Thursday, March 27, 2008

on: Consumerism

Everybody has voids in their lives, whether its between ourselves and our goals, our spirits and our God, our fork and our mouth, whatever; there are voids. And as varied as the voids are, even more diverse are the ways we seek to fill them. Many turn to workaholicism (now a word), religion, exercise, or pathological eating. I have usually turned to obsessive exercise and religion, as I personally feel that many of us feel a natural separation from our heavenly home, but I read something this morning that really irked me. May be irk isn't quite the right verb, but it gave me pause. I was reading an interesting slideshow on the meaning of luxury in a mass marketing world, and how we can create products, like the iPod, or the Starbucks Latte, that have a certain "massclusivity," i.e. they present themselves as luxury items that are owned by only those in the know, and yet, because of the relative purchasing power of an average American household, are as ubiquitous as McDonalds. Anyways, back to the point. What gave me pause was this slide: "Marketing becomes the ultimate social practice of postmodern consumer culture, it now plays an important role in giving meaning to life through consumption."

I am a bit of a cynic, and this may seem like an easy target, but I believe there is much more to life than owning the right bag, car, perfume, shoe, etc. Marketing has truly become the enemy, as now not only are we giving people things they don't need (a common assumption) but now we have replaced Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus as the dispensers of meaningful life. I am disgusted at this assertion because of two facts, one: I believe this life is only a piece of a much larger journey, and that part of this life is learning to discern between what's nice and what's necessary. People are losing focus on what matters. This same presentation identifies growing trend in America. We no longer find meaning in production, but only in consumption. While I disagree that this is endemic of everyone, I do believe it is a growing epidemic.

America, as a whole, has forgotten many of the values espoused by our "Greatest Generation," those raised in and around the two world wars. Work was always its own reward. Now luxury is an expected reward for those who have not worked. We have not only moved from a producer culture to a consumer culture, but I would argue we have gone one step further to an entitlement culture. Young people have an increasing belief that life owes them their every desire, without any effort on their part. If you wonder why our economy is headed into the toilet, look around. People bought things they didn't need, with money they didn't have, at prices they couldn't afford. We keep pumping the credit bubble, consumer credit debt exceed the national debt, with our entitled expectations of luxury goods we can't afford. Cars, homes, clothes, take your pick. It doesn't take a microscope to see that you can't make $50,000 a year and buy $300 a pair jeans, live under a half a million dollar mortgage, and lease two new cars every two years. If we want to be luxury consumers we must do what luxury consumers have done throughout the centuries: a. be born into a royal family or b. bust your bourgeoisie butt until you have enough in the bank to look like the royals. Credit won't get you there, and stealing has some rather unpleasant strings attached. We have attached social status to consumption, not production, and we are raising the greatest generation of whiners to every set foot on our soil. Don't begrudge the Latino driving the brand new lifted Dodge, chances are he or she paid cash. And while they may not have a legal social security number, you may want to check your pride at the door when you look at the REAL value they are creating. I say it's time we quit filling our voids with goods and start filling up on hard work and value creation.

Check out Luxury Brand Marketing in the Culture of Accelerated Meaning