The Social Disease that is Consumerism

by / 2 Comments / 1554 View / July 17, 2014

You tell yourself to keep walking, but as you get closer to the big sign your heart flutters a little. That red sign is practically flashing at you, hypnotizing you to walk in. You justify walking in by saying to yourself, “I’m only having a look.” An hour later, you walk out feeling like Christmas has come early. Then, you tell yourself “I saved money, everything was on sale!”

You have just succumbed to the consumerism culture.

Long gone are the days of frugal spending. Sometimes, it seems like we spend our entire lives in the pursuit of earning money and spending money. We have this sick fascination with accumulating goods. Goods that often we don’t actually need. In our modern society, everywhere we go there is something enticing our inner consumerist.  As a consequence, our addiction to possessions starts to become an insidious habit.

As an eighteen-year-old female, I have succumbed to this consumerism culture more often that I would like to admit. I have experienced and witnessed the urge for acquisition. That immediate gratification from buying a product is like a high that leaves us wanting more. It becomes this reckless cycle of accumulating goods. Clothing, technology, and cosmetic products come in pretty packages that jump up and say, “Buy Me! I’ll better your life!” There is no denying that “impulse buying” exists. In the midst of getting caught up in the latest thing one lusts after, one seldom stops to rationalize his or her consumer mentality. The difference between what is a necessity and what is a luxury becomes a very blurred line.Quite frankly, a pragmatic consumer is rare in our generation of indulging in the excess.

With the current youth population growing up on YouTube, the surfeit of clothing and makeup hauls posted by “YouTube beauty gurus” further instigates this consumerist-mania. Teen girls are exposed to this “show and tell” format where YouTubers talk about what they bought. For some bizarre reason, these types of videos generate a lot of views. This phenomenon confirms how our society, to some degree, has become one fascinated with consumerism.

Don’t get me wrong; I would be lying if I said I’ve never enjoyed one of these videos. But at the same time, I feel a sense of guilt about the ugly extent of the disparity between privileged young people in developed countries and those underprivileged in developing nations. A young person could be desiring that new collection from MAC after watching one of these hauls, while another on the other side of the world could be daring enough to dream about owning a new pair of comfortable shoes one day. Our first world problems, such as not being able to attain a certain good, are incomparable to those of others in dire circumstances. When we pause to consider these inequalities, we come face-to-face with a frightening realization: even when we know that money could be spent in far more meaningful and useful ways, we consciously choose to ignore that voice.

The film industry has produced movies such as American Beauty, The Great Gatsby, and The Wolf of Wall Street that all condone the lavish lifestyle of mindless consumers. American Beauty is partly a satire on the materialism of the middle class in America. The Great Gatsby explores the negative side of decadence and excess. When asked about the portrayal of the debaucherous lifestyle in The Wolf of Wall Street, leading actor Leonardo DiCaprio said “…we very consciously wanted this to be an analysis of the temptation and intoxication of the world of money and indulgence and hedonism.” These iconic films engender cautionary tales of how materialistic indulgence and an excessively consumerist society fuels our ultimate downfall. The “good life” portrayed in these films is only a facade. These films explore human nature, and underneath all the glamour and extravagance there is an ugly side of humanity that needs to be restrained.

I do not want to live in a society where our value and status derives largely from the brands we consume or the outer selves we put on show for others. I do not want to live in a society where we would happily spend $100 on a pair of shoes but reluctantly donate $10 to a charity. I refuse to live in a society that extols the social disease that is consumerism.

We are so accustomed to this consumerist culture that we rarely stop to ruminate on our brainwashed actions in consumption. This blaséattitude towards blind spending and lavish lifestyles needs to be inhibited by awareness for what truly matters. And, in my opinion, what truly matters in life cannot be fulfilled by the glut of “stuff,” but rather satisfied by humanitarian pursuits. The liberation from our obsession with consumption won’t happen overnight. I cannot offer a solution to our consumerist culture, but bit-by-bit I hope our generation learns to redefine what makes a “good life.”

References:

Bridgeman, Shelley. “Help! I’m Trapped by Consumerism – Life & Style – NZ Herald News.” The New Zealand Herald. N.p., 27 Mar. 2014. Web. <http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11221915>.

Etzioni, Amitai. “The Crisis of American Consumerism.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 04 Sept. 2012. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amitai-etzioni/the-crisis-of-american-co_b_1855390.html>.

Jagernauth, Kevin. “Leonardo DiCaprio Says ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ Is “Not Condoning This Behavior…We’re Indicting It”” The Playlist. Indiewire, 31 Dec. 2013. Web. <http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/leonardo-dicaprio-says-the-wolf-of-wall-street-is-not-condoning-this-behaviorwere-indicting-it-20131231>.

  • Josh Buckley

    I’m very much against consumerism (I think a lot of the emphasis on things and especially brands is trivial). I think there is some backlash against consumerism stemming from both the realization of the extravagance of it all and from the growing influence of positive psychologically (which anyone interested in this sort of thing should definitely look into). I think the most important implication of this problem is that energy devoted to acquisition of things could be better spent on other, more effective ways to make people happier.

  • Michelle Gu

    This article is so well written – both in terms of style and concept! I think a lot of people are beginning to realize the fact that we are drowning in consumerism, myself included, but to be honest it is quite difficult to change from such a lifestyle. It is especially hard if you live in a big city (such as Toronto) where everyone around you seem to be purchasing all these brand names, you feel the need to sort of ‘catch up’ to them – which is completely silly but at the same time, it’s hard to stop yourself to do so.