A pop-science, impressionistic examination of the American lust for all things material. Twitchell (Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture, 1996, etc.), like Marshall McLuhan and Camille Paglia, has made a career of spinning commonplaces into avant-garde theses, fortified by a battery of examples taken from popular culture. His critique of the frenzy of modern American materialism opens inauspiciously with an offhand analysis of Carl Reiner's 1979 comedy The Jerk, in which Steve Martin plays an idiot savant who bumbles his way into a considerable fortune—and a massive collection of things. Reiner's film affords Twitchell a starting point: "No other culture," he intones, 'spends so much time declaring things don—t matter while saying, "just charge it." " He goes on to pillory a succession of easy targets, such as the self-help movement, the yuppie shame-fueled Voluntary Simplicity movement, the contemporary penchant for wearing clothing with the labels sewn on outside, the academic trend called cultural studies, and the idiotic fare that passes for television entertainment. Below Twitchell's superficial readings of these phenomena, however, lie some interesting observations. "We live," Twitchell writes, "in a culture in which almost everyone can have almost everything——and a time in which the real prices for most consumer goods, from carrots to airplane tickets to personal computers, have fallen to record low levels. With so much stuff to consume so cheaply, he reasons, it's no wonder that we surround ourselves with gewgaws, gadgets, and throwaway goods. "The great vice of Americans is not materialism but a lack of respect for matter," wrote W.H. Auden half a century ago. Twitchell rejoins, "What sets American culture of the late twentieth century apart is not avarice, but a surfeit of machine-made things." That surfeit is everywhere, and, Twitchell writes, the rest of the world wants to share it. Racing from one datum to the next, Twitchell concludes that we get the material culture we deserve—in our case, a culture of abundant junk.
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