Consumerism has become the cornerstone of the post-industrial age. Yet how much do we know about it and what it is doing to us? Using theories of evolutionary psychology to underpin a bold narrative of our times, Consumed is a film that takes a whirlwind tour through the “weird mental illness of consumerism”, showing how our insatiable appetite has driven us into “the jaws of the beast”.
By the age of 20, the average westerner has seen one million commercial messages. With this kind of exposure, it is impossible to live in the modern world without being a product of consumer society.
Now psychologists, like Geoffrey Miller, are saying that it is distorting the way we interact with the world and each other: “We’ve all kind of gone collectively psychotic”. Evolutionary theory says we are indistinct from animals and so have two primary subconscious motives: survival and attracting a mate.
As modern society has taken care of our survival, “we spend more time thinking about social and sexual issues than any animal has had the luxury of doing in the history of life on Earth”. According to scientists this has led to an obsession with ‘prestige’ or our rank in society, something that in consumer society has become synonymous with consumption.
“The principal way you’re supposed to display your mental traits now is through your purchases.” Manipulating our innermost impulses, capitalism has begun to not only reflect our evolutionary tendencies but also to amplify and distort them. Creating an environment in which consumption takes the place of traditional human interaction, “consumers are neglecting to develop the crucial naturally romantic traits, saying instead, ‘I’ve got a Porsche out front'”.
Yet this capitalist system, which fits so neatly with our animalistic traits, is not making us happy. One of the great conundrums is that in an age of plenty, addictions, depression and mental health issues are becoming part of everyday conversation.