Consumer Culture Is Central to Understanding Contemporary Identities

Topics: Consumerism, Identity, Walk This Way Pages: 5 (1706 words) Published: October 10, 2012
Word count: 1605

Consumer culture is central to understanding contemporary identities. Discuss

As the title suggests, this essay is going to discuss, to what extent does consumer culture affect contemporary identities. In today’s society consumer culture is everywhere and we would probably not be able to survive without it. It became such an important part of our lives that some people even build their carrier around it. Most businesses in modern societies, all around the world work as successfully as they do, simply because people became consumers and they buy their products. This essay is first going to look at why this change of attitude occurred and how exactly it brought about consumer culture. This will lead us onto how exactly consumer culture works and how it affects consumers. To answer the question fully, we will also look at the two view points on this matter. First we are going to discuss arguments which support the view that consumer culture creates modern identities. Secondly, arguments supporting the view that consumer culture is far less important than in the development of one’s identity. Before the question itself is addressed, some background needs to be drawn about this issue. To be objective about this matter, it should be pointed out straight away that consumer culture is not the key aspect affecting contemporary identities. There is one very simple explanation to why this is true. Humans have been around for a much longer period of time than consumer culture and were successfully developing their identities even before consumer culture came about. Therefore it is definitely true that in the past, there were other things creating our identities sufficiently enough. The definition of identity which Jodi Davis finds the most fitting is “My identity is determined by a complex mix of things“. The question however concentrates on contemporary identities. So is it possible that consumer culture managed to take over the power of all the other aspects of the creation of identity in the past 200 years? Some believe that the answer to that question is yes. In fact, Bauman argues that “The roads to self-identity, to a place in society, to a life in a form recognisable as that of meaningful living, all require daily visits to the market place”. (Bauman, pg 26) Similarly, Featherstone states that “criteria for the good life revolve around the desire to enlarge one’s self, the quests for new tastes, and sensations, to explore more and more possibilities”. (Featherstone, pg 67) Therefore many people would be happy to say that in today’s society, consumer culture has an enormous effect on our identities. To some extent, this is true. Jagger even believes that “we become what we consume”. (Jagger, pg 45) To explain why this is true, the term “floating signifiers” needs to be explained. It refers to the fact that these days, all products and brands have a certain meaning/story behind them. People buy them because of these images they carry with them, rather than the actual use of the product. This leads us to the use vs. exchange value question. It could be argued that this was one of the main changes which caused consumerism to expand so much. Basically Use vs. Exchange conflict refers to the fact that at a certain point, people stopped buying goods for their use value and started buying them for their exchange value. Material goods are used as communicators, not utilities. (Featherstone, pg 84) Today, consumerism has reached such level of success, that people no longer buy things because they need them, but because they like this image that products give them. “Consumption, then, must not be understood as the consumption of use-values, a material utility but primarily as consumption of signs.”(Featherstone, pg 85) This way, the things we buy, create our identity, because people judge us based on what the products we use say about us. In today’s society of strangers, it is the only way to judge a person at...
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