Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

‘Not Buying It’? DON’T BUY IT!

In C.Spiby, Reviews on August 10, 2010 at 3:24 pm

‘Not Buying It: My Year Without shopping’ by Judith Levine

Non-fiction/journals/consumerism/politics. Review by Carl Spiby

There is some rich, if rather bitter irony in buying a copy of Not Buying It. Especially since, having read it, I wished I hadn’t bought it at all.

As a concept Judith Levine’s year-long sabbatical from consumerism is admirable. In reality her book, essentially a journal with meandering thoughts and reference to philosophers, economists, social commentators and politicians, is frustrating and perplexing.

For one, as a British reader, I find it has too many Americanisms. Whereas with fellow Stateside author Michael Moore a little research will uncover just who or what he is talking about, Ms. Levine’s assumes we are all at one with the everyday of American consumer life, inadvertently demonstrating a certain lack of global vision which I for one find presumptuous and, frankly, rather rude. In fact I might even suggest it is nothing less than typically American.

For example, if you do not know what SmartWool is or what Q-Tips are then you will be as flummoxed as I was at the author’s almost insatiable desire for them. Were we to assume that the publication was not intended for overseas ‘consumption’ (ahem), we might forgive her these annoying Americanisms. We might even speed-read over the sections where they occur, but, at the expense of the narrative and salient points, they return throughout the book.

Imagining this had not been the case I would still have to walk away frustrated: this could have been so much more.

Not Buying It might have done for consumerism what Naomi Klein’s No Logo did for labels or what the movie Supersize Me did for burgers. What a shame. If only Ms. Levine could’ve kept up thought-provoking phrases like ‘What’s left of the counterculture is the counter’ and concentrated on bringing together the greatest minds into a lucid and inspiring text.

What we get instead is a middle-class, arty-type with two homes who worries about movies more than world poverty and sweatshops. Not that the latter is not covered in Not Buying It‘s 257 pages, but one feels that this is done so almost in passing and without much depth of feeling. Indeed, you can help but wonder how sincere the entire premise is here: to live for a year, simply, buying nothing but the barest necessities. What the author presents as necessities turns out to be pretty lightweight stuff and actually highlights the problems of the modern predicament more than one suspects was intended. It is not entirely flattering. If society itself were to react like this to Schumacher’s vision of living simply and small is beautiful, then we, the left and Clarion readers are all dreamers. Perhaps we are.

The latest way to describe rampant consumerism, ‘affluenza’, isn’t even mentioned in direct terms but kind of is if only in passing, and that’s despite a major US documentary series and a significant new book on the subject (reviewed in the last issue of THE CLARION, no less). Even a preface or postscript would’ve done on the topic would make the work seem a little more up to date, perhaps a little more relevant rather than pedestrian.

Not Buying It really only has about an essay’s-worth of quotations and research that would have made a handy pocket book, but no more. As far as rejection of consumerism goes; I suggest we revisit No Logo or Monbiot’s Captive State – the corporate takeover of Britain. They are now aging, but still have so much more to say than Levine’s work.

Lightweight guilt-cash-ins like Not Buying It make activists like comedian Mark Thomas look like Che Guevara and Judith Levine like some middle class Liberal Democrat who has switched to fair trade coffee thinking that they’ve saved the world. Ethically and morally, the best this book can do is make money for Oxfam because that’s exactly where my copy’s heading!

PS. since finishing the book I have discovered that Q-Tips turn out to be cotton buds. How very trivial! Forget jobs & welfare for all – Q-Tips is what we demand!

Published by Pocket Books, 2007.

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