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CMNS 110 (60)

Week 9 Reading Notes

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Simon Fraser University
CMNS 110
Gary Mc Carron

CMNS 110 – Week 9 Readings pp. 316-336, pp. 337-351, pp. 353-371, and pp. 372-384 I Hate Myself And Want to Buy by Joseph Heath Consumerism and the critique of mass society The critique of mass society has been one of the most powerful forces driving consumerism for the past 40 years. No Logo, Adbusters, Fight Club, etc do not undermime consumerism; they reinforce it. Consumerism is not conformity… consumerism is a rebellion that has been the driving force of the marketplace. Can money buy happiness? Yes, to have a greater ability to satisfy your needs and desires, to alleviate suffering and illness, and to carry out life projects. While economic development has shown a steady increase in happiness levels, after a certain level of development has been reached the effect disappears completely. - Once GDP reaches about US$10,000 per capita, further economic growth generates no gain in average happiness - North America hit that level long ago… - Growth ceases to produce any improvements at all… but every year our economy pumps out more appliances, more cars, more meals, more everything – and the quality of these goods increase dramatically, year after year - In the middle of all this wealth, the middle class feels more stressed, squeezed, with less free time, and working longer hours - Increased productivity was supposed to create universal affluence and eliminate poverty as we know it… but the level of basic needs poverty hasn’t changed Where did all the money go?? The money is being spent on private consumption goods Consumerism – compulsion or obsession with acquiring more and more consumer goods, even though this leads us to make unreasonable sacrifices in other areas of life - Appears to be a product of consumers trying to outdo one another - It is the competitive consumption that creates the problem, not conformity - It’s the nonconformists, not the conformists, who are driving consumer spending Fight Club – revolt against the repressive conformity of modern society - The alienation that leads the narrator to blow up all his worldly possessions is no different from the suppressed rage that lead him to start the underground fight club The Consumer Society by Jean Baudrillard - There are only needs because the system needs them (supply and demand) - The ‘needs’ we express in the marketplace are not a reflection of any underlying set of real desires; they are simply a way of conceptualizing our participation in the symbolic system - Capitalism suffers from a periodic crises of overproduction - Contradiction of capitalism: mass production increases the supply of goods, yet it also reduces the income of workers, leading a shortfall to demand… at the end of the day, the capitalist (businessman) is left with a mountain of unsold goods, having deprived the working class of the revenue needed to buy them o Solution: advertising was introduced to resolve the crisis of overproduction… transform the worker into a consumer; trick the workers into wanting more and more - Capitalism instills “a compulsion to need and a compulsion to consume” - Capitalism entails controlling people to want the same standardized goods o Requires a uniform system of functionally imposed needs in order to absorb the excess of commodities produced through mass production o As a result, nonstandard acts may be seen as politically radical o The rebel consumer – the consumer can disrupt the system simply by refusing to shop where he/she has been told to General overproduction is a myth - Goods in exchange for goods - On the contradiction of capitalism: doesn’t deprive the economy, but rather shifts the money out of one sector and into another - Recessions were not caused by “too many goods” but rather by “not enough money” Another myth: consumerism creates jobs for others - Money saved will simply be spent by someone else Veblen’s View: Fundamental problem with consumer society is not that our needs are artificial, but the goods that are produced are valued less for their intrinsic properties than for their role markers of relative success - After the basic necessities such as food, clean water, shelter are provided, goods become used as markers for social status (i.e. bigger houses, jewelry, etc) - Zero-sum game: Moving up the social ladder means bumping someone down - Consumerism is a collective action problem – a prisoner’s dilemma - Consumerism as a brainwashing theory – they have been programmed by advertising to be competitive (buy the best detergent; brand matters, etc) o Advertisers stimulate envy and encourage an unhealthy preoccupation with social status - The Pecuniary standard of decency – the minimum level of expenditure below which a person comes to be seen as “deprived” - Much of our competitive consumption is defensive in nature (the SUV-car argument) Pierre Bourdieu on aesthetic judgment - Dominated by “ the ideology of natural taste” – the difference between beautiful and ugly is not the eye of the beholder but is intrinsic to the object - Ability to detect bad art is distributed in a miraculously class-specific fashion; only a small percentage of the population has it…the high-status members of society - Aesthetic judgment is always a matter of distinction – separate the superior from the inferior o Much of good taste is defined negatively, in terms of what it’s not o Not everyone can have good taste; it is conceptual impossibility (just like all students having above-average grades) - Good taste shifts toward more inaccessible, less familiar styles…nothing too mainstream! o Good taste is a positional good – one can only have it if many others do not o Their value stems from exclusivity - Primary reason why people from different social cla
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