What Is Consumerism?

The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced.

- Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg examines materialism and the consumer. Does consumerism - as a cult, a fact, a need, a religion - threaten culture as we have known it, individuality as we desire it, life as we aspire to its best condition? Is the march of Mammon an army of jack-booted businessmen, using the propaganda of advertising and the seduction of the supermarket to trample us into submission, and into the worshipping of the great god - Buy? Or is the consumer the new source of power? A truer, more democratic individual freedom? Wordsworth prophesied much current criticism of consumerism when he wrote “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/getting and spending we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours:/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”. How has ‘getting and spending’ come to enjoy the place of importance it holds in our lives, and why have we so often seen shopping as in opposition to some notion of our ‘true natures’?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Materialism and the Consumer

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Our piles of crap don’t just contribute to reality-TV shows like Storage Wars and Hoarders — they also make us miserable, and not just when we can’t find the right remote or trip over a plastic robot our kid left on the floor.

Getting things like a new car or 60-inch flat-screen are goals many of us work toward. Unfortunately, these pursuits have the opposite effect we intend: Instead of making us happier, getting more stuff drags us down. In a new paper published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, Knox College psychology professor Tim Kasser shows, through a series of experiments spanning from six months to 12 years, that when people become more materialistic, their emotional well-being takes a dive...

Continue reading Martha C. White's article: Here's Proof Buying More Stuff Actually Makes You Miserable

Further Reading

Consumerism is a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. With the industrial revolution, but particularly in the 20th century, mass production led to an economic crisis: there was overproduction – the supply of goods would grow beyond consumer demand, and so manufacturers turned to planned obsolescence and advertising to increase consumer spending. Early criticism of consumerism such as Thorstein Veblen's best known book; The Theory of the Leisure Class, of 1899, which critically examined newly widespread values and economic institutions emerging along with newly widespread "leisure time," at the turn of the 20th century, where Veblen; "views the activities and spending habits of this leisure class in terms of conspicuous and vicarious consumption and waste. Both are related to the display of status and not to functionality or usefulness."...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Consumerism

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

Anthropology | CapitalismCritical TheoryCultureGreed | Hedonism | Minimalism | Sociology

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