Ethical reading: 'Retail Therapy' by Andy Hickford review

'Retail Therapy' 

Andy Hickford 

Published by Verite CM Ltd in 2011

"An invitation to help you think about shopping and consuming - things that are so much part of our every day life that we take them for granted and hardly ever notice their effect."

In purchasing this book, I hoped it would teach me something new about consumerism. 

In finishing this book, I have two new titles to read in the hope that they will be the one to teach me something new about consumerism. 
(The paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz
Consumer Detox by Mark Powley)

I was totally unaware that the book was about Christian living and the effect consumerism has on religion - which according to Hickford, is that our wester consumer society takes people away from God rather than bringing people closer to him...

This book would be great for someone who is new to the problems of consumerism or is very interested in the Christian faith in modern society.

However for me, as someone who is neither Christian or unaware of the key problems with consumerism - this book was a quick 20 minute read to get me to sleep.

Hickford opens the book by telling us that it was the Christianity magazine that first got him researching in to consumerism, so he could write an article for them - which would pay for him to take his friend to visit a project in India.

Before diving in to the first chapter, Hickford includes a brief glossary including the definitions of terms including retail therapy, comfort buys, the free market and consumerism :

"Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts with the belief that it is good for a society or an individual person to buy and use a large quantity of goods and services."

The first chapter flows from discussing a long history of unintended consequences particularly in politics.  From there Hickford points out that asking what our consumption is doing to us is a bit like asking a goldfish what the water is like - it totally immerses and surrounds us to the point where its hard to separate ourselves from it.

My favourite quote from the book comes in the next chapter 
"Many decisions we make are so small that they appear totally insignificant to the overall shape of our lives but when the same decision is repeated a thousand times it becomes a life defining habit. Experts on the brain tell us that the little electrical impulses called neurological pathways form between two points in the brain every time we say or do something. The more often we repeat them the stronger and the more influential these neurological pathways become."

Chapter 2 is where my highlighter went a little crazy, Hickford points out that "marketing has become the most sophisticated system for forming and exciting basic human desire that the world has ever seen." and that in some markets advertising is used to make people feel dissatisfies and anxious about choices they have already made. He goes on to tell us how consuming is a way of purchasing personal meaning and identity and a way of connecting with other people, where as misdirection in marketing makes people feel like they have done something good and honourable by buying something small like cereal.

"Why the Devil takes Visa - 
Consumerism today trains us to buy large HD screen TVs before sorting out life insurance and a pension when we already have a perfectly good TV already and no money to buy another regardless."

Other notable quotes from this chapter include: 

"The great irony of consumerism is that no product can live up to its own marketing"

"Owning things is ultimately a disillusioning experience"

"Marketing multiplies our desires faster than they can be fulfilled."

For me, Chapter three was far too religiously focussed to keep my attention, but the introduction to chapter four caught my attention 

"It was an iconic moment in the history of Spring harvest - a packed big top was listening avidly to the compelling oratory of Tony Campolo, when, with the gravelly drawl of the provocative prophet he roared "During this message tonight, thousands of children around the world will die due to malnutrition and we dont give a shit". There were one or two gasps of shock but most people just sat there in stunned silence. Those with hearing aids checked their batteries [...] It was the late 1980's- this was a big deal. Campolo let the silence linger and then with perfect and in a much quieter voice delivered the killer line - "And what's more, you are more concerned that I said shit". 
It was genius. In two sentences he had exposed the dualism that runs like a fault line through the faith of western Chrsitans, the skewed priorities that taught us to focus on issues of personal morality like swearing yet at the same time be virtually blind to the issues of our global responsibility to the poor."

In this chapter Hickford also makes an important point of saying that no one consciously chooses to work others to the point of death for an item of clothing- but we participate in an economy that does. He then goes on to dive a little bit in to the injustices in the free market and about how it undermines democracy and deters reform.

The last chapter has a more forward looking, positive tone and suggests some possible solutions.

"Real , authentic, lasting joy is the ultimate answer in a world of marketed products promising a counterfeit, temporary and disillusioning joy"

- We need to practice the disciplines of detachment from material possessions because consumerism wants us to become people who are attached to things in the sense that we find joy in stuff and learn to focus our hopes and dreams on the next product we buy.

" The disciplines of attachment start with learning to appreciate deeply everything we already have. Becoming more grateful for everything is essential in this. Like all these disciplines, constantly expressing gratitude over time 'wires up' the neurological pathways in our brains to think in a certain way. Instead of always wanting something else like the adverts train us to, we become more content with hat we already have."

In the last words of the book Hickford talks about his church and tells the reader that all proceeds of the book are going to fund a project in India previously mentioned in the opening chapter.

Overall, this book was a 3/5 to me, not really what I was hoping for but not a total let down - there was a lot of room for further explanations in certain chapters and I think the title is really misleading - there is only a couple of mentions about 'Retail Therapy' throughout and there is a lot more mention of Christian teachings and lifestyles.

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Jess xx

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