

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<p>Consider this paradox: Ecologists estimate that it would take three planets Earth to provide an American standard of living to the entire world. Yet it is that standard of living to which the whole world aspires.<p>In Consuming Desires, award-winning writer and social commentator Roger Rosenblatt brings together a brilliant collection of thinkers and writers to shed light on the triumphs and tragedies of that disturbing paradox. The book represents a captivating salon, offering a rich and varied dialogue on the underlying roots of
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1999-05-01 Hardcover New HARDCOVER, BRAND NEW COPY, Perfect Shape, No Black Remainder Mark, 522-709.

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Overview

<p>Consider this paradox: Ecologists estimate that it would take three planets Earth to provide an American standard of living to the entire world. Yet it is that standard of living to which the whole world aspires.<p>In Consuming Desires, award-winning writer and social commentator Roger Rosenblatt brings together a brilliant collection of thinkers and writers to shed light on the triumphs and tragedies of that disturbing paradox. The book represents a captivating salon, offering a rich and varied dialogue on the underlying roots of consumer culture and its pervasive impact on ourselves and the world around us. Each author offers a unique perspective, their layers of thoughts and insights building together to create a striking, multifaceted picture of our society and culture.<p>Jane Smiley probes the roots of consumerism in the emancipation of women from household drudgery afforded by labor-saving devices and technological innovation; Alex Kotlowitz describes the mutual reinforcement of fashion trends as poor inner-city kids and rich suburban kids strive to imitate each other; Bill McKibben discusses the significance, and the irony, of defining yourself not by what you buy, but by what you don't buy.<p>The essays range widely, but two ideas are central to nearly all of them: that consumption is driven by yearning and desire-often unspoken, seemingly insatiable-and that what prevents us from keeping our consumptive impulse in check is the western concept of self, the solitary and restless self, entitled to all it can pay for.<p>As Rosenblatt explains in his insightful introduction: "Individualism and desire are what makes us great and what makes us small. Freedom is our dream and our enemy. The essays touch on these paradoxes, and while all are too nuanced and graceful to preach easy reform, they give an idea of what reform means, where it is possible, and, in some cases, where it may not be as desirable as it appears."
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Individualism and desire, declares essayist and author Rosenblatt in his introduction to this collection of new essays by an array of distinguished writers, "are what make us great and... small." Most of these pieces address the contradictions inherent in our need to consume, our concepts of individuality and our position in the global economy. Rolling Stone correspondent William Greider hopes for a radical reconception of capitalism, in which the environmental cost of waste is factored in. Juliet Schor, author of The Overspent American, notes that consumerism is fueled as individuals use television programs, rather than neighbors, as points of reference. Journalist Alex Kotlowitz traces the tenuous link between fashion in the ghetto and the suburb. Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben acknowledges the irony in his desire to "consume nature" free of alteration by pesticides. New Press publisher Andre Schiffrin points out that the corporate pursuit of profit has stymied the substantial nonfiction of a generation past. Novelist Jane Smiley argues that consumerism rescued the American housewife, but can hardly be a global solution. While one solution here seems Pollyannaish--Suzanne Braun Levine's hope for an alliance between news consumers and news gatherers--Rosenblatt acknowledges that easy reform is difficult. Rather, he suggests that "a search of the self" might provoke us to seek balms from human connection rather than consumer goods. He may be right, but for many Americans, self-knowledge, like any consumer product, is best consumed in small, well-packaged doses. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Award-winning journalist Rosenblatt (Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969) brings together 13 well-known writers with varied perspectives on consumption in contemporary culture. Thoughtful essays by William Greider, Alex Kotlowitz, Jane Smiley, Martin Marty, and Stephanie Mills address journalism, publishing, film, ethnic relations, work and leisure, and ecology as these disparate areas influence and are influenced by consumption. If Consuming Desires is a richly woven tapestry, Goff and Fleisher's effort is a simple line drawing. Goff (economics, Western Kentucky Univ.) and Fleisher (economics, Metro State Univ.) argue that the widely reported wage stagnation among working Americans since 1970 is a politically motivated analysis. Their counteranalysis presents data on how much people spend and own as well as what kinds of products are available. They do not address rising consumer debt and bankruptcy or the contrast between the earnings of core and contingent workers, however. They conclude that Americans are discontented because unprecedented affluence has deleterious consequences for work effort, family cohesion, crime and punishment, and political decision making. Both titles are superior to James B. Twitchell's Lead Us into Temptation (LJ 6/1/99); a useful balance to Goff and Fleisher's economic argument is John E. Schwarz's Illusions of Opportunity (LJ 10/1/97).--Paula Dempsey, DePaul Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A learned assault on the present global addiction to things.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559635356
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 238
  • Product dimensions: 9.14 (w) x 6.26 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Rosenblatt
Roger Rosenblatt

Roger Rosenblatt's essays for Time magazine and PBS have won two George Polk Awards, the Peabody, and the Emmy. He is the author of six Off-Broadway plays and thirteen books, including the national bestseller Rules for Aging and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written two satirical novels, Beet and Lapham Rising, also a national bestseller. In 2008 he was appointed Distinguished Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
One World of Consumers 23
What's Wrong with Consumer Society? Competitive Spending and the "New Consumerism" 37
Consuming for Love 51
False Connections 65
Oh, Isaac, Oh, Bernard, Oh, Mohan 73
Consuming Nature 87
A News Consumer's Bill of Rights 97
When We Devoured Books 111
Movies and the Selling of Desire 123
The Ecology of Giving and Consuming 137
It All Begins with Housework 155
Equipoise 173
Can't Get That Extinction Crisis Out of My Mind 193
Notes 207
About the Authors 217
Index 221
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