Thursday, April 9, 2009

Genaro - Consumption

"Before the twentieth century, the word consumption meant tuberculosis, and consumer was a non-entry in the lexicon. Now, parroting capitalists, even our purportedly left-wing pundits label us 'consumers,' treat all our off-the-job product-related activities as acts of 'consumption,' and tell us we live in a 'consumer society' with a 'consumer culture.'

For all that, do we roll our cars off cliffs to see them explode? Do we scramble to pour our just-bought beverages out in the grocer's parking lot? Do we rush home to smash our appliances with sledgehammers, then burn the sledgehammers in our fireplaces, then allow fire to burn down our houses--all to maximize our destruction--our consumption--of goods?"

-Michael Dawson, The Consumer Trap

I'm sure everyone has heard conspiracy stories of car manufacturer's capabilities of producing cars that won't need servicing for 50 years and can run on dramatically lower levels of fuel--or some of the first generation light bulbs that have been in operation for over 100 years, all in efforts to ensure the perpetual dependency of the consumer to their goods. Unfortunately, this is the natural progression of maintaining a 'healthy' economy. A rational argument would be that if manufacturers made goods to last, their markets will cease, and in turn the demise of the company, and so on . . .

More important than making goods that don't last (how many ipods/cellphones/computers have you gone through in the last 6 years?) is the detailed offensive against the consumer created to ensure dependency and confidence despite the longevity of usefulness of a product. Welcome to the world of disposable everything. Now companies rely on marketing strategies to keep us buying, disposing, and buying again. Internet networking sites, email service providers, and search engines blossomed into a marketer's wet dream, carefully and meticulously collecting valuable consumer data from the “counter cultures” they have tried oh so hard the past 60 years to replicate and authenticate to sell right back at you. Anyone that has gmail is usually perplexed to find several advertisements pitching you something that vaguely is connected to the last email you wrote.

The sad state of affairs is that most of ideological foundations of rationalizing consumer culture is our agency granted through capitalism with the wide variety of goods we can choose from. And if there aren't, we have the power to create our own good to provide competition (monopolies don't exist, right?)--moreover, our identity is somehow imbedded within our consumption choices (are you 'green'?). We are only what we buy. If there were some agency, marketing is set out to destroy it. Some would say that its pervasive qualities have made marketing successful in this arena. This microcosm of the self in our own consumer universe is intentionally perpetuated through marketers' strategies of individualizing the consumer, to the point where it has influenced the general form of marketing. Iphone, Ipod, myspace (and shortly afterward—even campbell's soup got in on it). This is, in part, to ensure your identity is affiliated with their product (are you a Malboro Man?, or maybe a anthropomorphized version of a mac or pc?), and also to ensure the notion that you are so important to their company's wellbeing. You not only exist through these products, but for these products. Even worse, one's decision to avoid consumption of products on a moral or ethical stance reaffirms the existence of individuals only as consumers (I am terribly guilty of such actions).

I don't intend to take some anti-consumption or anarchist related stance on the issue at hand (not today, maybe next week), but it may be interesting to take some time to evaluate advertisements that seem to glorify your individualism, sell you 'you', or attempt to jump start your identity.


  1. I think you and I are coming from similar views on the topic. I completely agree with most of what you wrote. Especially the part about not taking an anti-consumption stance (for this topic at least). Heck, anti-consumption is a market in itself.

    After reading Naomi Klein's No Logo and watching Frontline specials with Douglas Rushkoff's take on advertising and youth culture, it's really hard to avoid that we can't avoid it. I guess we just have to be more aware and make choices that don't drive our guilt.

  2. I have a nerd crush on Naomi Klein.
    You should read Sub-Culture: The meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige.
    Nice to internet meet you. Heard enough good things about you to think we're already friends. :)

  3. Hah, internet meeting. Wow, what a time we live in. Well, it's nice to "meet" you too and I'll put your recommendation on my lengthy library pull list.