Transcript: Paul Berton
My interview with the Canadian newspaper editor and author
On the Lean Out podcast, we spend a lot of time delving into the big problems of our age. But one thing we haven’t paid enough attention to is the forces that distract us all from solving these problems.
What are the bread and circuses of our time?
My guest on the podcast today argues that we are in thrall to shopping — and that this shapes our culture in profound ways.
Paul Berton is an award-winning Canadian journalist and the editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator. His new book is Shopomania: Our Obsession With Possession.
This is an edited transcript for paid subscribers. You can listen to the interview for free here.
TH: Paul, welcome to Lean Out.
PB: Thank you for having me.
TH: Thank you so much for making the time to come on. I loved your approach in the book, which is quite entertaining. This is not the typical approach for the conversation around consumerism, which often tends to be somewhat moralizing, somewhat extreme, and is epitomized by an anecdote you tell in the book of billionaire Elon Musk announcing in 2020 that he was going to sell almost all of his possessions and not own a house. Take me back to the pandemic and lockdown. What made you decide to tackle this topic in a book — which I understand you’ve been thinking about for many years?
PB: I suppose the pandemic offered me the time to do it, rather than, say, watching Game of Thrones, or whatever people were doing. But I was also intrigued by the fact that we couldn’t go to the malls as we had for decades. Or we couldn’t go to the stores that we’d been going to for centuries, or millennia. But we still found a way to shop. And in my case, actually, it became easier than ever. You’d order something one day and it would come the next almost. It was fantastic and frightening at the same time. I realized that we are a society consumed by consumerism, and nothing can really stop us. Nothing can stop it. And so the question arises, “When, and how, will it all end — if ever?”
TH: I was struck by just how much you covered in this book. You come up with some roughly 60 new terms on our obsession with shopping. One of the ones that stands out is this phenomenon of shopification. This is striking to me, as I just got back from vacation. Walk us through that concept.