Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fellow consumers: we cannot escape history

The consumerist takeover of the US psyche which began in the 1950s is complete: While we have been in our gluttonous torpor, our citizenship title has been revoked in favor of "consumer". Appropriately enough, this blessed event took place yesterday in a location bearing the hopeful name of Sunrise, FL, where, in an Orwellian concession to the fans of "Going Rogue", the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America dropped the objectionable "Public Option" and replaced it with the promise of "Consumer Option".

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are no longer the public, we are merely consumers. Whodda thunk it? In the nation built upon the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we are officially empowered to pursue only STUFF. Of course, it was a matter of time. The success of the marketing enterprise over the last 50 years is astounding. What? You think this happened by accident? Ever heard of Victor Lebow? As an economist in the 1950s, he is credited with the following words:
Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.
These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. The home power tools and the whole “do-it-yourself” movement are excellent examples of “expensive” consumption.
Really! In broad daylight and with complete seriousness. Are you awake? We have been manipulated for 5 decades. We have generated tremendous wealth for a few, we have decimated our environment, and we are less healthy and happy now than we have been in the last 30 years! So, of course, what we need is more consumerist rhetoric; thanks, Nancy for doing the right thing.

What will it take to break us out of this hypnotic state? What will it take to alter this mystical-magical thinking that the next purchase is going to make our lives everything we had imagined? Stop pressing the lever, get off the spinning wheel, take your own pulse and a deep breath: we have hit the wall.

[Hat tip @ivanoransky, @epatientDave, @paulroemer]


  1. That does it. I'm outta here tomorrow, wallet bulging with cash, credit cards panting to be swiped. Now, what shall I buy? What do I need? The list is mind boggling, the opportunities endless.

    But, hey, wait a minute. I don't need a thing. There is nothing, except food and a few necessary replaceables, I can't live without.

    Then again, try telling that to a consumer-driven marketplace.

  2. Love the image of panting credit cards-- reflects our panting consumer enthusiasm!