Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues

The metaphorical Affluenza virus and the X Factor.


Inset -The X Factor. Not popular cultures finest hour.

The Affluenza virus is a term coined by author and Psychologist Oliver James. The symptoms of the metaphorical virus are; placing a high value on possessions, appearances (physical and social), fame and money. For obvious reasons the manifestation takes place mainly in Capitalist economies. The problem appears to be that aspiration and ambition get distorted and confused with the Affluenza virus. Someone may choose a certain career path and wish to work their way up on the basis that their job may be more beneficial and rewarding. However more often than not, many people may choose to work their way up a career path because they have been affected by the virus. There are a number of ways the Afflenza virus is taking hold of society today.


Inset – Oliver James’s excellent book on the Affluenza virus.

Status is of course a result of the virus and is only a means to an end. The problem with status is that many of the people we harbour in our lives are connected to our status and may not be there for us, should we lose the status we have gained. Telling the difference between those who have artificial love for us and those who have unconditional love for us becomes blurred in the process. The ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ phenomenon (competing with your neighbours for the same material goods)  is a direct result of this quest for status. The simplest way to deal with our obsession with status in society is to either go down the radical route i.e. seek religion as an answer, Buddhism as an example offers Samsara as viewing the world we live in through a different worldview, alternatively philosophers like Epicurus teach us of the consolation of not having enough money. The idea of the Matrix may also be one we can relate to in understanding the reality of the virus and its subsequent benefactor – status.


Inset – The media is obsessed with status so much so that a Google Executive position supersedes that of normal human beings.

At this point though, someone doing well in a Capitalist society may argue that ‘one is simply not aspirational enough’. However there is a difference between being ambitious because you are interested in a work of passion and ambitious because you have bought the idea of the Affluenza virus (albeit unconsciously). If we learnt one thing from the 2008 economic crash, the philosophy of worshiping the market and having the virus (to our ignorance) can turn on us in times of need, the philosophy of being happy via placing needs over wants will not let us down as a philosophy. Oliver James at this point would correctly say we are free from the virus with that Philosophy in mind. Our intrinsic goals should be placed above our quest for status and if you do have enough money you should chase experiences over material possessions as countless articles demonstrate.

The Game

The 2007 book by Neil Strauss telling of his pursuit of women was aptly titled – The Game. Literally meaning the game men would play to entice women into their circle, nevertheless the women played the game back. While some may have learned a one dimensional idea behind this – essentially how to get good at chatting to women, the idea of the game extends beyond this. The game as we need to accept it is something we are constantly playing. The Game however is concerned with how people in society (unaware at times) enhance success by going along with a current situation even though they may have a different view of how things should be done.

The Game could be taking a job you don’t really want as a temporary financial boost may be what you need and subsequently lying to the employer about your desires to make it a permanent career, on the knowledge you will leave as soon as the opportunity presents itself for something you actually want to do. The Game is a form of manipulation but whether you know you are consciously aware of the Game is a different matter. Hence why those affected by the Affluenza virus may be less aware than those who know they have to at times play the Game but not be affected by the virus. Or alternatively some people may be affected by the virus but know how to deal with it. One thing we need to remember about the virus is that it turns everything into a completion.

The X Factor

The X Factor is a popular show on TV and the problem of the Afflenza virus is demonstrated more clearly here than on any other TV programme. As mentioned the symptoms being – placing a high value on possessions, appearances (physical and social), fame and money Those wishing to win the X factor must go through a rigorous, unapologetic system. The last episode of the X factor clearly demonstrated the length people are willing to go to, to win the competition. The groups – over 25s and the rest of the singers had to perform in front of Simon Cowell and his fellow judges. While there were five seats to advance to the next stage, there were many who would miss out and getting a seat was not a guarantor of progressing to the next stage of the competition. You could be sat down on the seat only to find yourself uplifted by someone or a group who performed better than you did.

This is where are audience comes in the background telling the judges via hand gestures who to get rid of and who is disposable – reminiscent of the Roman Gladiators, where a thumb down would be a quick death and a thumb up would mean survival. This proves that human nature has not changed much, while the bloodthirsty barbarity of the competition is no longer there of the Coliseums, the need for people to be losers is demonstrated very well. The appeasement of the audience is in the power of the judges and as long as there is an element of dissatisfaction among the crowd the X factor will remain one of the TV shows driving the mantra of ‘the survival of the fittest’. Social Darwinism is all too plain to see, true we cannot all be winners but the need for losers is an essential ingredient driving human satisfaction while watching a TV show like the X Factor.


The Roman Emperor along with the audience would often decide the fate of those who had lost in battle. While the act of killing has disappeared the act of deciding the fate of a contestant via hand gestures has remained and is demonstrated on the X Factor.

The fear is not a sense of the contestants disappointed faces, the fear is that many employers with a rising competition and a rising population will seek to view the world through this worldview. Beyond this though, the very structures of job interviews, relationships and ideas may be played out in a X Factor style audition – once again a benefactor of the Affluenza virus. The reward for winning the  X factor (or getting close in some cases) is exceedingly good, failure though results in much disappointment and potentially a smaller social circle. As we know that the contestants sign up for the competition well aware of what may happen, there is little reason to pity them. The pity should be saved for the common person whose life will be treat like a gauntlet by people emulating the winning and losing process of the X factor. The winning and losing process is fact of life, the treatment of the winners and losers in this world is a result of the Affluenza virus, it’s time we realized how deep this disease has gone into society.

(Oliver Wilson, 2015)

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This entry was posted on October 23, 2015 by in Current Affairs, Philosophy, Psychology and tagged , , , , .
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