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Essay Samples > Political > The Insight of American Consumerism and Countercultural Idea
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The Insight of American Consumerism and Countercultural Idea

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Human beings have an ever growing desire to buy things in even greater quantities; this desire is defined as consumerism. Dictionary.com defines consumerism as ‘the concept that an ever-expanding consumption of goods is advantageous to the economy’. It may also refer to ‘consumer protection or consumer activism, which seeks to protect and inform consumers by requiring such practices as honest packaging and advertising, product guarantees, and improved safety standards’.

Consumerism can be defined as an economic and social theory that promotes consumer’s interest while the market is formed by the decision of the consumers. It frames the fundamental rights of the consumers which consist of right to safety, right to choice and right to information. Consumerism has existed since the earliest civilizations and gradually evolved into the modern market.

In the United States, consumerism has a different meaning: individuals and groups are under the influence of mass media and consumers’ decisions are partially depending on the identities which are shaped by the media. That is so-called consumerism. It is exhibited by frenzied shoppers willing to camp out of stores such as Target, Frys and BestBuy, in order to get the best deals in the year this can be the cheapest 50inches TV or Sony Laptop. Some of these shoppers even break down the doors and trample others in order to get in first.

In Commodify Your Dissent, Thomas Frank suggests that the countercultural idea is an ideology of rebellion and insistence on individual thinking which becomes the aesthetic of American consumerism. Numerous corporations in the United States are trying to integrate this idea into their core value or slogans. According to Frank, “the paramount ailment of our society is conformity” and describes the society as an “over-organization, bureaucracy, hierarchy, logocentrism, and technocracy” (Maasik and Soloman 164). It illustrates that this compliance is the problematic part of the society because our society is over-organized and obsessed with social classes and bureaucracy. 

Contributing to the widespread media, these ideas gradually developed into the aesthetic of contemporary consumer society. Frank indicates that modern business has co-opted the countercultural in many ways. For example, businessmen consider their field not a place for conformity but a place with diversity and despise rules and reasons. They are often attracted to the idea, and commercials or slogans that are about rebellion and enlightenment, such as The Art of Changing – Swatch and This is different. Different is good – Arby’s (Maasik and Soloman 164). Advertisers are trying to take advantage of this rebellion from order. They understand that tying products with emotional appeals to be different will lead to higher sales. This is ironical as consumers are chasing things that make them feel different, but when everyone is seeking those same products, the more similar they are.

In my opinion, consumerism is gradually forming a whole new meaning to people due to technology advancement and extensive outspread of the media. Several companies are trying to seek target markets outside the mainstream in order to attract several groups of customers. As more and more people try to be ‘different’, the more and more it is becoming easy to reach them due to technological advancements in communications.

People in modern society have their own shopping beliefs; they make their own choices on what products to buy. However, media play an essential role in the decision-making process, having gradually shaped consumers’ identities over time. Frank states that the countercultural idea is embedded in Information Age capitalism society, and describes how a new wave of advertising and commercials are about individual lifestyle and defiant thinking, come out. I agree with Frank’s main point of this trend of self-denial, endless self-fulfillment, and individualism in the society. There is no certain right or wrong of this trend. Nonetheless, I consider media as an imperative factor in this phenomenon focusing on the “difference”.

Countercultural ideology is so widespread through broadcasting that it sometimes goes unnoticed. Though it is not from contemporary society, a famous quote by Mark Twain “Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did” had suggested a connotative meaning for countercultural idea long before now. Several recent examples can be slogans like Apple’s Think Different, Tacobell’s Think outside the Bun, and Toyota’s The Line Has Been Crossed: The Revolutionary New Supra. Also, one of Michael Jackson’s hit songs released in 1991, Black or White. It has an extended version of the original music video which featured a kid playing rock music out loud at night while his father asks him to stop playing that “noisy garbage”. The kid reacts in an insolent way by plugging in the electric guitar, putting up his leather gloves and maximizing the volume and play. This music video symbolizes the countercultural idea such as the indulgence of rock music and insistence on individuality.

In conclusion, with so many advertisers promoting different goods and services, they have to show something that makes them stand out from the crowd and the current trend tends to show the “uniqueness” or “resistance to the usual”. Frank indicates that commercials are sending messages with iconography of rule-breaking and rigidity distinctiveness, while I believe that this phenomenon is partly attributable to the excessive broadcasting and the massive consumption in the society. Media occupies a large part in our daily life; it shapes our identity and gradually determines how we perceive the world.

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