The Culture of Consumption Essay
The Culture of Consumption
When consumption has become a culture, it can be assumed that consumption has gained a significant place in the society. Edwards (2000) enumerated the many aspects that may lead one to reconsider consumption in terms of its meaning; in the context of the consumer, consumerism has included rights, it has evolved into a culture and at some point in history, consumerism has become a revolution.
Consumerism, as Gabriel and Lang (1995, as cited in Edwards, 2000, 10) mentioned, “is neither ethically nor politically neutral”; from this, it can be gathered that the consumer culture is steeped in meaning which can potentially border to the unethical to the apolitical, and even politically incorrect. There have been some adages that pertain to trying to guess or identify a person’s identity; based on these famous sayings, a person’s identity can be seen in one’s collections of friends, according to what he or she eats: “You are what you eat”; “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are”.
Apparently, from these lines, identity is already associated with consumption and acquisition; what can fundamentally change who we are can be also associated with how other people perceive us. In a sense, through the context of consumption and acquisition, a person’s identity becomes subject to scrutiny and even assumption. Even though these two sayings are simple and they may even imply fundamentally philosophical thoughts, it can be gathered that a person’s identity is not complete without external validation.
The emergence of the consumer culture and even the “culture of consumption” further verifies Baudrillard’s observation that we seem to be more surrounded by objects and not so much by human beings. According to Baudrillard (1998, 25): “Their daily dealings are now not so much with their fellow men, but rather — on a rising statistical curve — with the reception and manipulation of goods and messages”.
The strong pull and influence of consumption can be therefore seen in the pleasure it brings; Edwards (2000, 11) pointed out that consumer pleasure can be found in the activities of “choosing, exploring and identity-seeking”. Hence, the satisfaction brought by consuming alone already implies some psychological aspect in which a certain need is fulfilled during the act and process of consumption. At the individual level, the impact is substantial because consumption becomes a personal experience indicative of the relationship between the consumer and the object that is to be consumed.
At a social level, the collective psyche in the context of consumption has then led to the definition of a culture thereby demonstrating that consumerism has become a ritual and a social practice. The culture of consumption, interestingly, becomes a fundamental platform in which a culture may evolve from. The things that are consumed, the commodity, can then be examined and how this plays significantly into the life of the consumer and the society in general.
Guy de Bord (1967) wrote how a commodity can function as a spectacle, the spectacle mainly being defined as “a social relationship between people that is mediated by images”. Such relationship is therefore indicative of how the society has become determined by images with commodity as a part of these images and is a fundamental element of the whole aspect of the spectacle because “the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production”. This goes to show the commodity is not just any object because it has become steeped in meaning.
A shoe is not just any other shoe if it’s a Jimmy Choo, the same way a wedding gown is not just a wedding gown if its couture Monique Lhuillier and not just an off-the-rack Monique Lhuillier. What comes to mind is how the objects Baudrillard initially referred to further have many layers to make it more attractive as a commodity; this also goes to show that when a consumer consumes a commodity, it does not only consume the object behind the commodity and its function but also the meaning immersed in it.
Hence, when people buy, it can be assumed that people can also buy the spectacle of the object and not the object itself. This is therefore critical especially as to how this has shaped the perceptions of the consumers; consumerism, in this regard, does not just refer to the act of consumption but it also implies a significant amount of materialism. In a capitalist and free-market society that is prevalent today, consumers have become more conscious of what they buy because everything comes in labels these days.
A product that is “Made in China” may be frowned upon by certain buyers but its popularity is evident because of its lower price. A product bearing the name of famous designers, people or celebrity or any brand becomes indicative of how the product is supposed to also carry the values projected by the name behind the label. What is interesting is that the association between consumption and culture can be also seen in the formation of certain communities; this is to say that the social impact of the consumer culture has gone as far as uniting people based on their preferences on what they consume.
This can be seen in the formation of many subcultures essentially carried on by certain ideologies and even subcultures basically fuelled by the products and the brands themselves. When it comes to subcultures, usually the binding element can be seen in a certain ideology, a way of life, or even a lifestyle; however, in order for this subculture to prevail it needs to be expressed, and the form of expression has been by means of the commodity which is then consumed. Whether these objects are meant to represent the subculture, what happens is that in the consumer culture, these objects tend to be commoditized.
Such spectacle, however, is not just limited to the objects but it can be also seen in how people’s surroundings seem to also create an effect when it comes to inner experience. The consumer culture is not a choice, it is a reality translated into the spaces where people live, in the simple objects people use, and even in the regular human psyche and mentality; what comes to mind is a character in Delillo’s novel in which she utters in her sleep “Toyota Celica” and television, the portal to what can be consumed and what should be consumed, has become a significant part of a regular American family.
The consumer culture has therefore become a white noise surrounding each person and a matter that everyone eventually has to embrace; reports on Communist China now becoming one of the super economic powers of the world has given way to the new Chinese consumerism: the Chinese consumers, who have had years behind them of economic repression, is now the perfect target market, a global market segment that seems to have called out to all Western corporations to set up shop in Chinese soil and sell to them the spectacle of the Western commodity.
Consumerism, inevitably, has the tendency to change people. On one hand, if consumerism can change people, how do people shape consumerism? This is an important factor because this shows the degree in which the consumer culture has actually also becomes a form of ideology in modern society. This brings to mind David Brooks’ work, Bobos in Paradise (2000) in which the author pointed out how consumerism has given way to the redefinition of the modern-day exercise by means of purchasing.
Consumerism has become a basis of social goals; this is to say that people will want to have those Jimmy Choo shoes, and maybe later on, venture into purchasing Christian Loboutins. People will not just want objects to help them go through the day; people will want objects that are supposed to tell them who they are, and in the absence of a real sense of self, it is through these commodities and these brands that people task to translate their own identity.
This shows that the consumer culture has evolved from the typical status symbol and has therefore redefined what life should be all about. In Bobos Paradise, Brooks (2000) discussed how the two social classes, the bourgeois and the bohemians, who led separate or distinctive lives in the past decades, would apparently become an integrated force creating the New Establishment.
The values of these two groups — with the bourgeois as the “square and practical ones” and the bohemians as the “free spirits who flouted convention” — seem to be polarized and the opposite. However, in the recent years, as Brooks observed, there seems to be a more united front between the two; the unity has given way to the hybrid culture that was founded on the concept of social success and a certain degree of social awareness.
And social success, apparently, is determined by the ability to consume. The creation of this new hybrid undeniably has been proven through how they have redefined consumption. Interestingly, similar what Gabriel and Lang (1995, as cited in Edwards, 2000) have mentioned as to consumption being neither ethically nor politically neutral proves to be an important point here; by means of consumption, the hybrid culture has given way a consumer culture steeped in ethical and political issues.
This time, the new hybrid has paved channels for what is trendy based on the mixed philosophies of the bohemians, with their views on anti-materialism and rebellion, and the bourgeois with their more materialistic take on life. The new consumerism has managed to integrate ideas of meaningful social change as attained through consumption. Hence, this has given way to how people should consume: with the emergence of the organic and fair trade products, the emphasis on healthy lifestyles, and designer coffee is a luxury that can be taken on a daily basis despite its price.
The consumer culture has therefore become reflective of the evolution of the modern society that have gone through the stages of industrialisation. From the mere discussions on what consumption means and does to people to the commoditization of culture, the consumer culture has significantly conveyed to us who we are as individuals and as a society because consumption is a socio-cultural practice. It has become the cause of and the product of the society; and as society evolves, the consumer culture does too.
In conclusion, Baudrillard (1997, 29) presented a strong point that can be seen to describe what consumer culture has become today: “We are here at the heart of consumption as total organization of daily life, total homogenization, where everything is taken over and superseded in ease and translucidity of an abstract ‘happiness’, refined solely by the resolution of tensions”. References Baudrillard, J. & Turner, C. , trans. (1998). The Consumer Society: myths and structures. London: Sage. Brooks, D. (2000). Bobos in Paradise. New York: Touchstone. Debord, G. & Nicholson-Smith, D. , trans.
(1967, 1994). The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books. Delillo, D. (1986). White Noise. New York: Penguin. Edwards, T. (2000). Contradictions of Consumption: Concepts, Practices, and Politics in Consumer Society. Philadelphia: Open University Press. II. Gender and Marketing: the Skyy Vodka Ad “provocateur: media gender image characterized by youth, flawlessness, attractiveness and sexual allure” – Cortese (2000, 160) The Skyy Vodka ad shows a man standing over a woman; the scene takes place in a beach, and the woman, typical of those sunbathing, is wearing a string bikini.
The man, on one hand, is wearing a suit. He is holding a bottle of Skyy Vodka in one hand, and in the other, two martini glasses. The above description seems to be less of a controversy, but the problem with this campaign, as seen in the more recent posters of the vodka brand, also indicates an implied gendered position. The poster evidently shows that the man has the power over the woman; this can be seen not only in his suit but also in the manner he is standing over her: his crotch positioned right above the woman’s head.
Upon close inspection of the man, which is not really man but an illustration, the crotch area seems bunched up, which can then be possibly interpreted that not only does the man have the power in his suit and in the vodka in his hands, but the power is also implied in his pants. The woman, as illustrated, seems to have been trapped in such compromising position, but what makes the woman more distinctive is how her breasts protrude from her chest. If anything, what makes the Skyy Vodka ad sexist is not really so much about power but its more on about the positioning. If women were beneath men, this is a good example.
What objectifies women in this ad, moreover, is in her depiction. In a sense, her scantily clad look may be justified based on the setting of the ad: as the scene takes place in a beach, it can be said that it is only normal that women wear string bikinis and that showing some flesh is only natural. However, the contrast in this setting is that the woman is scantily clad, and the man is suited up. This shows that the utilization of the beach setting may justify the woman showing a substantial amount of flesh, but in the relationship between the scantily clad woman and the suited up man indicates something else.
In a way, if this is an issue of power, if a woman is scantily clad does that maker her more powerful as men in suits project such force and position. In deconstructing advertisements in such context, Cortese (1999) mentioned that ads that only show a woman’s body or a body part, this expresses the idea that the woman in that ad is conveyed more as an object. This contrast with advertising showing a woman’s face because this is indicative of her personality and character (Archer, et al. , 1983).
What is interesting is that despite the objectification of the woman through a greater emphasis on her body, advertisements continue to use this because this has so far worked in grabbing the attention of both men and women. Moreover, these advertisements also convey certain rhetoric messages; as Cortese explained (1999, 57): Advertising images provide culturally sanctioned ideal types of masculinity and femininity. Advertising targeting women consumers subscribe to very limited notions of what constitutes femininity (e. g.
dependency, concern with superficial beauty, fixation on family and nurturance, fear of technology) and, consequently, feminine buying patterns (Kilbourne, 1989; Steinem, 1990). The abovementioned point raised by Cortese is also supported by numerous studies such as those conducted by Courtney and Lockeretz (1971) and Courtney and Whipple (1983) (as cited in Hall & Crum, 1994) in which sexist images in advertising can be categorized according to four themes: women as traditional homemakers; women making less important decisions; women needing men in many aspects, from protection to wisdom; and women as sex objects devoid of personalities.
From these, it can be gathered that women have been represented as two-dimensional objects who seems to have been struggling in redefining her identity and her social roles in reality. However, Cortese cited Goffman (1976) in which the latter mentioned that gender display in advertisements are mainly representative of how people think men and women behave and are not necessarily reflective of the social reality.
Hence, the more recent Skyy Vodka ad has inevitable encountered many criticisms. In the 21st century, discussions on gender roles can be assumed to have already been absorbed in the minds of these idea and concept-makers; this is to say that gender issues have been a discussion in decades, and in advertising, the industry must have at least shown signs of maturity or even development. Has the Skyy Vodka ad shown that advertisers are running out of ideas?
Or does this reflect a deeper issue in which despite all the numerous discussions and discourses, the typical views on both men and women when it comes to their roles in the society and how they should represent the ideal reflect not necessarily a reality but a social truth? In looking at the historical development of gender in advertising, protests against the typical representations of women as these stereotypes were already present as early in the 1970s and in the 1980s.
With feminism gaining more ground in the1960s, efforts to redefine the female had been underway, and the advertising world was a target. However, these initiatives were “met with disbelief, resistance and downright hostility” (Dines & Humez, 1995, 73, as cited in Cortese, 1999, 58). Such took place even though that at the social level “social codes of gender class and race” (Cortese, 1999, 57) have been changing.
However, it seems that in the case of Skyy Vodka and other ads, advertisers remain to have a certain degree of power because of the amount of business they hold; they are seen as the selling geniuses in the market, and it is supposed to be through their concepts and supposed artistic license and business sense that guarantee a product’s successful positioning in the market. However, the Skyy Vodka ad should not be taken as a generalization of how advertisers approach gender roles; in the past twenty to thirty years, significant social changes have taken place, especially when it comes to the women’s role in the society.
Over these past two decades, feminism would continue to prevail, and women have found themselves faced with many opportunities. Women have entered the workforce and women have become important figures in many positions that men would usually occupy. Women world leaders have emerged and the business world has started to be populated by more women in key and executive positions. Women, in the past twenty to thirty years, have gained a significant momentum that they have redefined themselves not only in terms of being members of the society but also, inevitably, as a redefined market (Morrison & Shaffer, 2003).
This therefore shows that in the past two to three decades, gender role orientations have been modified. Both men and women have evolved at various levels as they have embraced new lifestyles provided to them in this developing day and age. Hence, it can be observed that even among the men, male gender roles have, in the recent years, have redefined masculinity up to a certain extent with the emergence of the male metrosexual.
However, even with such developments in the society and even in the world of advertising, there has still been the noted prevalence of the gender-type roles; an important consideration here is the utilization of advertising concepts with regards to gender must be reflective of whether these are effective or not. This is to say that even though women have gained more power and better placement in the society as compared to decades ago, and men have come to embrace more metrosexuality, in the context of advertising, the conventional views may have maintained its effectiveness especially when it comes to relating to the greater population.
Morrison and Shaffer (2003) cited numerous studies with a similar interesting result; apparently, even way back in the 1970s and the 1980s surveyed participants expressed that “they did not prefer stereotypical depictions of men and women in advertising, or elsewhere”, the resulting purchasing and consumption behavior would say otherwise. Evidently, purchase decisions and consumption behavior would demonstrate a more favorable response to advertisements with gender stereotypes as compared to those who would use non-traditional approach to advertisements.
A more contemporary examination of this issue was discussed by Morrison and Shaffer (2003) in which the authors found that the results in their study were the same as the numerous cited studies by the authors; it showed that even today, advertising effectiveness using the more traditional or gender-stereotyped portrayals would sell more in terms of consumer response albeit expressed views against gender-stereotypes as used in advertising. The authors found that this may be also due to the fact that their study was dominated by more traditional individuals.
Such sampling shows what and who the consumer base is, and from this, advertisers, with knowledge on market research, likely have an idea as to the proportion between the traditional and non-traditional consumers. Hence, with the prevalence of ads like Skyy Vodka’s, it goes to show that despite the criticisms, the ad was not made out plain sexist intentions; it can be said that the design of such ads is based on the fact that there remains a strong market out there who would find the ad attractive and even amusing, thereby making the product more memorable and attractive.
This also goes to show that gender-role ads do reflect a dominating psyche of the society, despite the changes that have been taking place in the past two to three decades. Women may have become more independent and powerful as compared to decades ago, but there is still a significant section of the society who viewed that despite such development, women still belonged at home and should be homemakers if not, as sex objects in the perspective among the males.
The men, on one hand, may have evolved into metrosexuals and have composed a market targeted by products that have been mostly made for females such as beauty and cosmetics, but traditional perceptions on the roles of the males have maintained their supposed superiority. Hence, the marketing treatment in the past twenty to thirty years have displayed certain changes as society has been transforming; however, the essentials have remained, and the traditional, gender-role stereotype may stay for a long time as the traditional consumer base remains to be a strong target market.
References Archer, D. , Iritani, B. , Kimes, D. , & Barrios. M. (1983). Face-ism: Five studies of sex differences in facial prominence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 725-735. Cortese, A. (1999). Provocateur: Images of women and minorities in advertising. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. Hall, C. I. 1994. Women and “Body-Isms” in Television Beer Commercials. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 31, 329+. Morrison, M. & Shaffer, D. 2003. Gender-Role Congruence and Self-Referencing as Determinants of Advertising Effectiveness. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 49, 265+.