The Men Who Made Us Spend: Ep. 1

“Those who wish to sing always find a song.”

Plato

There’s a kind of thrill in being fooled, isn’t there? Or, rather, not in being fooled so much as trying to work out how we’ve been fooled. It’s why Derren Brown is so popular, and why we all like watching those Watchdog-style programmes which explain exactly how the latest internet scam works.

So that was how I ended up watching The Men Who Made Us Spend, a documentary series about consumerism and the tricks CEOs use to keep the wheel running. How are we being fooled in real life, every day? And how can we not be fooled? For the most part, it’s fairly obvious stuff: constant upgrades, planned obsolescence, excessive media hype. But it’s really scary just how successful those tricks are. We’re shown people in New York who’ve literally queued for two weeks for the latest iPhone, with its oh-so-useful slow-motion low-light camera and new range of shiny colours which are two shades brighter or darker than the old ones. There are rubbish centres filled with unopened boxes of technology – unused printers, computers, phones – simply because they’re a couple of years out of date. A consultant for Apple informs us that “It’s not the consumer’s job to know that a product is better.” It’s the kind of thing which makes you ragey after about three minutes.

Of course, the BBC has a very clear agenda with this programme. The title alone will tell you that. The CEOs are Evil, and the rest of the world is in their clutches. Don’t expect a balanced view here, because you’re unlikely to get it (although presenter Jacques Peretti does speak to a couple of spokesmen for big companies, both of whom manage to put their foot in it royally, as demonstrated above). They even find a collective in America, iFixIt, who reverse-engineer technology to mend it when it’s broken, to inform shocked viewers that Apple invented a whole new kind of screw solely to prevent anyone changing the battery in their iPhone. “Apple makes it hard to hold on to their products,” the iFixIt guy informs us solemnly. Rubbish. I’ve had my iPod for six years and it’s still fine.

Nevertheless, I finished this programme never wanting to buy anything anywhere ever again. Because it is a bad world, this one, when we’re never happy with our phones or our cars or our computers. And if it isn’t quite so black, perhaps, as the BBC would have us believe, it’s still black enough. And it’s worth reminding ourselves of that occasionally. After all, nobody likes being fooled.

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