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25 June, 2008

Consumers are feeling the pain...

Location: NBC nightly news
Mood: disgusted

We are not humans anymore. We are not people. We are not persons. We are not beings. We are not entities. We are not creatures. We are not animals. We are not citizens. We are not members of society. We are not spirits in the material world. We are not primates. We are not homonids. We are not homo sapiens. We are not individuals. We are not characters. We are not players in the game of life. We are most definitely not souls.

No.

We are consumers.

That is what we are. That is what they call us in the media. And that is how we are viewed by both our government and by corporations. And it is fucking depressing.

I was watching the NBC news last night with Brian Williams (who I like, even though he pretty much looks exactly like every other news anchor because apparently they've decided that there is a face that a news anchor must have, or else he will not be taken seriously, or possibly they want them all to look alike so if you are looking for Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings (RIP) and you accidentally stumble upon Brian Williams, you don't change the channel because he looks familiar enough, but I digress).

So... watching news at the gym, because I only had 28 songs in my mp3 player for reasons that are too complex, boring, and frustrating to explain to you at this time, and they were doing a segment (which I really wanted to refer to as a "skit", since all news is starting to feel like it is more about entertainment and ratings than about information). And in this "segment" they were discussing how the economy is tough right now, and food is expensive, and goods are getting expensive, and gas is expensive, and homes are losing value, and all that. Ironically, on FOX News, they're telling us that the economy is strong, and that with the exception of ONE year (2001), we have had positive economic data for every year of Bush's Administration. I think it's entertaining that they keep touting these low unemployment numbers. I seem to recall hearing that a caveat to unemployment is that you are not included in unemployment statistics if you are not any longer on the lists of people looking for work. In fact, I would like to know what "unemployment numbers" reflect. Is it "people collecting unemployment benefits"? Because that would be a laugh! You could improve employment data by refusing to pay unemployment benefits for more and more people! Whatever.

So the point I am getting at here is that in this segment, they kept referring to us as "consumers". And they didn't say it once. They didn't say it twice. If I had counted, I think that in a 90 second segment, they probably said the word "consumer" at least 15 times, and said the word "people" exactly zero times.

"Consumers are feeling the pain at the gas pumps"
"Consumers are experiencing anxiety about decreasing home values"
"One consumer said that she was having a hard time making ends meet"
"Consumer confidence may be heading toward a new low"

Consumers are getting pissed off at repeatedly being referred to in such a derogatory manner.

The worst part is that when you really think about it, the word "consumer" is actually a very insulting term, that has been used for decades with a relatively positive connotation. What we mean is "people who need to buy things - working people who are contributing to, or participating in our economy". This should be synonymous with "citizens" in a place where everyone has the power to buy stuff and work, but I guess in America there needs to be a distinction!

But what "consumer" means, literally, is "one who consumes". And what is it to "consume"?

Let's go to our trusty online dictionary (http://www.m-w.com is my source of choice):
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Main Entry:
con·sume
Pronunciation:
\kən-ˈsüm\
Function:
verb
Inflected Form(s):
con·sumed; con·sum·ing
Etymology:
Middle English, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French consumer, from Latin consumere, from com- + sumere to take up, take, from sub- up + emere to take — more at sub-, redeem
Date:
14th century
transitive verb
1
: to do away with completely : destroy consumed several buildings>
2 a
: to spend wastefully : squander b: use up consumed much of his time>
3 a
: to eat or drink especially in great quantity <consumed several bags of pretzels> b: to enjoy avidly : devour consumes for fun — E. R. Lipson>
4
: to engage fully : engross <consumed with curiosity>
5: to utilize as a customer <consume goods and services>

intransitive verb
1: to waste or burn away : perish
2
: to utilize economic goods

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Nice. So, we the people are essentially those who "spend wastefully, devour, squander, destroy" and all that stuff. Oh yeah, and to utilize economic goods. They throw that in there too. But it only has that meaning in the 20th century context of post-industrial revolution economics. The word has been around a lot longer (600 years!) and I am almost certain that it is not a cosmic compliment that we're are referred to by our powers-that-be as "consumers".

Tell me where I'm wrong?

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