Free Essay

Exploring the Consumer Society

In: Social Issues

Submitted By studio77
Words 2005
Pages 9
Jacob Tatum
English 1302 – XW4
April 19, 2014
Professor Lee
Exploring the Consumer Society: The Urge to Splurge
I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in McKinney, Tx. The high school I went to, McKinney High School, had students in attendance whose parents were on government assistance, students whose parents were in the top 10% of the top 1% financially and everywhere in between. Consider this, if you took a group of randomly selected students from my high school and your goal was to estimate their household income based upon the value of their possessions (phone, clothes, jewelry, shoes, etc...) you'd most likely get it all wrong. This is because it doesn't matter where you come from, how much money you have, or what you look like; you're a customer, you're a consumer. We live in a society today and I went to a high school where people are judged based upon their possessions and what they can acquire. It doesn't matter how you acquired it, as long as you've got it. I think that judging people based off of what they own is a huge mistake.
I think it's unfortunate we are constantly purchasing things because of a brand or a logo, but at the same time I don't practice what I'm preaching. It's interesting to me that as I begin to think about it, I don't think any of the nice things I own are bringing me happiness right now, they have only provided some form of instant gratification. If someone asked me what I have to be happy about, I'd provide the cliché answer along the lines of “a loving family, food, and a roof over my head”; that's the truth and none of the above cost a dime. Throughout the article's I read, I believe they reinforced my original opinions on consumerism but also broadened my understanding of the issue at hand and helped me realize how and why we have created the society we live in today.
In his article, “Needing the Unnecessary”, author James Twitchell argues that 50 years ago the mindset was “if you got it, don't flaunt it” (319). Today, it's a totally different ball game. More to the tune of; if you've got it flaunt it, if you don't got it, get it and flaunt it. In order to understand where our society stands today versus 50 years ago and if the shift is for better or worse, we should consider what “it” is. “It” 50 years ago was simply money, that's why Twitchell says “luxury objects were tainted with shame... the people surrounding you have lived through The Great Depression” (319). Twitchell would argue that it you had money, meaning extra money, 50 years ago and you needed a new watch, you probably bought one similar to the one everyone else had for a small chunk of change. That's different from today because “it” is a $400 watch that does the same thing as a $25 one. You'll see someone who makes minimum wage go buy the same Michael Kors watch that a nurse only had to spend a couple hours worth of pay on. In a scenario like this, where people max out their credit lines, or can't control their spending habits because they are chasing a certain “status”, we need to learn to ask ourselves whether or not this purchase is necessary.
In their article, “Does Money Buy Happiness?”, Don Peck and Ross Douthat come to the conclusion that “money does buy happiness, but only to a point” (354). They found that “political freedom, physical safety and a belief in God are all strongly associated with happiness” (354). This is important to remember because none of these things listed are something you can buy at a mall. The graph shown on page 354 of our textbook, in Peck and Douthat's article does an effective job of showing that regardless of how much money you make, it doesn't guarantee happiness. It shows that Nicaragua and El Salvador, two of the poorest countries in the survey are happier than our society here in America, the most wealthy in the survey; I assure you they do not own more Michael Kors watches than us and they probably have experienced more hardships than we can imagine. Peck and Douthat show and prove through research and studies that happiness is not met by acquiring more and more expensive possessions but instead by having one's basic needs met (which they admit money can often buy). After one's needs are met, extra spending money doesn't equate to happiness, instead it is one's own personal freedom, relationships with family and God and health that increase a person's level of happiness.
At McKinney High School, if you didn't have an iPhone it was weird, if you wore the same shirt more than once in a week people noticed or if you didn't have a car waiting for you when you turned 16 you were an exception. Looking back, what I find interesting is that some kids probably drove cars worth as much as the house they lived in, while the same car was also driven by a kid who lived in a half a million dollar house. In “False Connections”, Alex Kotlowitz explains why we as a society make the choices we do as consumers; why it's so important to show off things you own regardless of whether or not you can actually afford them. Kotlowitz explains that “they” meaning material items, “link them to a secure, more prosperous world, a world in which they have not been able to participate-except as consumers” (329). This puts it into perspective, it helped me understand that a kid from the ghetto strives to own a Cadillac Escalade because to him it is a sign of “making it”, of being successful, a sign of being able to provide for his family; this is something the kid might have been lacking for his whole life. When kids from different sides of town are in the same school, it doesn't matter where you come from, if you have a nice watch, car or a sweet stereo system you're on the same playing field as the others with those things and you're viewed more highly than those without. Kotlowitz also explains another end to the spectrum, the “romanticization of urban poverty” (330). He says “the life of ghetto kids is edgy, gutsy and risky-all that adolscents crave” (330). It's true that at some point in their life, most teenagers want to take a risk or get into some trouble and in the same way an expensive car or piece of jewelry connects the less fortunate to the more fortunate, a pair of baggy pants or turning your ball cap to the side connects the white kid to the ghetto. It's easy to feel you can relate by making a purchase while in reality the poor are becoming trapped in a vicious cycle and the wealthy continue to set the bar high when it comes to flaunting success. In his article, Kotlowitz identifies a growing problem at hand; the poor are a lucrative market because they are constantly striving to better their place in society but they are led to believe by corporations and luxury brands that an extravagant purchase will help them achieve the next rung on the ladder of success.
In “The Grill-Buying Guy”, written by David Brooks, the end result of the guy purchasing this extravagant, expensive grill is a scenario of “domestic bliss...Patio Man has been shooting for all his life” (326). David Brooks paints a picture that our consumeristic society isn't bad and buying certain things are just pieces of the puzzle that we put together in order to create our ideal lives. I appreciate where Brooks is coming from because I believe that moderation is important. Why try to work harder or get that promotion if you can't go buy a new grill or get a new pair of sunglasses you really like? I think my eyes have been opened to the fact that our society is consumeristic and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Twitchell says that “humans are consumers by nature” and I agree with that (322). Brooks paints a world in which Patio Man has created the ideal backyard space and his new grill was an important part of making that happen. Happiness should not be realized after you swipe your credit card for the new grill, it should be realized when that new grill allows for a delicious dinner to be prepared in the backyard of your dreams and spend that time with your family. Brooks is trying to illustrate that at face value, consumerism seems superficial but if your new grill isn't being used to show off wealth and/or represent your status in society there's nothing wrong with being Patio Guy.
We are all consumers, especially in the American society. We are targeted by various advertisements and companies. I grew up in a modest home, making modest decisions regarding my life, money and purchases... but I now feel that I have a clearer understanding of the consumeristic society we live in today. There's a happy medium when it comes to existing in a society where we seemingly have endless options. My original opinion was that it's unfortunate that we purchase things things solely because of the name attached or the attention it will bring us. I made the statement that what made me happy was family, food and shelter. What I have come to realize is that although these are my basic needs, it is in our nature, my nature to consume. For example, if purchasing a new BBQ grill or a new TV will enhance the experience one has with their family, then being a consumer is a positive in this case. If you purchase a BBQ to out-do your neighbor or to show off, then you as a consumer have fallen into the trap that every company wants you to; the belief that blowing your cash on something extravagant will make you happy. My opinion of consumerism itself has been refined and broadened. I am more open to the good of consumerism because I can see the “domestic bliss” that Patio Man experienced. My opinion has become broadened because I am able to understand more clearly why the kids at my school did what they did, why people do it everyday, everywhere. Understanding that some are simply grasping for a life that is seemingly out of their reach or celebrating having "made it" has made me more sympathetic to those that I see showing off their glamorous lifestyle. Although my worn out nikes and “hole-y” jeans don't reflect it, I believe our consumer society is a positive thing because that's what we have demanded, the newest and the greatest. As with anything else, there can be rewards and consequences of our actions. Our consumer society has opened up job opportunities for many and has given people more options than one could ask for, but at the same time it leads others to base their self worth off of their belongings and causes one to spend what they don't earn to impress people they don't like. If we can harness the urge to splurge, I believe we can learn to use material items to enhance our day to day lives and not have a detrimental impact like they can on some people lives, relationships and progression.

Work Cited
Brooks, David. “The Grill-Buying Guy.” The Aims of Argument. Timothy W. Crusius.
New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. 324-26.
Kotlowitz, Alex. “False Connections.” The Aims of Argument. Timothy W. Crusius.
New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. 327-31.
Peck, Don and Ross Douthat “Does Money Buy Happiness?” The Aims of Argument. Timothy W. Crusius. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. 352-56.
Twitchell, James. “Needing the Unnecessary.” The Aims of Argument. Timothy W. Crusius. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. 324-26.

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