Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Consumerism Trap, Or... America

The Plague of Consumerism and Materialism

Today I had a lengthy discussion about the state of the world with my wonderful girlfriend, but unfortunately the  majority cannot be positive things to speak of. Namely;
"western" society is constructed in such a way to minimize happiness, optimize productivity, and concentrate wealth.

Is it really true, though? Could this really be how things work?

The beginning of the conversation started from an earlier conversation I had on;

I think that having a yearly salary of $5 million is detrimental to the self, as well as the community, and at larger scales, to a global environment. However, at the same time, I do not feel comfortable with a government entity being able to say "Hey, you can't make anymore money, sorry." Not because I don't need more than $5 mil/yr, but because I don't think government's place is to do that. I think that change needs to be internal, personal, and psychological.

But moving on, I made the point that it is very clear that
1. People buy more things when they feel bad
2. People feel good when they buy things

These are general, and people can deny them if they choose, but deep down, we like getting new things, we like "advancing" our lifestyle - a new computer is a great example. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, yes and no. Objectively, in an ideal situation - no, not at all. However, the world isn't ideal, and you are a prey to consumerism. Let me illustrate my point:

I hadn't watched the news for a few months, let alone any television at all, but to humor myself, I turned on the local, nightly news. What was I about to witness - some governmental campaigns? Perhaps some new bills being introduced? How about a new energy source, or research project in the academics? No, I was blasted with 5, yes 5, separate news stories about brutal homicides and tragic deaths. How did I feel after watching this? Besides feeling like absolute shit, because I have the rare disease called empathy (sarcasm), I laughed a little inside. Why was it that this news decided to plaster me with terrible events?

The connection hadn't become clear for months. I realized that larger news agencies - those responsible for big impact (CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc...) knew about the previous idea - these news agencies KNEW that if I felt bad, I would buy more. Sound like a conspiracy theory? Next time you watch the Today Show (or to humor yourself, do it for the first time) you will notice something:
The order of events in news broadcasting go a little something like this:

"And today's news - a mother brutally murders her family..."
[which is followed by the details of the story]
"Wow what a terrible story!"
[Short discussion, feel bad, wow that sucks!]
"So what are the newest fashions, today? Lets go to time square to find out!"

Have you picked up on it yet? What is going on here?

Its a simple recipe;
Make the consumer feel bad.
Present something [to buy] to make them feel good.

If you can identify what is going on here, maybe you can see the subtleties beyond this; it is everywhere. I can't admit it, and don't believe it myself, but my girlfriend admits she likes to watch people suffer - she enjoys watching people be humiliated on TV. Hence why reality shows are so popular. People, for whatever reason, tend to enjoy others experiencing negative things. A strong sense of empathy will take you out of this group - however, with only a little bit of empathy, maybe you'll feel just a slight bit bad. And now a word from our sponsors. See, again?

Television has become a manipulation of our instincts. When we feel bad we want comfort. So what would a truly ingenious capitalist do?
Make people feel negative all the time, while providing easily accessible materials to choose from and, most importantly, purchase.

Do you believe it - A blind sheep in the shopping mall that is America? Allowing external influences control your happiness, your sadness?

Consider it, the next time you buy something new - did you really need it? Why, exactly, did you buy it? Where did you hear from it? What made you actually consider buying it, rather than just blowing it off?

I will leave you with a [true] anecdote;

A father of one daughter continues to get coupons from Target about baby products. His child is 17, and his wife is gone, so why is he getting these coupons? He calls and complains to Target, exclaiming that his daughter isn't pregnant, and he doesn't like getting these coupons that encourage that type of behavior. His daughter agrees, and says she doesn't even want to think about having a kid, and how terrible that would be at her age. Three months later, she her belly expands, and it's obvious she is pregnant. She literally didn't have a clue, but Target did. How did Target know?

Target tracked her buying habits covertly. They realized trends in what she was buying (specific foods, comfort items) and matched it with other pregnant women. The coupon was sent out automatically via an algorithm. Target knew she was pregnant - before she did. If you think this is incredible, I hope you can comprehend the possibilities beyond this. No matter how much you believe you aren't under the influence of advertising - you most certainly are.


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