Regardless of where we live, where we grew up, and where we are going, its influence has played an important role in our lives. Whether we know it or not, materialism is one of the most influential forces we interact with. In his essay “Two Cheers for Materialism” James Twitchell discusses the history, location, and impact materialism has had on society. With the use of the view points from many academics and historical figures, Twitchell offers insight into materialism’s effect on how we function in today’s world.
He concludes all of this with the idea that materialism is not just the desire to collect commodities, but it’s a force that truly shows the advancement of society. From the days of horses and buggies, to modern day status quo of Hondas and Toyotas, the value of the commodity, both economically and personally, as drastically changed. The economic changing of materialism is obviously seen in the inflation of everything we buy (cloths, foods, cars, ect. ) whereas the value these items have to our identities is not as obvious.
In the essay, Twitchell makes his major point by saying that over time materialism has morphed from what we have, to what we are—that is, materialism is our identity. Twitchell focuses a good portion of the essay on the development of materialism, and how it has become part of our identity. An important part of this idea, and how Twitchell views it, is that unlike how many academics view it, materialism is not this horrid idea that breaks us down into little soul-less robots, as depicted in The Great Gatsby.
Twitchell argues that materialism is what makes us different then our pre-20th century selves. As Twitchell says “The outcome of material life is no longer preordained by coat of arms, pew seat, or trust fund. ”(289) by this he means that materialism is now a choice. We can use it to decide who we are, by what we buy. No longer are we born into ‘what’ we are. This allows us “to be cool, hip, with it, with the ‘in’ crowd. ” (289). I agree with Twitchell’s theory on this, and moreover can add that this change overtime of materialism’s role has led to groups such as “yuppies,” “indies,” and “preps. Without materialism, then we couldn’t purchase certain items that make us into the groups we want to be in. Materialism gets rid of the disadvantages we are born with, as anyone can fork over some money for knock off goods, or even splurge for the real version.
Because of this, materialism has become our identity, and the beauty of it is, unlike genetics, we can change the hand we’re dealt. Twitchell says it best in this passage—“We live through our things. We create ourselves through things. And we change ourselves by changing our things. (282). Materialism is us. We are materialism. Along with suggesting this major role materialism plays in our lives, Twitchell makes various points on the academics that have critiqued materialism over the years. He scorns those who look down upon the materialistic world, while using their critiques to make points about it. I believe this condescension of academia goes hand in hand with his praise of materialism, as he points out, the academic world looks at themselves with such a high regard, they don’t see the hypocracy in their statements.
Twitchell gives the example of the Volvo driving critic who will spend hours criticizing the bourgeois fascination with materials, but neglects the decals on his car, which prove to be just as materialistic. Along with scorning these critics, Twitchell praises many in their contributions to his essay. He uses an academic, Stanley Lebergott, to show the outcome of materialism’s effect on us. As Lebergott says, “most Americans have ‘spent their way to happiness’. This goes very far in enforcing the positives of materialism, and further scorns those who are against it. Twitchell’s use of other writers is very prominent in this essay, and very important in evaluating the essay as a hole. From history changing men like Karl Marx, to circle-known French sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Baudrillard, Twitchell while reading this essay, it feels like Twitchell quotes anyone who ever wrote the word materialism on a published document before. This strategy makes me very skeptical of Twitchell’s knowledge.
While I agree with most of the points Twitchell makes, I think he relies too heavily on the thoughts of others, which overall ends in a weak backing of his main point. Twitchell gets stuck between …….. All in all, Twitchell makes a very important point about materialism that to me saves its reputation in American culture. Regardless of what we think about materials, materials show how far we’ve come. No longer are we born into a role, materials make it possible to become who we want to be become.
Courtney from Study Moose
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