Affluenza by John de Graaf

In the book Affluenza, John de Graaf and his team of authors also present an analysis of other symptoms of Affluenza, such as commercial television, inhumane working and living conditions for the lower classes and the culture of living in perpetual debt.  Commercialized television, for instance, has been the preferred medium for advertisers to encourage consumption of their products.  The authors assert that the program content is secondary to the advertisement slots being filled.  In what is a radically new way of looking at television programs, the soap operas or reality shows were so construed to keep the audience glued to their seats when the commercials arrive on screen.  In this context, it is not difficult to imagine the basis and thrust of the program content.  The steady decline in the quality of television programs can be understood within this analytic framework.  Moreover, mainstream broadcast content is full of portrayals of physical violence.  The car chases and domestic disputes that are the staple of mainstream television have a desensitizing effect on the audience, an effect that can potentially affect their personal lives (de Graaf et. al, p.57).

The late twentieth century American corporation is notorious for its brutal suppression of any kind of worker solidarity.  In spite of being the most industrialized nation in the world, American industries have the dubious distinction of having no significant trade unions.  The minimum wage rights of physical laborers in America were won only toward the end of the century.  Even then, millions of Americans from the lower socio-economic strata live hazardous lives without the security of health insurance and job security.  This stark reality is no where more evident than in the present times of economic recession, with unemployment rates reaching as high as 8.5%.  As the unemployment figures rise further in the coming months, the demographic groups that would suffer most are poor men and women.  Under pressure to survive, many Americans don’t have any other option than to resort to getting into debts.  John de Graaf asserts that there are two types of debt.  The first one is a result of the economic inequalities of capitalist America and is a result of failed democratic policies than individual greed or conspicuous consumption.  The second kind of debt is a manifest symptom of Affluenza, wherein the individual indulges in conspicuous consumption because he/she is indoctrinated into believing that the only good life that is possible is through conspicuous consumption (de Graaf et. al, p.125).  At a time when the national budged deficit is at precarious levels, the perpetration of this kind of materialistic culture can spell disaster for the entire country.

Poor working conditions and lack of worker empowerment compels poor Americans to resort to debt through credit cards, mortgages and other means.  This cycle reinforces itself, and consequently more and more people fall into the debt trap.  And when finally the instances of repayment default gets out of hand, the entire economy crashes.  Such meltdowns are a periodic event in the history of American capitalism.  As the authors of Affluenza suggest, until more regulatory mechanisms are incorporated to provide checks and balances to the economic system, these distressing episodes with continue to recur, adding more misery to the already endangered lives of poor Americans (de Graaf et. al, p.205).

Works Cited:

 John de Graaf, David Wann & Thomas H. Naylor, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, ISBN 978-1-57675-357-6.