In my favorite section of David Mitchell’s brilliant Cloud Atlas, Sonmi-451 is a clone who works in a fast-food restaurant in near-future Korea, a society ruled by corporcracy (a government of corporations).
In this seemingly utopian world, citizens are consumers, and their purpose in life is to spend. Commonplace items are known by their brand-names: a theater is a disneyarium, a video display is a sony, a vehicle is a ford. Television is not TV, but AdV. The word “democratic” is a pejorative.
Though there are many layers to the story of Sonmi-451, it is, at its heart, an indictment of consumer culture, and the modern society we’ve built around the “religion” of consumption.
You are an individual, but you are also a member of a global community. Most important of all, you are a consumer. As a member of this community, it is your duty to consume. Why? Because the system would collapse if you stopped spending.
The Good Consumer was produced by Bonfire of the Brands, and purports to be an instructional video explaining how to be a good consumer. It offers tips like these:
- “A good consumer is always buying new products.”
- “The golden rule of consumption is to concentrate on buying the things that you want, as opposed to the things that you really need.”
- “The good consumer follows fashion.”
- “Household brands are your friends.”
- “The good consumer does not wait to replace her possessions when they wear out.”
- “Consumption is good for the environment; the more you consume, the more you can recycle.”
- “Remember: consume for happiness.”
Obviously, the entire film is an exercise in irony. It’s meant to dissuade consumerism, not encourage it. One of the benefits of taking control of your personal finances is that, in general, you find the siren call of the consumer lifestyle less appealing. When you learn that you can be satisfied with what you have, you’re less bothered by what you don’t.