America’s Interest in Consumption. Glenn Beck’s Interest in Distraction.

by Tom Barry, Social Sciences

In last week’s Conx posting, Tina Hovekamp invited people into the world of mass consumption and stuff.  As indicated in that posting, the short film Story of Stuff has attracted significant attention for those interested in, and concerned about, mass consumption. It has also drawn criticism for providing an unbalanced view of capitalism and consumption. 

A few months ago someone suggested I watch the film.  I did.  In less than thirty minutes, the film provides an overview, albeit oversimplified, of mass consumption and our economic and cultural dependence on it.  As a sociologist and academic, my assessment is that the filmmakers laid out some general ideas about mass consumption.  But because of their target audience, a younger general public demographic, as well as the time constraints, the film did not provide much statistical and analytical depth. 

As I read Tina’s Conx posting, I was curious about what others found fault in the film.  To start my archeological dig into discovering the criticisms, I simply typed the film’s title into the Google search engine. I scrolled down the top hits.  The top two hits were for the Story of Stuff video site.  The third links to a commentary provided by Glenn Beck, the conservative Fox News pundit.  Regardless of the title he chooses to wear, he is not a journalist, educator, nor academic.  He is a pundit.  In fact, he would likely cringe at the prospects of being called an academic.  And that is a benefit to academia, for him to claim that title would undermine academia’s engagement in seeking discourse, debate, and analysis. 

The fifth hit down is for a Fox News link.  The title of this link is “Viral Video ‘The Story of Stuff’ is Full of Misleading Numbers.”  I went to the link to find out more about the misleading numbers.  Unfortunately, the link did not provide analysis.  It only provided hollow critiques that indicated a more direct political agenda than could be argued for the actual film Story of Stuff.  Glenn Beck’s inflammatory and unsubstantiated criticisms do not speak to what is invalid about the film, but rather, in a strange way, the film’s validity.  By this I mean, a valid critique would break down the Story of Stuff argument, examine the evidence, and draw conclusions.  A critique founded on this analytical approach, would add to our collective knowledge and further engage people in the search for perspective and truth.  If Glenn Beck and Fox News really were to offer a true analysis of the film, we would all benefit from being more informed.  But, as I said, Beck and Fox News are not interested in weighing the evidence or positions provided in the film.  If they did, then some of the links made between mass consumption, globalization, capitalism, environmental pollution, and compromising social welfare would be supported.  And this would bring into question the limitations of free-market capitalism as a solution to all of our social ills. 

Aside from the shallow criticism made about the film, the Story of Stuff is reflection of a larger social pulse.  In recent years, many documentary films, such as this year’s Academy Award nominated Food, Inc., and popular press books, such as Fast Food Nation, have drawn the interest of a public concerned about the interrelationships between mass consumption, governmental policy, community welfare, and people’s struggle for economic survival.  Rather than shutting down this debate about capitalism, we would better served by advancing the debate.


3 Responses to America’s Interest in Consumption. Glenn Beck’s Interest in Distraction.

  1. Michael Van Meter says:

    Interesting thoughts — and certainly we would all benefit from thoughtful critiques of “Story of Stuff,” “Food Inc.,” and the like. My greatest disappointment with films like this is that they don’t meaningfully advance the discussion beyond the same old stuff or the same old audience. To apply that thought to “Food Inc.”: Really, are we ever going to get beyond Michael Pollan and suggest something that will actually change our disgusting habits? (Pollan himself has asked this question, notably regarding the issue of foodie price gouging; there’s not been much eager response.)

    I think the primary merit of Sean’s suggestion is that the size of an audience drawn by Colbert visiting Beck might further the goal of moving toward actual engagement by viewers outside the choir that would be drawn to Charlie Rose. The suggestion is also a heartwarming reminder that the 2004 appearance of Jon Stewart on Crossfire led to the show’s cancellation. 🙂

    A language nitpick: I think calling Glenn Beck a “pundit” is a disservice to the word and its etymology. Yes, it has recent history of being used as a disparaging term, but even at its most disparaging still implies _some_ level of preparation and thought.

  2. Sean says:

    Bravo, Tomas!

    We should get Stephen Colbert on Beck’s show to debate this film. Then we’d get somewhere.

    • Tom Barry says:

      Getting Beck and Colbert together would be entertaining. Whether it was informative would be an entirely different question. Colbert provokes thought and reaction but no real analysis. If Charlie Rose would agree to moderate a round table discussion on capitalism and consumption and invite Noam Chomsky to the table with Beck and Colbert, then we could indeed start to get somewhere.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: