tive, but as propaganda for commodities — for the replacementnof things by commodities, use values by exchangenvalues, and events by images. The very concept of newsncelebrates newness. The value of news, like that of any otherncommodity, consists primarily of its novelty, only secondarilynof its informational value. The news appeals to the samenjaded appetite that makes a child tire of a toy as soon as itnbecomes familiar and demand a new one in its place.nPropaganda in the usual sense of the word plays a less andnless important part in a consumer society, where peoplengreet all official pronouncements with suspicion. The effectnof the media is not to elicit belief but to maintain thenapparatus of addiction. Drugs are merely the most obviousnform of addiction. If drug addiction is one of the things thatnundermines “traditional values,” as the right maintains, thennthe need for drugs — that is, for commodities that alleviatenboredom and satisfy the socially stimulated desire for noveltynand excitement — grows out of the very nature of anconsumerist economy.nIt is only in their capacity as quintessential consumers —nas drug addicts, as it were — that young professionalsndominate the airwaves and set the tone of American life.nTheir distinctive manner of living embodies the restlessnambition, the nagging dissatisfaction with things as they are,nthat are fostered by a consumer economy. Their careersnrequire them to spend much of their time on the road and tonaccept transfers as the price of advancement. Though theyncomplain about having to move so often, their willingness tontravel long distances even in pursuit of pleasure suggests thatnthey would find a more setded life unendurable. “Leisure,”nfor them, closely resembles work, since much of it consists ofnstrenuous and for the most part solitary exercise. Evennshopping, their ruling passion, takes on the character of angrueling ordeal: “Shop till you drop.” Like exercise, it oftennseems to present itself as a form of therapy, designed tonrestore a sense of wholeness and well-being after long hoursnof unrewarding work. “I feel like hell and I go out for a run,nand before I know it, everything’s O.K.” Shopping servesnthe same purpose: “It hardly matters what I buy, I just get ankick out of buying. It’s like that first whiff of cocaine. It’sneuphoric and I just get higher and higher as I buy.”nSociological profiles of the “compulsive shopper” reportnthat 40 percent are “most likely to buy something whenn’feeling bad’ about themselves.” According to a summary ofnthese studies in the Wall Street Journal, shopping serves as anmeans of “alleviating loneliness,” “dispelling boredom,”nand “relieving depression.” “They don’t really need whatnthey are shopping for. Often they don’t even know whatnthey’re after.” A survey of shoppers in malls indicates thatnonly 25 percent come to buy a particular item.nSuch evidence suggests that consumerism is a morenserious threat to “traditional values” than the allegedlynanticapitalist ideology of the new class. It suggests that thenthreat to those values, moreover, is not very fully or clearlyndescribed as a spirit of hedonism and self-indulgence thatnundermines the work ethic. The new class is just as addictednto work as to exercise and consumption. The intrinsicnsatisfactions in this work, to be sure, are usually overshadowednby external rewards — high salaries, social status, thenexpectation of promotion, frequent changes of scene. Butnthere is no lack of willing, not to say compulsive, workers.nWhat is missing is the kind of work that might evoke a sensenof calling.nEven if we could agree with the superficial diagnosis ofn”permissiveness” as the chief threat to the old values, wenwould find it hard to resist the conclusion, then, that “ifnthere is one clear and ubiquitous source of permissiveness,”nin the words of Barbara Ehrenreich, “it lies, as it always has,nin the consumer culture.” Modern capitalism, Ehrenreichnpoints out, is itself “at odds” with the “traditional values” ofn”hard-work, self-denial, and family loyalty.” The attack onnthe new class is therefore misplaced, according to Ehrenreich.nThe corporate elite, not the professional elite, is thenonly “genuine elite, relative to which the [professional]nmiddle class is only another ‘lower class.'” It is then”corporate-financial elite,” moreover — especially in itsnfrenzied search for short-term profits through mergers,nacquisitions, and speculation — that “most clearly exhibits”nthe moral defects associated with permissiveness: “presenttimenorientation and the incapacity to defer gratification.”nEhrenreich’s recent book on the “inner life” of thenprofessional class, though it contains many valuable observations,nshows why it is so difficult for the left to mount anconvincing reply to right-wing populism and more specificallynto the theory of the new class. Ehrenreich stands onnfirm ground as long as she argues that new class theoryndeflects resentment of “permissiveness” from its properntarget, the corporations and their culture of consumption.nHer decision to join the debate at this level, however,nprecludes a deeper analysis of the issues that trouble “middlenAmericans” and of the failure of right-wing ideology tonaddress those issues. The right’s inability to get beyondncliches about hedonism, permissiveness, and moral relativismnought to invite people on the left to give a morenpenetrating account of contemporary culture.nCareful attention to popular complaints about the media,nfor example, would suggest that people are troubled bynsomething more elusive than “liberal bias” or sexual license.nWhat people find disturbing about the media, it wouldnseem, is their obsession with the young and affluent, withnglamour, celebrity, money, and power; their indifference tonworking people and the poor, except as objects of satire orn”compassion”; the prurient quality of their fascination withnviolence and sex; their inflated sense of their own importance;ntheir insatiable appetite for scandal; their eagerness tonuncover unworthy motives behind every worthy act; thenencouragement they give to disrespect and cynicism. Annumber of studies have indicated that television promotesncynicism in children, and this evidence probably sums upnpopular uneasiness more effectively than “liberal permissiveness.”nPeople object to television because it encouragesnchildren to be too demanding, to expect too much, tonequate the good life with enormous wealth, and to admirenthose who get something for nothing, but above all becausenit destroys the capacity for respect. Behind the popularnattack on the media, one can sense the same kind ofnconcerns that make the residents of South Boston, Canarsie,nand Bensonhurst so anxious about threats to the racialnintegrity of their neighborhoods. Just as the streets have beenntaken over by junkies, dope peddlers, pimps, and streetwalkers,nso the public airwaves appear to have been taken over bynnnJUNE 1990/23n