Consumer culture is the root of all evil

I know blog posts are designated for only Thursdays and Fridays, but there’s something I need to get off my chest.

Over the course of this media studies class, I have found myself reexamining parts of my life.  While I had always thought I had been shielded from mass media and consumer culture’s near ubiquitous grasp because my parents forbid me to watch television, I realize now that not only was its invasion into my life inescapable, but it has also pervaded my conscious more deeply than I could have ever imagined.

I’ll never forget the first time I wanted an iPod.  Having seen my best friend with his brand new MP3 player, I felt excluded.  I somehow believed that the obtainment of this product would bring me happiness.  Why on earth did I find myself with a deep-seeded craving to own this device when I barely owned enough songs to made a dent in its enormous memory capacity?  It never occurred to me that the shadowy figure dancing with its iPod was an attempt by a multibillion dollar corporation to influence my subconscious.

In Naomi Klein’s No Logo, she paints a vivid picture of consumer culture in America.  Corporations, she contends, no longer sell items.  Rather they market their brands like crazy to drive up sales revenue.  Apple is not selling a device that plays music, but is instead marketing a lifestyle that appeals to its base of consumers.

On today’s (Sunday, February 20th) market segment of NPR, there was an extended discussion on our country’s materialistic tendencies.  Shopping is seen by many as a way to fill a void in our lives.  The right product can ensure our happiness.  In this way, one correspondent asserted, we are a slave to this process as there will always be newer products to purchase.

This same concept is present in our perception of wealth.  Over the weekend, I finished Robert Frank’s book, Richistan.  In this book, Frank, a Wall Street Journal reporter, examines the implications of our country’s influx of millionaires.  Not only delving into their personal lives and the implications of their influential role in society, Frank also examines their inherent competitive consumerism.

To reveal to the world their nouveau wealth, millionaires purchase designer products, sports cars, mansions, and profligate yachts.  In the chapter, “Size Really does Matter”, Frank discusses how millionaires are constantly trying to outspend each other whether this be with a $600,000 Swiss watch or a $250 million dollar yacht, equipped with basketball courts and heli-pads.  This escalation of competitive spending has trickled down to less affluent Americans and has caused many to go into debt spending money they don’t have on items they don’t need.  In Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, she goes on to argue that such excessive consumerism doesn’t even make us happy, but merely undermines our perception of content.

Concepts of branding and consumerism are so ingrained into our society’s DNA that I wonder if there will ever be a lessening of these universal trends.

Will I ever be able to impartially look at an article of clothing or consumer product without being influenced by parts of my subconscious infected by notions of brand superiority and advertisements?  Well, to be honest, probably not.  But I hope that through my exposure to the plagues of consumerism and the curses that afflict the uber-wealthy, I can avoid a life influenced by corporation’s promotion of consumerism and excessive spending.  Achieving fiscal security is something that I have been conditioned to strive for.  Making enough money to live in a nice house, drive a car, and someday send my kids to college is something I know my parents expect of me.  But is this merely a manifestation of corporate-driven ideology?  I hardly see the merit of working excessive hours at an investment firm in China in order to afford a lifestyle prescribed to me by multinational corporations.  Are people that live these lives happy or are they merely exhausted from the constant burden they bear?

There will always be items of allure and people willing to sacrifice capital to pay for them.  By subjecting oneself to this never-ending cycle of consumerism people will ensure that they never achieve happiness.  Much like Sisyphus was doomed to roll a bolder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again, consumers are subjected to a perpetual cycle in which they are never able to reach contentment.

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