Buying your own happiness
Re: The New Consumer
To the Editor:
Did it every strike you that most people in commercials and ads are smiling? With the exception of models posing in need of an Advil or a Rolaids, many of the rest of them gush from TV screens and billboards.
I admit that if I were in the business of selling a product, I would need some help in thinking of an alternative to peddling merchandise using unusually happy looking people. Still, I think it's fair to note that the overall message of our merchandising culture is that we can spend our way to happiness. And apparently it is the well educated who best absorb this lesson. David Neff, executive director of Books and Culture: A Christian Review, writes that according to Harvard's Juliet Schor, women with graduate degrees spend more time shopping than people in any other category.
Although Neff is thinking of the Americans surveyed in Schor's work, his comments surely have currency on this side of the border. He notes that shopping and consumption have taken on new meanings. Through our carefully planned purchases we express our individuality, or at least, we think we do. It is a matter of concern to buy "Gap jeans rather than Wranglers [and] Calvin Klein underwear rather than Fruit of the Loom." Thus we attempt to spend our way, not only to happiness, but also to individuality. We are busy trying to create our identities through buying highly visible products in highly recognizable brands. This is known as the "new consumerism."
It may not be intentional on the part of anyone on campus, but university culture reinforces this. The UCC is something of a mall in which we collectively (by hiring entertainers), or individually, purchase our way to a cheery day. We establish our identities in part by whether we choose to make use of the pool lounge or the fitness center, whether we order a Bud or a Keith's. We try to spend our way to both happiness and individual identity.
Should we be alarmed at this new consumerism? I think we should. It makes us (should we accept it) the pawns of merchandisers and advertisers who promise us happiness for the price of name brand clothes, up-scale cars, prime real estate and a current CD collection. And it turns us into a bi-polar society. On the one hand we learn to manipulate others for profit. On the other, we ourselves desire to be manipulated by the merchants of happiness.