There’s been some really interesting thinking and comments coming back to me again from the last two posts, so thanks again to everyone and do use the respond function (above) or send me an email or tweet if you have any thoughts that can help me build this thinking. Two big highlights of this are below – if you can help me, please do!
The first highlight for me is the interest in the history of Consumerism, something a lot of people clearly have thoughts on and some great references to offer. The Adam Curtis’ documentary series ‘The Century of the Self’ (fully available on vimeo here) offers a particular polemic perspective, building the story that Consumerism as a social system was deliberately created through the work of Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, essentially as a means of social control to quell the passions of a fundamentally bad species in a project than began in the early years of the twentieth century and found its time in the aftermath of World War II. Walter Lippman’s 1914 book Drift and Mastery is I am told the origin of the idea of creating a “consumer movement”; and of course there is the 1955 Victor Lebow quotation, which seems to imply a deliberately created system and is worth sharing in full:
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.
More recently, the response of Bush and Blair to 9/11 – slightly, but only slightly, apocryphally quoted as “Show our way of life – go shopping!” have been called out to me by a number of people. I’m personally also fascinated by the year 1984, for reasons that start with George Orwell, but include the famous Apple “Think Different” ad, the Body Shop, Band Aid, and Virgin Atlantic, as perhaps the year when the Consumer truly became king. This is definitely a rich area for investigation. Any more links or suggestions greatly appreciated.
The second big area is around the power of language, and the importance of the words here. Getting the language right is clearly going to be key to talking to people as Citizens rather than Consumers – two words that carry as much weight as, for example, ‘bachelor’ and ‘spinster’. The language of economics as the language of the prevailing system is I think a major factor here – to the extent that the ideas of economics are so impenetrable to the average person that it becomes almost impossible to argue, and creates a system where only those who speak the language are seen as fit to hold power. I would greatly appreciate links to any theoretical frameworks or literature that could help me develop this part of the inquiry.