American Consumerism - Essay

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Consumerism seems to have gotten into every aspect of modern life. Even those areas of life that were not previously affected by the marketplace, have to adapt to the new reality, where consumer is in control. Steven Miles even said that consumerism has become “the religion of the late twentieth century” (Miles 1). Consumerism is a phenomenon that was always immanent in the relatively developed societies, where people purchased goods and consumed resources excessive to their needs. However, there was a major change after the Industrial Revolution, when the scarcity of resources was overcome and a huge variety of goods in unlimited amounts became available to a wide range of people. The Industrial Revolution and several other factors created capitalism - a new type of economy that resulted in a rapid growth of a middle class in developed countries. Middle class started to have money not only to cover their basic needs but also more. In 1899 Thorstein Veblen called it the “leisure class” (Veblen 22). But who do we call a consumer? To consume means to use things up, either by eating them, wearing them or playing with them and otherwise using them to satisfy one's desires and needs. Since in the capitalist society uses money is the mediator between desire and satisfaction, to be a consumer normally means appropriating things destined to be consumed: buying them, paying for them and barring others from using them without permission. And to consume also means to destroy. According to Bauman, “consumed things cease to exist, literally or spiritually”. They are either used up physically (for example eaten or worn out) or lose their allure and are no longer attractive (an overused toy or an overplayed record) and therefore unfit for consumption (“Ideas and shared solutions for sustainable & low cost green living” ). To buy and to own has become Western society's essential urge. As the information technologies developed, the power of mass media grew. To support a profit-based capitalist economy the ruling class, which owned the means of production had to convince the middle and lower classes to buy and generate profit. And here's when mass media stepped in. Advertising - as the main engine of sales process, has played a huge role in consumerism's spreading and development. Newspapers, TV commercials and billboards screamed about new ketchups, cars and cottages, convincing us to buy and buy and buy. The mass media also made modern consumerism borderless and international. With satellite TV channels and Internet you can sell anything to anyone in the world. International consumerism is a result of globalization, which reduces the number of borders in our world. It is done so by the establishment of transnational corporations, development of transportation, industrial, information and communication technologies. Miller (as cited in Miles 2) explained people's relationship to production as the factor behind consumerism A series of trends which have led to an overwhelming concentration on the area of production as the key generative arena for the emergence of the dominant social relations in contemporary societies, and a comparative neglect of consumption, together with a concomitant failure to observe the actual changes which have taken place over the last century in the balance between these two forms of interactions with goods. Bocock (as cited in Miles 4), when speaking about consumption said that as a set of social, cultural and economic practices, together with the associated ideology of consumerism, [it] has served to legitimate capitalism in the eyes of millions of ordinary people. McCracken (as cited in Miles 3) thought that

In Western developed societies culture is profoundly connected to and dependant upon consumption. Without consumer goods modern developed societies culture would loose key instruments for the reproduction, representation, and manipulation of their culture?�?� The meaning of consumer goods and the meaning...
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