Consumerism in America

Consumerism is assumed to be the basic pattern for the modern lifestyle in the USA. Some researchers even compare it with a kind of belief. It is essential to explore the nature of this phenomenon, including its development and the contemporary situation. In addition, it is useful to give a precise definition. Eventually, its consequences and effects are to be put under analysis.

Consumerism is multifaceted, resulting in a significant influence on a variety of American life aspects. It is sure to have effects on a particular individual as well as on society as an entity. The “ideologists” of consumerism state that its principles are highly beneficial for consumers. However, nowadays, the majority of literature dedicated to disclosing the peculiarities of consumerism tends to incline to recognizing the preferably negative character of consumerism consequences for economy, social ethics and even environment etc.

Though, the essence of the effects, especially, whether they are adverse or positive, needs a deep exploration. In America it seems that we are driven by the need to have more could this need to have more be fueled by something other than our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as mentioned in the constitution or, could this need be socially and, commercially driven.

Consumerism developed within certain conditions, predetermining the inevitable appearing of such a phenomenon. The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s shifted the way of the economic history. For the very first time, it allowed products to be available in previously impossible huge quantities. Not to mention the fact that the increase in production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century resulted in growing markets. This meant expanding the consuming class far beyond the middle and upper classes and to include the working classes (Beder, 2004). The population rates grow only three times between 1860 and 1920 while the production increased by 12 to 14 times (Beder, 2004).

The major industrial facilities tried to go with the times. That was the reason that back in 1910, Henry Ford instituted the “line production system” in his Highland Park, Michigan plant (Chandler, 1976). In spite of the innovation being in particular ways relatively unsophisticated, that was the moment of transformation of the U.S. capacity to produce (Ewen, 1976). In addition, the high level of products availability can be easily explained by rapid cost rate decrease. Moreover, the unrestricted access naturally resulted in the flourishing of the Mass Consumption era (“History of American Consumerism”).

The mechanisms of mass production determined the need for markets to become more dynamic. These dynamic changes had to include various aspects. Firstly, they needed to grow horizontally, meaning nationally, secondly, vertically (expanding into such social classes that were not previously among consumers), and, eventually, ideologically (Ewen, 1976). The population was forced to be habituated to give a response to the newly developed demands of productive machinery. The researchers emphasize that it was even a nationwide systematic plan aiming at providing the wide masses with more buying power (Ewen, 1976).

As the result, the system of consumer production was freely growing. The mass manufacturer could not depend exclusively upon an elite market in order to respond to the productive capacity. Therefore, the products’ mass producer was forced to take into consideration the whole United States, ensuring the competitiveness with the other manufacturers by producing enough goods quantity for reducing the cost to the sufficient rate (Ewen, 1976).

Nevertheless, the philosophy of consumerism has undergone a number of changes. It was imposed that people are almost obliged to obtain not only necessary goods, but also pay special attention to the other factors. For instance, new model of a particular product has been considered to be more efficient, meaning the need for purchasing the latest configuration (“History of American consumerism”). Besides, the further changes touched the other criterion as people started buying newer models based on considerations about appearance. Nowadays, the companies tend to seek for increasingly sophisticated tricks in order to encourage consumers to get rid of the old product and buy the new one instead (“History of American consumerism”).

According to Scott, human nature is more complex to control than a material one (Ewen, 1976). The adequate approach to distribution was and still is (to the significant extend) a guarantee for high level of efficiency and profitability. Therefore, it was a necessity to create an ideological link narrowing the prejudices and covering the traditional social gaps in needs, class, taste or region. Advertising has become an inherent part of mass distribution within industries. Marketing professionals use advertisements in order to encourage, or even force people to strive to purchasing certain goods, starting with small, relatively cheap items and ending with luxurious houses and cars.

Advertising is a legal tool for manipulating the consciousness of consumers. The camp of advertisement supporters claim that it plays a positive role by providing people with essential information. Though, such statement is quite controversial. Advertising along with mass media industry in general have made a considerable contribution into developing certain rules or norms of consumption within the American society. Such norms depict the sufficient for high standard of living level of consumption.

The influence of consumerism concept is in the progress of constant increasing and expanding. The parallels with religious beliefs might be quite reasonable within analyzing the issue. Consumerism has become an inherent part of the contemporary lifestyle. It is worth noticing that alike as the belief consumerism is ephemeral and intangible, still people can perceive its effects in everyday life. It is arguably, but it might be referred as the religion of 20th and 21st centuries (Miles, 1998). To support this statement, Miles emphasizes that it apparently enters the day-to-day life, structuring everyday experience (1998, p.1). Moreover, it is rapidly altering the forms and reasserting the influences in the new spheres (Miles, 1998).

Consumerism is the concept depicting the belief that happiness and well-being depends to a significant degree of personal consumption. Basically, it means that purchasing certain material goods is likely to increase the level of satisfaction with life. The idea includes several layers: firstly, well-being depends on the standard of living, secondly that the key satisfaction in life is centered in consumption and possession of material goods benefit. “Consuming” as an activity has become one of the most valuable and worth spending time and resources. The principles of consumerist society are developing around the idea of the increasing necessity to consume.

This statement can be easily paraphrased into an elementary formula: the more you consume, the better it is for you. To add to the point, the United States is the highly developed country, meaning that the consumerist society evolved to the hyper-consumerist society. The supporting facts are sure to be found in everyday life. The Americans are mostly obsessed with the idea of buying things beyond their basic needs. Certain elements of luxury have gained the perception of necessary for happiness and sufficient standard of life. Moreover, cities are transformed into the centers of “consumerism religion”. Shopping malls provide people with the enormous quantity of mostly useless goods.

The lifestyle dictated by the consumerism concept brings about a variety of adverse effects. It is reasonable to start with the consequences for an individual. Consumerism might dislodge more valuable thing from the life of Americans. People are mostly concentrated on owning money in order to satisfy the needs imposed by advertisement, mass media industry and the consumerist society in general. The ethical and spiritual part of life, along with socializing might draw back. Moreover, the consumerist society norms might be considered as those restricting the individual freedom to a significant degree. The proclaimed standards engage in bringing to life particular patterns associated with well-being and happiness of the people within a certain framework.

In addition, more global long-term consequences refer to economical, social and environmental spheres. For example, environmental sustainability is put under jeopardy as the consumerism stimulates people to buy even bigger quantity of new goods, get rid of another enormous quantity, meaning that the nature might not be capable of overcoming the severe effects of consumerist society lifestyle. Not to mention the fact that manufacturing of certain products needs the nonrenewable natural resources utilizing. The economical layer is also essential as the credit cards and loans, providing the members of consumerist society with an ability to keep up with the prescribed standards, contributed to the development of the economical crisis and credit crunch.

Eventually, the conducted research has shown that consumerism is not as beneficial as the mass media industry tends to depict it. Consumerism might be reduced to the concept that constant and increasing consumption of goods is a guarantee for happiness and well-being. The development of such a concept was inevitable due to the economical conditions that started with the Industrial Revolution. The manufacturers are interested in profit growth, it results in a variety and diversity of marketing tricks aimed at stimulating the buyers will and power to consume. Though, the consumerist society provoked the adverse effects of individual and global character.

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