Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Marx argued that the capitalist economy leads to the fetishization of goods and services, and the devaluing of the worth of a good or service, and instead focusing on its price in the market. In many critical contexts the term is used to describe the tendency of people to identify strongly with products or services they consume, especially those with commercial brand names and obvious status-enhancing appeal, e.g. an expensive automobile, rich jewellery. It is a pejorative term which most people deny, having some more specific excuse or rationalization for consumption other than the idea that they're "compelled to consume". A culture that has a high amount of consumerism is referred to as a consumer culture.

To those who accept the idea of consumerism, these products are not seen as valuable in themselves, but rather as social signals that allow them to identify like-minded people through consumption and display of similar products. Few would yet go so far, though, as to admit that their relationships with a product or brand name could be substitutes for the healthy human relationships lacking in dysfunctional modern societies.

The older term "conspicuous consumption" spread to describe this in the United States in the 1960s, but was soon linked to larger debates about media theory, culture jamming, and its corollary productivism.

The term and concept of "conspicuous consumption" originated at the turn of the 20th century in the writing of economist Thorstein Veblen. The term describes an apparently irrational and confounding form of economic behaviour. Veblen's scathing proposal that this unnecessary consumption is a form of status display is made in darkly humorous observations like the following:

"It is true of dress in even a higher degree than of most other items of consumption, that people will undergo a very considerable degree of privation in the comforts or the necessaries of life in order to afford what is considered a decent amount of wasteful consumption; so that it is by no means an uncommon occurrence, in an inclement climate, for people to go ill clad in order to appear well dressed."(The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899).

Viktor Frankl had suggested that in the U.S., the engine behind consumerism is an extension of the "bread-winner" desire, an argument originally made by Veblen in his 1899 book.

"Overcoming Consumerism" is a growing philosophy. It is a term that embodies the active resistance to consumerism. It is being used by many universities as a term for course material and as an introduction to the study of marketing from a non-traditional approach.

Bill Hicks and Pier Paolo Pasolini were strongly opposed to consumerism.


Dave567 said...

My suspicion is that this is an unavoidable human dilemma, that people will always want to avoid pain, to avoid those who are in pain, and so will be vulnerable to anyone or anything that seems to promise permanent avoidance. At the same time, I think people know that pain is part of our nature, that it cannot be avoided and that it should not be avoided. But capitalism in this country is focused on the idea 1) that life can and should be absolutely beautiful; 2) that beauty can be defined according to an ironclad objective standard; 3) that beauty can be held onto forever if only you do the right things perfectly enough; and 4) that it can be purchased. I don't only mean physical, personal beauty, but that is a good enough example and metaphor. You look at a fashion magazine, or really any glossy magazine, and you see flawlessly beautiful women in fantasy lives of utter beauty and excitement, sometimes mixed in with a little cruelty. It appeals to what I think of as the upper layer, the part of us that wants that perfection so much because it is static; it pretends that life can be captured, controlled by us forever without the endless slippage of organic life, in which we are a mere piece of vegetable matter in a system that is as much about disintegration and decay as anything else -- a system in which our personalities and egos do not matter, let alone whether or not we are pretty.

The fantasy pictures are never-never land, and yet you can feel a certain desperation in the way they deny everything that isn't utterly beautiful, utterly light; paradoxically, the insistence on occupying that realm evokes all the more ungainly, "ugly" things that are being denied. People know there is something wrong with this denial, even if they want to buy into it, so "darkness" asserts itself in increasingly distorted forms, like anorexia, cutting, all kinds of emotional violence. Light and dark become so polarized that it is terrifying, and something like sadness can come to seem grotesque -- and in fact become grotesque, like you see in somebody like [writer] Elizabeth Wurtzel, who I believe is desperately unhappy in part because she has absolutely bought into the idea that she should not be unhappy.

About your question of sexuality and sadness: I think they have a natural connection for everybody, which is why (and I know I'm talking out my ass here) I think people on antidepressants often lose sexual feelings. I don't mean that I think sex is only about sadness; it is obviously about joy and vitality and birth as well. But I think it is our root link to the deepest part of ourselves, the part that goes beyond personality or even human identity. It goes down into a pit we can't see into, and people tend to be scared of what they can't see.

I don't think "sadness" alone is in that pit; I think everything is in it, too much for us, in our human incarnation, to bear -- so that a fully expressed sexuality does have that dark, earthen element that is profoundly sad, at least in human terms. I think it is in part about death, and is what menopausal women sometimes feel, an extraordinary despair that is about the breaking down of procreation and identity -- which is now controllable by hormones so nobody has to feel anything icky. This is a part of sexuality that never shows up in advertisements, that rarely shows up in pop music, but everybody knows it's there. And in our trying, maybe unconsciously, to find it, it gets expressed in some distorted forms.

G4jima said...

Right Dave, deep man.

Dave567 said...

hey dont take the piss it took me a long time to write that

G4jima said...

I don't think "sadness" alone is in that pit; I think everything is in it, too much for us, in our human incarnation, to bear -- so that a fully expressed sexuality does have that dark, earthen element that is profoundly sad, at least in human terms."

dave your telling me what I mean I can accept some of this but to be honest its just damn well depressing and besides I'm sure you just robbed it off the internet!!!!

Dave567 said...

punctuation my man punctuation!