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Consumerism in American Society and Its Critique Essay

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Updated: Aug 13th, 2020

Introduction

Corporate politics have influenced traditional American beliefs, American culture, and American social systems. This way, the commercialization of culture has degenerated traditional cultural values. Through a fascination with American television, mass media has stripped us of tradition and replaced it with a fascination for the pursuit of products and other material possessions. This change has happened within a wider context of the consumerism culture.

This culture is part of a popular myth in American contemporary society that advances the belief that gratification and social integration occurs through product ownership and the accumulation of material possessions.

Here, stronger needs for fetishistic consumer ideals have replaced traditional values that focus on art, religion, and family. In a false representation of gratification, egocentric ideals have forced many Americans to sublimate the desire for cultural fulfillment through an endless pursuit for material possessions.1 In this regard, there is no rebirth or renewal through property ownership because transcend truths are lacking. This paper delves deeper into this topic by evaluating the ideology surrounding consumerism and finding out its interaction with traditional American cultural values.

Ideological Critique

Consumerism thrives on media-manipulated undulations. In this regard, it fails to meet its goals because it lacks the fulfillment of other cultural mythologies (consumerism offers short-term gratification for people who can afford luxury goods and services at the expense of those who cannot afford them). This way, consumerism is a myth that thrives on an inadequately engineered value system. The consumerism culture has thrived in America because the society is largely egocentric.

This egocentric culture has made it easy for many Americans to overlook the ontological value of an important cultural experience and replaced it for the ideals and values propagated by deceptive advertising. The lack of morality and humanitarianism are products of this system because people measure their cultural values to economic worth. This system has thrived on the backdrop of a politically oppressive culture that depends on product availability, as opposed to survival needs. These factors have justified the politically oppressive moral construction of the American society. Barthes affirms this view through his representation of myths as “signifiers.” 2

As opposed to the common belief that most myths hide the truth, myths distort our perception of reality. This is what Barthes believes to be the true alienation of our history. He uses this philosophy to oppose the premise through which most myths use to advance their distorted truths – the alienation of history through language. This happens through an oversimplification of truths to a few definitive traits. In the distorted moral and societal system, the dollar has become a cheap substitute for American cultural values. Here, the society gauges people’s self-worth with their ability to purchase luxury goods and services. This problem has also brought a major identity crisis for America because people’s purchasing decisions are not only informed by purpose, but, rather, by the need to please others, or to gain social acceptance.

The consumer is a target within the wider consumerism myth that characterizes American contemporary society (the myth often influences consumer decisions). False media campaigns that strive to sell an “impractical” view of life that promotes the idea that people’s life problems could end by working hard and purchasing luxury goods influence consumers. Consumer targeting does not work by identifying what customers need or want, but, rather, by what big businesses could sell to consumers (at the highest profit). This selection criterion works by identifying what customers could accept through false media advertising. This way, consumers are not decision-makers because their life choices are predetermined.

Conclusion

Based on the highlights of this paper, big business in America does not hold people’s best interests. Greed and the allure of huge profits motivate big business. Its proponents know that consumerism means more profits for the bourgeoisie. This way, a culture of consumerism promotes a new version of “rogue capitalism.” This new paradigm is detrimental to positive and productive societal growth because it makes people feel inadequate, as self-worth is measurable only by the quantity of luxury items one can buy.

Since a minority of Americans could afford these products, the rest feel inadequate. The dynamics of consumerism, as highlighted in this paper, show that the concept is a myth driven by different constructs of our social and value systems.3 Therefore, through the reconstruction of our social value system lays an insecure American who is more preoccupied with meeting societal expectations, as projected in mainstream media advertising, as opposed to becoming more self-aware and more appreciate of their self-worth. Simply put, many people believe that their identity depends on mainstream media perceptions of men and women.

For example, the common phrase, “we are what we wear” emerges from this philosophy. Nonetheless, although this paper presents consumerism as a myth in contemporary American society, people are beginning to realize the power they wield through popular grass root support. Indeed, as a collective buying force, people are beginning to realize that when they work as union pickets, they can have power over big business in America. Through these tactics, it is possible to manage the abusive policies of American corporate bodies.

Footnotes

  1. According to Barthes, someone who consumes a myth – such as most tabloid readers – does not see its construction as a myth. They see the image simply as the presence of the essence it signifies.
  2. Myths are never arbitrary. They always contain some kind of analogy, which motivates them. In contrast to ideas of false consciousness, myths do not hide anything. Instead, myths inflect or distort particular images or signs to carry a particular meaning.
  3. Barthes says that myth is a metalanguage, which provokes thought and meaning by allowing language to speak for itself. Consumerism is one such myth because it builds on the tenets of false advertising and reduces the raw material of signifying objects into similarities. It is like representing a photograph and a book in the same way.
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IvyPanda. 2020. "Consumerism in American Society and Its Critique." August 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/consumerism-in-american-society-and-its-critique/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Consumerism in American Society and Its Critique'. 13 August.

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