It is believed that advertising manipulates the society through the products of consumer culture, and promotes a false consciousness of needs that later on becomes a way of life. Pervasive advertising and consumer culture have caused a decline in the intellectual standards of U.S. popular culture. Peoples lives today involve little thought; most facts and ideas are fed to a person by the media. Often, misleading or untrue statements are passed through different ads, and only few are noticed or complained about. This system threatens the integrity of American democracy and ideology. This media-oriented society threatens to bring about an age of ignorance as we have never seen it before. The importance of the problem of consumerism cannot be understated.
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 cage from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to escape. This is totally commodified world in which it would be futile, or nearly so, to hope to find a space in which one is free from commercial pressure. Supportive of this view is the proliferation of the new means of consumption, especially their spread into the home, so that even one is unable to avoid opportunities and pressures to consume.
A second view, more traceable to theories of Michael Foucault (1976), is that instead of an overarching iron cage, what we have is a great number of minicages. Each cathedral of consumption is a minicage and when consumers are in one of them, they are constrained. Following Foucault's notion of the "caceral archipelago", we can think of each of the new means of consumption as an islands fortress that is part of a larger archipelago. Using this metaphor, the consumer is free to hop from island to island but on each of the island the consumer is constrained. There is a third view associated with rational choice theory.
It argues that consumers are free to move in and out of the cathedrals of consumption as they wish, and when they find themselves in one of the cathedrals, they can decide for themselves whether or not to consume. More generally, they can decide to avoid any and all of the cathedrals, they are free to avoid consumption if they wish. This notion is put forward by Featherstone (1991) and Campell (1989).The rise of consumerism really accelerated after the Second Wold War. People became more prosperous and therefore had more money to spend on commodities. Ewen (1976) traces the development of modern advertising back to the 1920s, where realization took place on part of the owners and managers that they no longer control the workers. Consumers became important an feature of capitalism and advertising arose to help make those decisions.
After the economic boom of the 1990s prosperity increased even more and large incomes and early retirements characterized that decade. The youth became increasingly involved in consumption. The technological change is probably the most important factor in creating consumerism. Automobiles and motorways made transport faster and the improvement of the mailing service ensured fast delivery. The most important invention was the computer in 1946. New facilitating means came into existence, for instance the credit card, which made it possible for people to obtain what they want and need from the cathedrals of consumption.
For small payments we know are able to use the Cyber Cash System on the Internet. Hence consummation has never been this easy. There has also been a sociological change in how today's society consume. According to Samuel Strauss consumptions involved a commitment to produce more things from one year to the next. Previously business has sought to give consumers what they want. Now business interest shifted to an emphasis on compelling consumers to want and "need" the things that business are producing and selling. Ritzer (1999) argues that today we are in fact in a time of "hyper consumption". One cannot deny the fact that nearly everybody is involved, or at least touched by the culture of consumption.
In the last twenty years personal savings have gone down and personal debt has risen. Although these sociological changes seem to be for the better, Schor's (1998) findings prove that although there is an increase in consumption and material possessions, Americans seem no happier than in earlier generations. We consume differently today. We seem never to stop shopping as we are surrounded by commodities. Every destination seems to be a Cathedral of Consumption. For instance, a do-it yourself attitude and self service facilities in Fast Food Restaurants or even an ATM, encourage us to believe it is our own choice to consume. Even though the exportation of American Consumer Culture is noticeably very aggressive it enjoys worldwide acceptance.
The key to this attitude is the absence, since the fall of communism, of any viable worldwide alternative to the American models. American models of Cathedrals of Consumption have an increasing international presence, influencing European consumer culture. As for example Mc Donald's had only a quarter of its branches outside the US by 1991 but by 1996 it was over 40%. The rise of consumerism is also very closely linked to the shift from modernism to postmodernism. The term 'postmodernism' is difficult to define. The term is a contradiction in itself.