Sensitive New Age Greedheads Last week I tuned in to watch an interesting-sounding program called "Affluenza" on my local PBS station. The premise of this show was admirable. Too many of us spend too much money that we don't have on things we don't need, they said. This is silly and wasteful, and in the end it doesn't really make us happy. The alternative is to spend less of what we have on only the things we need. By following this alternative, we free up time and money to find enjoyment and fulfillment in the people and ideas that we care about.

Do What I Say...

What's the Affluenza show all about? The show's web page puts it plainly:

men and women who are working and shopping
less, spending more time with friends
and family, volunteering in their communities and enjoying it more

Since the web site more or less mirrors the show itself, let's check out the site and see what they're all about.

How can we kick the Affluenza bug? The first thing we can do is to stop shopping:

The urge to shop is sometimes strong, and it's the result of the manipulations of crafty advertisers:

What are the alternatives to shopping? Well, we could rely on our friends for the things we need:

Or maybe we could use the local library to check materials out rather than buying them:

Not What I Do...

The show offers great-sounding advice. Unfortunately, the folks who made the Affluenza video and web site don't follow their own advice, and it seems they don't want you to, either. Here's what we found on the very same site:

Whoa, Nellie! What gives? Shouldn't we, like, check it out at the library or something? The PBS program ends the same way, with an announcement that we can buy our own copy for $29.95 plus $5.00 shipping and handling. This announcement is aired without the slightest hint of irony.

But wait, it gets even weirder. The video only costs $35 if you promise to only show the video to yourself or your family. If you want to show it to anyone else, the price jumps up to $65 for grassroots organizations and $250 for everybody else. In other words, the producers of Affluenza create a disincentive for people to save their money and stop the wasteful consumption of consumer products. Whoopsie.

irregular actionAnother teensy problem involves the people featured on the show: almost all of them used to earn six figure incomes - that's over $100,000 every year. Take, for instance, the humble story of the corporate lawyer who, after putting his children through college and living high on the hog, decided money wasn't so important after all. He quit, bummed around for a few months, then ponied up some cash for massage therapy classes. Now that he's found his true calling, he leads a centered and earthy-crunchy life - complete with cable-knit sweaters and Sensitive New Age Guy glasses.

While it touches my heart to hear this story and others like it, they really don't speak to me or the hundreds of millions of people across the country like me. I earn $12,000 every year, about one-tenth what the corporate lawyer raked in. The vast majority of Americans are more like me than him. For him, simple living is a choice. For the rest of us, simplicity is a necessity. We're convinced already because we have trouble feeding our selves and our children. He becomes convinced after his Lexus doesn't satisfy his inner child. Gimme a break! If PBS really wished to reach the Public, it might spend a bit less time patting sensitized members of the upper crust on the back.

But forgive me, I am mistaken. The makers of Affluenza and other members of the voluntary simplicity community aren't tailoring their message to poor working folks, in part because they can't afford those videos for $35, those books for $40, or those seminars for simple living. The seminars take place in corporate boardrooms, and the books and videos are marketed to attract people who can buy them. The rest of us are largely irrelevant, because we can't and won't pay the simplicity consultants' bills.

If you're really interested in stopping the wasteful and unnecessary consumption of expensive consumer products, not buying the Affluenza video is a great way to start. Instead of watching the video once at home and letting it sit on your shelf, try visiting websites like Adbusters that aren't trying to sell you something on the sly. And if, like most of us, you aren't sitting on a luxurious source of income and simplicity is a necessity rather than a choice, you could look up the number of your local Consumer Credit Counseling Services, a non-profit agency dedicated to helping you get out or stay out of debt. Unlike the Affluenza folks, these guys practice what they preach.

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