From Citizen to Consumer and My Gripe with "LoveFilm".

To broach a completely different subject this time, I thought I'd take a little trip into the territory of consumer affairs. We are all, it seems, these days, consumers, and don't like it one bit if we think we're being ripped off. I suppose I'm no different in this, and recently, after joining "LoveFilm", the Amazon company which rents out DVDs via post in return for the payment of a monthly subscription fee, I found that I was "dissatisfied" with a certain element of their service. It appears that because "Love Film" is an Amazon company, they will sometimes only offer certain DVDs to buy via Amazon, even though it has passed the date of their release for rental. The result is that customers of "LoveFilm" cannot watch certain DVDs, which should, by all accounts, be available to rent, and only have the opportunity to watch them if they buy them. The said films are then released to rent via "LoveFilm" at a later, unspecified date. I found this out because two films I wanted to watch and which should have been available to rent (Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" and the much lauded "Take Shelter") were only available, at first, to buy.
Initially, I thought that "LoveFilm" was good value for money, and would actually save my impecunious self a few pounds which I would have otherwise spent on renting DVDs from my local shop, which at £3.50 a pop, were becoming a bit of a burden on my precarious finances. With "LoveFilm" I would be able to rent an unlimited amount of films for only £9.99 a month. And then, this. There have been plenty of complaints from other customers about this on the "LoveFilm" site, which when I looked on it to see if I could rent "Take Shelter", had various rants berating the company for this policy. All is not well amongst the consumer masses, it seems.
Anyway, all this got me to thinking about how we have essentially changed from being citizens to consumers. You can't turn on the TV without seeing some programme dedicated to raising awareness amongst the populace of how they can protect themselves from being ripped off. In fact, I think there is one programme which is actually called "Rip Off Britain", which is helmed by trustworthy (and worthy) BBC stalwarts such as Angela Rippon. And then, of course, there's that little, bald man called Dom, who appears always to be popping up on TV, warning us of the loopholes and discrepancies which allow the corporate machine to get us to part with our hard-earned money. Always read the small print, is what Dom's message seems to be. But to me, all this is just a reminder of how, nowadays, we are no longer seen as citizens with rights, but only as consumers with consumer rights. As such, I find such programmes intensely annoying.
I suppose this shift has come about as the result of the inexorable rise of the neoliberal philosophy that the free market is all that matters. Somehow, free markets have become equated with freedom itself. But, it only takes things such as my little gripe with "LoveFilm" to remind us that all may not be well amidst this corporate utopia. Indeed, the government now plans to privatise parts of our road network, and also the Royal Mail, which, together with the creeping privatisation of our beloved NHS, seems to indicate a continuation of the Thatcherite incentive to privatise everything that moves (or doesn't, for that matter). All of which, the government reminds us, is not really privatisation at all. Well, excuse me for disagreeing. And, far from getting better value for our money, increased choice and general improved wellbeing, all such policies appear to do is increase the profits of private companies. Only the other day on our local BBC radio station, someone opposing the proposed privatisation of our roads remarked that, since the privatisation of British Gas, there had been a 147% increase in profits while prices had not decreased but only got bigger.
So, perhaps all our bluster over consumer affairs is just, in the end, an ineffectual distraction from the real issues at stake. If you don't want to be ripped off, it appears, you shouldn't vote for people who have the interests of private finance at the head of their list of priorities. All it really seems to mean is that they get more money, and we get more ripped off. Personally, I'd rather be thought of as a citizen than a consumer, but with what John Dewey called "a condition of dominant corporateness" being our status quo, it doesn't seem that this will be happening any time soon.          


bazza said…
Hello David. I once met the founder and MD of Love Film before it was sold to Amazon. It was at a lecture in the British Library Business section. I worked for an Enterprise Agency helping people start businesses.
His whole ethos was based on customer satisfaction and innovation in marketing. Things have certainly changed!
One thing I have noticed during several trips to North America is that customer service can be supreme over there. I think being 'ripped off' is an extension on the semantic scale of poor service.
Also, one point about the proliferation of consumer-based TV shows is that they encourage reticent Britains to complain more readily. Complaining is an art which I think we should learn at school!
klahanie said…
Dear David,
I'm in agreement with you on this. And I'm not going to leave a tirade of my own personal feelings on this. Maybe you might contact "Watchdog" in regards to "LoveFilm". You do know that old adage, 'If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.'
And "Rip Off Britain", has of course, also been referred to as "Treasure Island". And not just a reference to the book that bazza highlighted in a recent post.
All the best.
David said…
Dear bazza,
I had been quite pleased with my Lovefilm membership up until I found this annoying little practice that they have. And, it just seems to me that it is indicative of a wider phenomenon, namely, that if you can get away with duping people in some way, then it's all well and good. Of course, such things are probably not illegal, but in a world where the making of profit seems to outweigh all other considerations, it seems that companies will, shall we say, push the boundaries in pursuit of this goal.
I understand that Brits are often reticent to complain, but I guess my point was that we are increasingly seen only as consumers, not as citizens, which is what I find annoying. I think in the States being a good consumer seems to be part of being s good citizen, and if you don't do your share you sort of fall off the social ladder. Also, I think, over there, the impetus for good customer service can actually turn into something rather impersonal and alienating.
"Have a nice day, now, bazza!". See what I mean?
Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your remarks, and maybe I will contact "Watchdog" about this. But then again, just seeing Anne Robinson tends to send shivers down my spine!
Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Hi David.
I don't think man was meant to rule over man; simply help each other organise and live peaceably. That needs some serious addressing.

I watched as our local school system has buckled under the pressure to privatise services. We now have a disaster. Just as gangs and thugs rule the schools, greedy businessmen rule the recreation and other services that citizens choose to patronise.

When something is no longer pleasureable, I drop the service, and may look for another to take it's place. (i.e., Netflix sux).

I agree with your complaint and assessment. "Love me for I am citizen!" OR "I am not a consumer, I am a man!" Too many movies for me. Thanks David.
Take care, Dixie
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Apologies for not replying sooner, but my computer crashed and I had to get a new one.
Anyway, thank for your comment, and I totally agree with you. I often go outside at night and shout into the darkness the words, "I am not just a consumer, I am a citizen of England and a free man!" Then, of course, the white van comes and takes me away!
Thanks, Dixie.
Very Best Wishes,

Popular Posts