To What Extent Are We Controlled by the Consumer Society We Live in?

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Culture of European Organisation

Essay, 13/10/04
3600 words

"People recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobiles, hi-fi sets, split level homes………social control is anchored in the new needs which the consumer society has produced." (Marcuse,1968:24)

To what extent are we controlled by the consumer society we live in?

Marita Juenamnn

"People recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobiles, hi-fi sets, split level homes………social control is anchored in the new needs which the consumer society has produced." (Marcuse,1968:24) To what extent are we controlled by the consumer society we live in?

The rise of the consumer culture is a phenomenon characteristic for the twentieth century. The impact of this cultural movement is disputable. The quote above was taken from Marcuse's book "One dimensional man."(1964) Marcuse believed that the products of consumer capitalism indoctrinate and manipulate society to promote a false consciousness of needs which become a way of life. He saw this as another form of totalitarianism which binds consumers to producers and uses the pleasures of consumer lifestyle as instruments of control and domination. Therefore the question arises whether the culture of consumerism poses a profound threat to the freedom and individuality of the consumer. In response to this claim, the essay will argue that Marcuse has been right in arguing the advertising and consumerisms aims to manipulate the consumer's consciousness. Furthermore by taking an existentialist approach it will argue that society ultimately chooses their own path and consents to their own destiny. It also takes into consideration that in the contemporary society consumerism is omnipresent; therefore the option of choice is diffused. The essay, will be structured in the following way. It will first outline the concept of consumer culture and its development in the last century. Moreover it will outline the change from the age of modernism to the post-modernist era. According to Slater (1997), Consumer Culture is the culture of market societies and is defined though market relations. It predominantly is the product of capitalism. He believes that this new culture is a pecuniary culture based on money. The central claim is that the values from the realm of consumption will spill over into other domains of social action. He further argues that Consumer Culture is in principle, universal and impersonal. He simultaneously agues, that there is an ultior claim towards this definition, as although it seems universal and is depicted as a land of freedom, in which everyone can be a consumer, it is also felt to be universal because everybody must be a consumer. Another characteristic is that Consumer Culture is identified with private choice and private life. The next characteristic feature is that the consumer's needs are unlimited and insatiable. He argues that in the age of consumption the identities are negotiated though consumption, with which he means that we define ourselves more and more by what we consume. His last characteristic to the definition of consumer culture is that Consumer Culture represents the increasing importance of Culture in the exercise of power. Ritzer (1999) refers to the places in which consumption takes place "cathedrals of consumption." He argues that there are obvious cathedrals of consumption such as the supermarket, internet shopping or the shopping malls, but also ordinary everyday locations, which we would not associate with consumption, such as the railway station, the library or even our living room at home. Everywhere we go we are surrounded by cathedrals of consumption which aim to entice us to consume. Once can detect three different theories, to the power of these cathedrals of consumption. Weberian theory leads to the view that the cathedrals of consumption, when taken together, create a rationalized iron...
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