Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Commercialization in America

This is a paper from my writing class. My instructor suggested I blog it:

According to, commercialism is defined as the practices and aims of commerce and business. The contemporary use of the word tends to be derogatory, referring to capitalisms tendency to objectify every element of life in order to gain profit. Commercialization is the process in which the value of things, both tangible and ideal, such as happiness, are objectified. Public services become outsourced to private companies. If an artist “sells out”, they have become commercialized.

It’s safe to say that Americans live to buy. I’ve heard the argument over living to work versus working to live, but these statements have become irrelevant for the most part. Many Americans don’t so much live to work, as being willing to prostitute themselves to employment in order to buy the latest model of plasma screen TV.

Youssef Khodaparast, an economics instructor at Portland Community College, Sylvania, says that in order to be happy, humans must consume. Now it can be argued that no matter where or when you live, you’re always consuming. After all, you’ve got to eat, right? This kind of thinking just goes to show that these people don’t realize what they are really capable of. How often do they sit there and just start to grin for no apparent reason? Have they ever taken a minute to just sit there and think, “you know, everything’s going to be alright,”? When you can really enjoy living, you find that the only thing that is required for happiness, is nothing. Now, this of course is an extreme. There’s nothing wrong with consumption, but it is no secret that people in America tend to take their buying way too seriously.

From day one, Americans are constantly bombarded with the message that in order to fill the void, they need to posses something new. And how do they know what to buy? Commercials tell it all. After all, people throughout the history of humanity have been sleeping incorrectly until the invention of the Sleep Number® bed.

People are constantly subjected to commercials on a subconscious level. Advertising influences peoples behavior everyday without them even realizing it, because it hits them subliminally. One of the most prominent mediums for advertising is television. This is also one of the easiest ways to influence peoples thoughts. The reason for this, according to Nelson in, The Perfect Machine, is that when people watch TV, their brains switch from beta waves, where critical thinking takes place, to passive alpha waves, placing people in a trance state (qtd. in Robertson 24). When people watch TV, no matter what they’re watching, their brain activity is equivalent to staring at a blank wall. It is easier to suggest things to people on a subconscious level because people hear without paying close attention, therefore, no critical thinking.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with advertising to sell your product, but today’s advertising focuses on exploiting peoples fears and insecurities, and is detrimental to our psychological well-being. The media tells us what the ideal person is, creating inadequacies in people, until they see no alternative other than to purchase these miracle products to remedy their supposed inadequacies. There’s a company called “Double your Dating”, or DYD, which caters to men who want to improve their relationship life. DYD, owned by a man who goes by the pseudonym, David DeAngelo, began as a downloadable e-book on the psychology behind “picking up” women, factors that will increase and hinder success in this area, along with seminars and workshops hosted by DeAngelo. DYD then expanded it’s base to include such products as, “Interviews with Dating Gurus”, a monthly CD subscription Where DeAngelo interviews other people related to the “pickup” field. It is now a multimillion dollar corporation. It sounds beneficial, but, DYD advertises by playing on peoples fear, by using phrases like, “sexual insecurity shows”, and building up the anxiety just before professing to have the answer. When the victim purchases these products, they only rephrase what was said in the advertisements, leading people to continuously buy the next products, hoping that each progressive one will contain the answer.

Another method of advertising is to play off of the self-herding sheep mentality. In a flock of sheep, if one sheep moves, the rest follow. Any stragglers will be rounded up by the sheep dog. Human society is similar to a flock of sheep, with one exception: people herd themselves without the aid of a sheep dog. Advertisers know that people are afraid to straggle from the flock, or else they’ll be attacked and ostracized, and so they set societal norms within their advertising.

According to the historian, John Brewer, this phenomenon actually began in the 1700’s in England. With the outset of kings and aristocrats, a new cultural industry stepped in. These people of the new middle class owned academies, theatres, concert halls, and coffee shops. As monarchy and the old system became archaic, culture became a commodity with a price.

According to Michael Schudson, critics of American consumption fall into three camps. The first of these is known as the Puritans. These believe that mass-production has repercussions on peoples spiritual lives, ie “people are possessed by their possessions” (Pallattella par 5). The problem is not hedonism, but diminishing appreciation for the material world.

The second group is the Quakers. The Quakers objection is towards the wasteful, lackluster nature of consumer goods. They appreciate, however, the technological improvements which make goods more efficient.

The third camp is the republicans, who disapprove of the corruption of public life by the celebration of consumption. Being satisfied with products takes precedence over the fulfillment of ones potentials. Critical thinking and reflection is eliminated from leisure time.

Americans spend their lives trying to keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses, by the way, used to live next door, but they’ve bought a mansion in the rich district and are a lot harder to keep up with now days. But none the less, America is trying to keep up with them. We’re a nation full of wealthy people and depression is on the rise. When will we stop trying to buy our fulfillment?

Works Cited
Palattella, John. “Consumerism: We are What we Buy.” Pen-L 52 9 Jan. 2000
University of Oregon Campus Recycling. “America’s Crazed Consumerism.” events_topics 3 Dec. 2001 <>
Nelson, Joyce. The Perfect Machine 82 Die Off qtd Tom Robertson. 24 1992 <>
Wikipedia. “Commercialism.” 28 July 2004 -23 May 2006 <>

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