Dying of Consumption: 'Consumed' by Rob Walker

Every weekend, Gawker will analyze a consumer product in a sufficiently probing—that is, harder probing than Chuck Klosterman but gentler probing than Malcolm Gladwell—way. We will describe it a little bit, then write a few "on one hand"/"on the other hand" statements, then call it a day. With apologies to Moli re, Chekhov, and sad-eyed whores the world over, we will call it "Dying of Consumption." Someone will pay us for it.

In today's "Dying of Consumption" column, the product we are looking at is "Consumed," the New York Times Magazine column written by New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker. This week's "Consumed" column—"column" means a short regular feature in a publication accompanied by totally awesome grafix—by New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker is about toasters, which are machines for making toasted bread, but in my opinion, it (the New York Times Magazine column, not the toaster) could actually also be about modern consumer culture and maybe the way we live now."Consumed" first started appearing in the New York Times Magazine, the Sunday magazine for a major newspaper in New York, around two years ago. I'm not exactly sure when it first appeared, but pretty soon a lot of trend-setting Web-sites on the Internet were abuzz about it—"abuzz" is a slang term which means you are interested about something and are talking about it, and you are a computer. For example, on October 24, 2005, the "Web Log" Gothamist did an interview with Rob Walker, who along with writing the "Consumed" column also has a Home Page called www.robwalker.net. The Web-loggers asked Mr. Walker how he chose topics for his column, and Mr. Walker said (or wrote! It is very hard to tell with the new electronic Internet communication WiFi Acela age):
The most basic threshold is that it has to be something people are consuming (in the most flexible sense of the word).
However, at the same time some people on the line were abuzzing, a non-negative population of others thought, "I think sometimes that Mr. Rob Walker, who writes the 'Consumed' column in the New York Times Magazine, is mostly just a corporate shill, though he wears very nice t-shirts." For example, I—a regular reader of the New York Times, a major newspaper sometimes called "the Paper of Record," and also someone who likes nice t-shirts, which are shirts with short sleeves but no collars, so they are shaped like a "T," which is a regular magazine for the New York Times, a newspaper published in New York by a man named Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.—remember once thinking that. In other words, there are times when I wonder if Rob Walker is just a corporate shill, and that is the point of conflict I am now introducing in this column.

For example, in tomorrow's "Consumed" column on toasters, Rob Walker talks (or writes!) about toasters in a way that, when I was reading it over breakfast (which—factoid!—is called that, because as the first meal of the day, it "breaks" your "fast"), made me want to eat toast in a way that even most conventional toaster advertisements cannot do. This seems to me a trend, because I've seen people start eating more toast and less matzo just recently:

The Back to Basics Egg & Muffin Toaster seems to offer pretty good evidence in [business writer Michael Schrage's] favor. With a retail price of around $40 (double the price of a plain old toaster), it was a top-selling toaster in 2006, and that seems to be largely because of what makes it distinct in the [toaster] category. As the name implies, it's a toaster with a built-in egg poacher.
Some people—including myself—might think that almost just sounds like a commercial, like some sort of "viral marketing" (a kind of advertising that spreads like a virus) which causes consumption. On the other hand I once read something tendentiously on this subject by a famous guy, maybe a professor, and he did not like commodities or shilling too much either, but he said "you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs," and I usually like omelets with toast, and so maybe columnist Rob Walker is saying (writing!) something critical and important about the zeitgeist, which is a word that I think describes the inky gray stuff you get on your hands after reading a newspaper:
"Nevertheless, sales figures offer some evidence in [Columbia University professor Bruce] Greenwald's favor: of the 12.3 million toasters bought in 2006, half were in the $20-or-less range, according to NPD Group, a collector of retail data...And yet, the most robust growth in toaster sales in 2006 was among products at the higher end of the price spectrum, according to Peter Goldman, president of the NPD Group's home business unit....The Egg & Muffin Toaster speaks equally to the march of toaster innovation and the difficulty of it."
So in conclusion, the conventional wisdom is both subtly right and subtly wrong on "Consumed," the New York Times Magazine column by New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker. In one respect, the product shows that...oh nevermind, just reached my word count! —Jon

Not Necessarily Toast [NYT Mag Not Online]