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"Affluenza": Shopping Fever

Affluenza is the popular, hour-long PBS documentary about consumerism and its harmful effects on the family, the community, and the environment. In this particular scene, the narrator of the documentary is visiting Virginia's Potomac Mills Mall, one of the largest shopping centers in the U.S. As the narrator walks through the mall, he says, "Potomac Mills attracts more visitors than any other site in Virginia. This shopping mall is such a popular tourist destination, airlines offer excursion flights here from distant cities."

Scenes from inside the mall are shown: "Potomac Mills is a discount 'super mall' that is divided into neighborhoods." Michael Jacobson, co-author of Marketing Madness, comments: "Shopping malls have really become the center of many communities. Children, as well as adults, see a shopping center as just the natural destination to fill a bored life."

More scenes of people shopping are shown. The narrator says, "Seventy percent of us visit malls each week—more than attend churches or synagogues. On average we shop 6 hours a week and spend only 40 minutes playing with our children." A woman who is shopping is interviewed. She says, "You shop and spend money—what else matters?"

A number of scenes compare shopping centers from the 1950s with modern malls. The narrator continues in voiceover: "By 1987 America had more shopping malls than high schools. Few mall shoppers come with any intention of purchasing a particular product. They buy largely on impulse. As this old sales training film suggests, that's no accident."

In the film, product displays are shown, and a sales manager is emphasizing the importance of impulse shopping: "[The displays should] make people hungry for as many things as possible, hungry enough to buy a lot more than they planned to."

The narrator shows a Potomac Mills TV commercial, and an announcer says, "Shopping is therapy. Listen to that little voice in your head. Shop. Shop. Shop. Shop. You can buy happiness. Just don't pay retail for it."

A 1950s car commercial is briefly shown; the narrator continues: "In fact, the percentage of Americans calling themselves 'very happy' reached its highest point back in 1957." New York psychologist Paul Wachtel comments: "[People's] entire orientation to how [they] are doing is based on comparison. That's why as an entire society grows, people don't feel any better, because they're still in the same relative position. There's a sense of being on an endless treadmill and of never getting to where you thought you were going to get."

DVD Scene 4, 00:06:42–00:09:17

The Affluenza DVD can be purchased at Bullfrog Films.

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