Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

slabire-rapida-avocado

Within the last two years or so, there has been a huge spike and demand for recipes, meals, and lifestyle trends that consist of including avocados. While they are common staples for sushi and guacamole dips, they’ve recently become a full-blown trend. You see them in sandwiches. You see them in salads. You see them in shakes. Within a few months, recipes like avocado soup, avocado frosting, avocado face-masks, and avocado muffins have invaded the Facebook newsfeed!

Don’t get me wrong, I have always liked avocados -even before the epidemic.

Sure, avocados have great health benefits. For instance, biotin is great for promoting hair growth and the fatty acids are great benefits to the skin. However, there aren’t any super powers that lie beneath the green, bumpy, skin.

So…why the hype? I think it has to do with Food Marketing. The media, digital or print, culture has been an assistive tool for advertisers to associate needs and desires to goods and services. Our society is submerged in a culture of commodification, consumption, consumerism, and commercialism. You can almost categorize this ‘avocado-pandemic’ to Marx’s notion of the obsessive desired to commodify goods. However, avocados are not the only foods that are affected by food advertising. The fandom list continues:

– Salted Caramel
– Pumpkin Spice
– Kale
– Sriracha Sauce

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Note: the content in the video may be sensitive to some viewers.

The introductory reading, from Holt and Schor, about commodification got me thinking about the Japanese love industry. It is fascinating – yet scary – how Japan has commodified almost every aspect of a ‘being in a relationship’ into a culture of consumption and materialism. It has come to the point where Japan has the fastest negative population growth in the world! With services of recreational love and affection with no strings attached, like the Host or the Cuddle Cafe, it almost makes you wonder what is next…

I went to Vaughan mills mall this week…going to the mall once a week has become a part of my routine, even though I don’t really ‘need’ anything…

-The mall was quiet, looks like people are saving their money for the christmas holidays coming up…

The connection I’m going to make with Fiske’s reading refers to Williamson’s politics of consumption. The fact that we don’t really have much control of our status being upper or lower middle class, but by buying a ‘higher end’ product we then feel like a million bucks.

Williamson talks about that ideology of “coping with the frustrations of capitalist conditions of production”. People continuously buying things because of the meaning they come with. As humans we’re constantly searching for meaning in life, whether it’s through relationships with people or with objects. That feeling of unwrapping an Apple product or that feeling of wearing on new clothes for the first time etc.

In a consumer/capitalist society…we give value to things…this is where the idea of branding differentiates buying a jacket from a lower end store vs. a higher end store, even though it’s all made in the same countries.

I completely agree with this point of view, that in real life when there’s something lacking, as a consumer and as a female I head to the mall to relieve whatever issue going on or buy things to make myself feel better. 

“Women’s place is in the mall”, this point stood out to me most…first I was offended by it, seeing that mall was replaced by the home. However, today, if you ask me this is not the case! The mall is full of both genders, and guys are purchasing and taking care of their physical appearances more than ever. In a culture where people have to fit certain ‘cookie cutter molds’, both gender are buying things look good, feel great and fit in.

Last point I’m going to raise on Bowlby’s part…is this: Is shopping, and the idea of the mall just another patriarchally constructed ‘place’ controlled and run by men and used by women? 

So, after considerable thought and reading, and observing everyone’s contributions in classes, I would like to take this opportunity to fine-tune some ideas which have been presented in lecture. We spent some time in lecture defining certain key concepts, yet no matter how they ended up defined, the concepts (which continuously come up) are used in very certain circumstances, with very strongly implied meanings. I think it is important to be willing to criticize how we use these words in order to hone our understanding of why we use them in these ways, and I don’t think it needs to be discussed in lecture. Therefore, I encourage and look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts on these matters.

Without further ado, I would like to discuss how we define consumerism. We talked in class (and indeed, had quite an interesting list) about how consumerism may be defined. At the heart of it, though, I find that we all seem to focus on the negative connotations of what consumerism entails. Regardless of how we try to see the positives of it, we still think of consumerism, and more importantly, Capitalism, as negative concepts.

Why is this? Well, I’m willing to bet a lot of it is intuitive. I’m willing to bet that, without doing some research, most of us wouldn’t be able to sit down and just write up several succinct paragraphs about what both of these monumental terms entail. I’m not saying no one could, but it’s important to be able to draw from a variety of understandings, rather than our instincts about a subject. But I think this can be just as helpful for those who are very knowledgeable about the topic.

It’s important to remember, when considering Capitalism, that the term itself exists in two different ways: There is Capitalism as a system of economy, exchange and marketplace, and then there is Capitalism as an ideology. The “Capitalist” as we often identify those nameless people who control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, attained their status and position not because a Capitalist economy causes it, but because our system of Democratic governance allows it to happen. The “Capitalist” in that sense believes in the ideology of Capitalism, that the self possesses the greatest importance, that attaining more wealth is the eternal goal, and that the means justify the ends. The “Capitalist”, in so far as what they believe in and what we have come to despise and associate with Capitalism, is Machiavellian, Utilitarian, and believes in “survival of the fittest”.

Capitalism, however, is a wonderful system of exchange which allows us to exchange a predetermined and (ideally) universally agreed upon good (currency) for other goods, services, etc. The only other system of economy which I think could potentially reflect the meritorious nature of Capitalism is bartering; bartering becomes problematic when certain people possess a skill or good which is the only thing they have to offer, and they require a certain skill or good, but the people or person who offer that skill or good don’t want or need what the other person has. With currency, that allows exchange to be smoother and allows people to obtain things they require. It affords us a level of comfort that has never before been afforded to anyone, and continues to provide the means to increase that comfort.

The ideal Capitalist economy is cyclical in nature. Ideally, regardless of what is being produced, everyone is exchanging currency to get all the things they need, and all the things they want, and earning currency by working to either produce those things for themselves or other people. Ideally, Capitalism could conceivably be a global system of economy that works, with time and a lot of effort. Ideally, the citizen in a Capitalist economy has their individual value (to the rest of society, not on an actual personal level) determined by work, and through work, earns the means to live their life however they see fit. But unfortunately, our Democratic policies have, at the worst times, undone many relevant political and economic ideals.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Democracy is wonderful, and I don’t want to have anything else – just like I don’t want to have anything but Capitalism – but I think we need to change certain policies both to account for the increasingly globalizing economy and to hold people accountable. I own a button which says on it, “As long as money talks, we can have no true Democracy.” This holds a certain grain of truth to it; the problem is that money is capable of influencing certain things which it should not be able to influence, and there is no system of regulation in place to say that this should not happen. It is one thing to say that our politicians shouldn’t be allowed to take bribes in order to influence policy, which I’m willing to be no one doubts happens. It is another thing entirely to recognize that every step in the democratic process, from the voter right on up to political leaders, is influenced by money. Not only are such valuable institutions as news organizations, educational institutions, medical facilities and even now certain military outfits becoming increasingly privatized, but all of the finance which circulates in our economy is ultimately connected to privatization.

Privatization becomes increasingly problematic as it dominates these certain institutions which I hold dear, and I believe we all ought to. Private interests are almost always monetary; they don’t have an interest in what is good for the public. Their interests are what is good for their pockets. As I’ve mentioned, in an ideal Capitalism, that would be self-regulating: Everyone’s interests would be their own pockets, and competition would keep anyone from being too successful. But those are not the values upon which Democracy was founded. Democracy and Capitalism could work together by potentially providing the means to regulate each other. Whenever things become too out of hand with socio-economic inequality, the Democratic process should demand regulation. Whenever politics become too domineering, Capitalist thinking can divide people enough so that the importance of the individual is not forgotten.

With the Democratic process impeded by people whose goals align with Capitalist ideologies, it is not our system of economy we must blame, but ourselves. Ultimately, we are our government. If they do not represent us accurately, then we must stand up to represent ourselves. And ideally, this would have happened in much larger numbers, except that money has a way of turning heads like you wouldn’t believe.

Enter Consumerism. Consumerism can actually be a problem. Consumerism can be a problem when our obsession with products and goods distracts us from the importance of being Democratic beings. Consumerism and, particularly, mass culture add to self-importance, promoting the Capitalist ideology. Our form of Consumerism, at least, actually prevents us from participating in the Democratic process. But I have faith that Democracy will win out in the end; Democracy can be a slow beast to stir, but when it wakes, you get this:

Some of you may recognize these monumental photos, just a few of many. Movements in large numbers cannot be ignored. Ultimately, the same mass culture which was created to support consumerism and the “Capitalist” will also be its undoing. The moment we spread awareness and take part in this glorious process, any problems we may have with consumerism, Capitalist ideology or social inequality can potentially be navigated and made somewhat less problematic.

For those of you who had the patience to read through this entire article, thank you. I know it is long, and I tried to keep it short, but with a topic as massive as politics, sociology, and economics (for the three are inherently intertwined) it’s hard to discuss  prolifically  in fewer words. Please, tell me what you think.

Recently, I came across a tweet that read : “Went to pick up some takeout & left my cell phone home – felt like I was missing an organ”. This, once again, left me thinking about our materialistic lifestyles, and the importance of technology and other such advancements in our lives. It has become difficult to differentiate between “what we want” and “what we need”. Cell phones are thought to be one of the most essential tools for survival in today’s consumer society. Though there are alternate methods of staying in touch and communicating, cell phones, text messaging and social networking sites have decreased face-to-face interactions among people. I personally do not own a cell phone, which shocks and surprises many people, especially my fellow students. Since almost every person has a cell phone (rather, a smartphone), it becomes challenging for me at times to get a hold of my friends and classmates. Nevertheless, I have come to learn that I am able to function and live without this piece of technology just fine.
Having said that, it is not necessarily a negative thing. Technological advancements are one of the biggest proofs of a modern society. The question that remains though, is whether such modernism is a sign of living meaningfully well. In an article I read about consumerism, the author asks how we would define a meaningful life, and whether the economy we have today values such a life and helps us create such a life? I personally believe that today’s economy values profit and consumers seek luxury and comfort. Though my definition of living meaningfully consists of less materialism and more humanistic values and simplicity, I know that our economy is still headed towards a faster, advanced, and “glossier” future.

I recommend that you all read the article that I mentioned above:
http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2011/05/is_a_well_lived_live_worth_anything.html

After reading the introduction to A Consumer Society, the section that struck me most was the one that briefly describes alternatives to a consumer society. A few different strategies are mentioned in this section including Elgin’s strategy which is a simply “just say no” attitude to consumerism. Another strategy expressed by Lasn encourages “culture jammers,” which is basically the use of “sub-vertising, de-marketing, and the un-cooling of everything from fashion to fast food to auto transport. The final alternative supports an environmental perspective as it focuses on the amount of natural resources that we devastate and consume.

In my own view I don’t believe that there are any alternatives to a consumer society, even after reading the examples in the text. As mentioned by Collin, I also believe that almost all of our activities are commodified in one way or another. I would go even further to stress this fact as it does not only apply to facebook, or the latest phone craze. If we go back to Wednesday’s lecture and recall the Professors words we can see that commodities surround our everyday habits, such as sleep. In addition, the same circumstances surround camping. An activity that would normally be seen as an escape from a consumer society actually supports this idea of consumerism. From the tents we set up to the sleeping bags we sleep in all of this is part of a consumer society.

While we may be able to downshift what we buy, I do not believe that there is any way to escape from a consumer society.

Consuming Kids…

As we examined the basic topics and themes that we will be looking at throughout the semester, I was reminded of a video that I viewed in Children, Toys and Media (CT326) last semester. This video specifically looks at how consumerism affects children. It is scary to think of the impact that consumerism has on children basically from the day they are born. As adults we can attempt to distinguish that we are being sold to, but as children they do not know any better. This creates children that have a constant “want more” attitude. I found this video interesting and thought I would share it.

This is the trailer for the video:

Michelle Bakelaar