I've just finished reading this book by journalist Harry Wallop. It's full title being Consumed - How Shopping Fed the Class System and it is a book that does what it says on the cover. It documents how in todays consumerist British society, we are all becoming determined and categorised by the what and where of how we consume.
He begins the book in the introduction by describing what he considers to be newly developing social categories in our modern consumerist nation. According to Wallop the social class system in Britain is still alive and kicking, albeit a little more complex and focussed more on consumption than income and occupation.
I'm finding this quite an amusing read. I must admit that I am a sucker for any book that documents the snobbish nuances of our nation. Whether we like/acknowledge it or not, our everyday lives are often steeped in snobbery, if we could but admit it. It is the British way. Regardless of the many claims that we are now a classless society, snobbery and class divisions are still prevalent, whether it relates to the food we eat or refuse to eat, the clothes we wear, the homes we live in, the technology we use or the supermarket we shop at. Wallop suggests that this is maybe not such a bad thing as it is this snobbery that motivates social aspiration and has led to a certain degree of democratisation in our society.
I can relate to much of what Wallop talks about in this book, although I am a little uncomfortable about the creation of more categories that encourage sweeping generalisations about people. I can, however, see that it is a useful tool when exploring a very complex social issue such as class in today's society when many of the traditional occupations no longer exist or are much smaller in number. As Wallop himself concedes, most people will probably identify with one or more of his categories and he invites the reader to identify which category/ies most accurately describes them. I must admit that I can relate to at least a couple of the categories, but what someone else's perception of me might be, well that would be a whole other matter.
In subsequent chapters of the book, Wallop goes on to consider in more detail how his categorisations have been created by the clever marketing stragegies of some of the large consumer corporations who have specifically targeted particular sections of society to sell their brands and goods to. He also provides evidence to back up his ideas by way of exploring consumer behaviour and attitudes, taking us through the various chapters on the subjects of food, family, property, home, clothes, education, holidays, leisure and work. He constantly moves back and forward in time to demonstrate the differences between the categorisation of class in the 1950's and beyond and his propositions about class in present day Britain. He highlights the often hypocritical views and behaviours of his suggested social groups/classes, including the one that he himself admits to belonging to.
I have really enjoyed reading this book and although I don't necessarily agree with some of what it purports, this did not spoil my enjoyment of it. Wallop cleverly examines and shines a light on the class system he believes is prevalent in Britain today. As I'm sure is the same for most people, I have often personally been on the receiving end of various snobbish attitudes, whether they have taken the form of a dismissive look or action or an out and out thinly disguised insult or put down, slipped into a conversation. Call me paranoid, but many people are incredibly accomplished at these, in my experience. I console myself with the thought that being too sharp can easily lead you to cut yourself at some point.
Anyway, if like me, you like this sort of read, I would definitely recommend it. It did make me chuckle in places and it does make you think about your consumer choices and what motivates them, which is no bad thing. What it won't do, however, is change where I shop. I'll still be going to Lidl and Asda most weeks for my grocery shop. I will still visit Charity shops and buy goods online from well known to me brands that I like. I shop to please myself and obtain value for money, not to impress other people or be associated to any particular social elite. (Or at least that's what I like to think - I could of course be deceiving myself!)