When I watch videos about how badly Black Friday shopping went at Wal-Mart, and when I read an article about two men stabbing each other over a Wal-Mart parking space, no one needs to convince me that we still have a huge problem when it comes to mass consumerism. Our culture needs to be made aware of the insatiable drive to obtain as much as possible.
This is why, as part of the Cultural Diversity Lecture Series (hosted by J.C. Moore from the Sociology department), I presented a talk on consumer culture and materialism on October 24th of this year. While the clutches of Wal-Mart may not directly impact Glendale residents, Black Friday came a day early at many stores in the Glendale Galleria and the Americana at Brand. And every time I walk onto our campus, I see many students dressed in fashion that would rival a runway display. I see the $500 smartphones, the $2,000 laptops, and the countless amounts of luxury vehicles that line the parking structure stalls like lights in a storefront window. If I may be so bold, our students are trapped in the myth that proclaims happiness through consumption (and many of our fellow colleagues join them).
While I could have discussed the ways in which our consumption harms the environment and prevents sustainable living, I instead wanted to focus on the sociological and psychological impacts of this lifestyle, and those impacts are too numerous to count in one article. After teaching these themes for several semesters in my English 104 classes, and after reading about my students’ struggles with consumerism, I knew this needed to be brought up in a larger context to at least begin a greater discussion.
These sources, along with my own observations, were used for my research:
Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior, by Geoffrey Miller
Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, by Juliet B. Schor
The High Price of Materialism, by Tim Kasser
Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict, by Avis Cardella
Confessions of a Shopaholic, directed by P. J. Hogan
Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream, by Jerome M. Segal
“Underwear Power,” by Andy Warhol
If one can measure success by the numbers of those present, the lecture was completely successful. Krieder Hall was standing-room only. Yet the ultimate measure of success for me were the students who came up to me after the presentation to ask me further questions. One young woman was concerned about the welfare of her younger sister and the ways in which consumer culture was already impacting her. She asked me for advice on how to help her from becoming trapped in a materialistic mindset.
I told her what I tell you now: be aware of what you buy and why you buy it. The issues of consumer culture are interconnected. To eliminate consumer culture would be to eliminate the very America that has sustained us. I don’t think Americans are ready for a complete overhaul of the system (especially considering how this overhaul would impact the global economy). But I do think more of us are ready to stop allowing the price and quantity of our goods to determine the worth and value of our lives.
These were the solutions I presented to those in attendance, and I present them to you now:
I was honored to be a part of the new lecture series and hope that we as a college can continue to discuss these matters. In fact, be on the lookout for next semester’s “One Book, One Glendale” selection: What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael J. Sandel. It will continue in discussing the value judgments a culture should consider in the act of buying and selling.
(Scott Stalnaker, producer of the show Gateways to Glendale College, taped the lecture, so if you could not attend, be sure to look for it on his program.)