I believe that modern American society has alienated individuals. By creating endless options to everyday life, we are creating a totally personalized separate experience from the rest. Advertisements sell the idea that the product was made special for you – Each time one buys into a product, a company, a social trend, they are also buying into the beliefs that are backed by those things. For instance L’OREAL reminds us, “Because your worth it” but it doesn’t give us any real understanding of what that means.

We use products as comfort mechanisms, their branding views and beliefs slowly becoming our ideas. And those ideals are backed by so many justifications. This overwhelming rational of the modern person requires a customized life. The truth is that the products and their beliefs we accept into our custom lives, are acting as comfort mechanisms, cheat tools and crutches. Customized decision making allows us to believe we are moving into new spaces – Each time the individual makes a choice of what they want to do different from the rest, they make a cut into what is possible, entertaining only the ideal and not the reality of what could be.

There is an overwhelming disconnect hidden by the promotion of the American ideal. Stitched together, for maximum personalization, we believe that combining particular pieces of our social culture will insure custom-fitting individuation. The truth is we are limiting ourselves more now than ever, and our perceptions are choices that obscure the reality of our limitations. By consistently focusing on how our consumer driven choices can be bonded together to create a happy ideal we are missing out on the opportunity to really develop a sense of true self.

I dislike this phenomenon of separation. After all, America was founded on a democratic core belief that the people could work together to make something more than the individual by his/herself was capable of creating. Yes, the individual is responsible for creating the change they wish to see. However real, meaningful change will only come when individuals begin to work together honestly and openly to create a society really worth living in. Instead of focusing so much of our attention on how we can put up walls to separate from each other in our perceived “uniqueness”, we should be focusing on how much we have in common and how we might break down the walls between us to come back together.

 

Chelsea Depner | College for Creative Studies

 

Note from the Professor:

Chelsea’s blog discusses the personal impact of living in a consumer culture. While this topic has inspired significant discussions in academic circles, we very rarely read an honest assessment of what it “what it feels like” to be raised in this kind of culture. I suppose a parallel discussion would be chatting about water with a fish.

How do we develop an expansive enough perspective to objectively understand the influence of consumerism on our everyday life experience? Just like our imaginary fish is soaked in water, we are soaked in a culture hijacked by the demands of consumerism. Our identity is tied to purchasing decision in very real ways. (If you are objecting to my statements because you do not own a TV, listen to the BBC for your news and never shop the mall – think again — your rejection of consumerism may just represent the flip side of the same coin. More on that later!).

For those of you who are interested, I am posting two reader friendly references on this very complicated and heady subject. Hopefully, this will jump start further conversation.

Read the chapter entitled “The Magic System” in Problems in Materialism and Culture by Raymond Williams (London, Verso, 1980).

Read the chapter entitled “Running It Up a Flagpole to See if Anyone Salutes” in Ads, Fads and Consumer Culture: Advertising’s Impact on American Character and Society by Arthur Asa Berger (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000).

Molly Beauregard