47 pages 1 hour read

John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas Naylor


Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2001

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Important Quotes

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“AFFLUENZA (n.)—a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

(Introduction, Page 1)

This passage provides the definition of affluenza, a portmanteau combining the words “affluence” and “influenza.” As the formulation indicates, affluenza is a contagious social virus that infects its victims with a burning desire for overconsumption and exposes them to a number of harmful side-effects.

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“Did we Americans choose the consumptive way of life, or were we corralled into it with drumbeats of patriotism, social engineering, and economic fundamentalism? You already know what we think: that overconsumption has become the dominant trait of our culture. We Americans in particular try to meet individual needs like identity, expression, creativity, and belonging by owning and displaying our stuff. To find a mate, get a job, or be included in a certain circle of friends, we are expected to buy or have access to specific consumer goods—clothes, laptop computer, stylish car, magazines.”

(Chapter 2, Page 32)

In this passage, the authors provide a helpful formulation of some of their central claims in Affluenza. Overconsumption has come to define our collective and individual existences in the modern, developed world, and especially in the United States. Having certain things is the key to accessing a number of social and professional benefits; possessions are the common currency of everyday life.

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“‘Possession overload is the kind of problem where you have so many things, you find your life is being taken up by maintaining and caring for things instead of people,’ [Dr. Richard] Swenson says. ‘Everything I own owns me. People feel sad, and what do they do? They go to the mall and they shop, [which] makes them feel better, but only for a short time. There’s an addictive quality in consumerism. But it simply doesn’t work. They’ve gotten all these things, and they still find this emptiness, this hollowness.’”

(Chapter 3, Pages 34-35)

Dr. Richard Swenson is a Wisconsin-based medical doctor interviewed for the initial 1996 Affluenza documentary. In this passage he provides a succinct description of some of the more deleterious consequences of affluenza. By “possession overload,” he means the rule of things over people, a situation in which individuals devote more time and energy to their material possessions than themselves or their personal relationships. Like all addictions, Dr. Swenson says that this intense pursuit of goods brings only temporary satisfaction and quickly leads to feelings of sadness and emptiness. The authors will echo this point throughout the book.