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 if we all hate consumption, how come we can’t stop shopping?

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Nombre de messages : 197
Date d'inscription : 28/11/2006

MessageSujet: if we all hate consumption, how come we can’t stop shopping?   Dim 12 Oct - 10:25

Bonjour Chers amis,

J'ai décidé de mettre en ligne les débats mensuelles que nous organisons avec une bande d'amis ici à Vancouver que nous appelons le Comité Central Smile

Voici ce mois-ci le débat modéré par Brian, prof de socio à l'université de SFU Vancouver. Les questions posées par Brian sont à la fin.

If we all hate consumption, how come we can’t stop shopping?

Tout d'abord voici l'adresse de l'article:
http://www.thismagazine.ca/issues/2002/11/rebelsell.php

Un extrait de l'article:


If we all hate consumerism, how come we can’t stop shopping?




BY Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter
Photography by Stephen Gregory



Do you hate consumer culture?

Angry about all that packaging? Irritated by all those commercials? Worried about the quality of the “mental environment”? Well, join the club. Anti-consumerism has become one of the most important cultural forces in millennial North American life, across every social class and demographic.
This might seem at odds with the economic facts of the 1990s—a decade that gave us the “extreme shopping” channel, the dot-com bubble, and an absurd orgy of indulgence in ever more luxurious consumer goods. But look at the non-fiction bestseller lists. For years they’ve been dominated by books that are deeply critical of consumerism: No Logo, Culture Jam, Luxury Fever and Fast Food Nation. You can now buy Adbusters at your neighbourhood music or clothing store. Two of the most popular and critically successful films in recent memory were Fight Club and American Beauty, which offer almost identical indictments of modern consumer society.
What can we conclude from all this? For one thing, the market obviously does an extremely good job at responding to consumer demand for anti-consumerist products and literature. But isn’t that a contradiction? Doesn’t it suggest that we are in the grip of some massive, society-wide, bipolar disorder? How can we all denounce consumerism, and yet still find ourselves living in a consumer society?
The answer is simple. What we see in films like American Beauty and Fight Club is not actually a critique of consumerism; it’s merely a restatement of the “critique of mass society” that has been around since the 1950s. The two are not the same. In fact, the critique of mass society has been one of the most powerful forces driving consumerism for more than 40 years.
That last sentence is worth reading again. The idea is so foreign, so completely the opposite of what we are used to being told, that many people simply can’t get their head around it. It is a position that Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler, has been trying to communicate for years. Strangely, all the authors of anti-consumerism books have read Frank—most even cite him approvingly—and yet not one of them seems to get the point. So here is Frank’s claim, simply put: books like No Logo, magazines like Adbusters, and movies like American Beauty do not undermine consumerism; they reinforce it.
This isn’t because the authors, directors or editors are hypocrites. It’s because they’ve failed to understand the true nature of consumer society.

One of the most talked-about cinematic set-pieces in recent memory is the scene in Fight Club where the nameless narrator (Ed Norton) pans his empty apartment, furnishing it piece by piece with Ikea furniture. The scene shimmers and pulses with prices, model numbers and product names, as if Norton’s gaze was drag-and-dropping straight out of a virtual catalogue. It is a great scene, driving the point home: the furniture of his world is mass-produced, branded, sterile. If we are what we buy, then the narrator is an Allen-key-wielding corporate-conformist drone.
In many ways, this scene is just a cgi-driven update of the opening pages of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. After yet another numbing day selling the MagiPeel Kitchen Peeler, Harry Angstrom comes home to his pregnant and half-drunk wife whom he no longer loves. Harry takes off in his car, driving aimlessly south. As he tries to sort out his life, the music on the radio, the sports reports, the ads, the billboards, all merge in his consciousness into one monotonous, monolithic brandscape.
It may give us pause to consider that while Fight Club was hailed as “edgy” and “subversive” when it appeared in 1999, Rabbit, Run enjoyed enormous commercial success when it was first published—in 1960. If social criticism came with a “sell by” date, this one would have been removed from the shelf a long time ago. The fact that it is still around, and still provokes awe and acclaim, makes one wonder if it is really a criticism or, rather, a piece of modern mythology.
What Fight Club and Rabbit, Run present, in a user-friendly fashion, is the critique of mass society, which was developed in the late 1950s in classic works like William Whyte’s The Organization Man (1956), Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers (1959) and Paul Goodman’s Growing up Absurd (1960). The central idea is quite simple. Capitalism requires conformity to function correctly. As a result, the system is based upon a generalized system of repression. Individuals who resist the pressure to conform therefore subvert the system, and aid in its overthrow.
This theory acquired such a powerful grip on the imagination of the left during the 1960s that many people still have difficulty seeing it for what it is—a theory. Here are a few of its central postulates:
1. Capitalism requires conformity in the workers. Capitalism is one big machine; the workers are just parts. These parts need to be as simple, predictable, and interchangeable as possible. One need only look at an assembly line to see why. Like bees or ants, capitalist workers need to be organized into a limited number of homogeneous castes.
2. Capitalism requires conformity of education. Training these corporate drones begins in the schools, where their independence and creativity is beaten out of them—literally and figuratively. Call this the Pink Floyd theory of education.
3. Capitalism requires sexual repression. In its drive to stamp out individuality, capitalism denies the full range of human expression, which includes sexual freedom. Because sexuality is erratic and unpredictable, it is a threat to the established order. This is why some people thought the sexual revolution would undermine capitalism.
4. Capitalism requires conformity of consumption. The overriding goal of capitalism is to achieve ever-increasing profits through economies of scale. These are best achieved by having everyone consume the same limited range of standardized goods. Enter advertising, which tries to inculcate false or inauthentic desires. Consumerism is what emerges when we are duped into having desires that we would not normally have.

Both Fight Club and American Beauty are thoroughly soaked in the critique of mass society. Let’s look at Fight Club.
Here’s the narrator’s alter ego, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), explaining the third thesis: “We’re designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shopping. There’s nothing to kill anymore, there’s nothing to fight, nothing to overcome, nothing to explore. In that social emasculation this everyman is created.” And the fourth: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don’t need.” And here he is giving the narrator a scatological summary of the whole critique: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”
Fight Club is entirely orthodox in its Rousseauian rejection of the modern order. Less orthodox is its proffered solution, which in the middle and final acts moves swiftly from Iron John to the Trenchcoat Mafia.
A more conventional narrative arc, combined with a more didactic presentation of the critique, can be found in American Beauty, the Oscar-winning companion piece to Fight Club. The two films offer identical takes on the homogenizing and emasculating effects of mass society, though the heroes differ in their strategies of resistance. Fight Club suggests that the only solution is to blow up the whole machine; in American Beauty, Lester (Kevin Spacey) decides to subvert it from within.
When Lester first starts to rebel against his grey-scale, cookie-cutter life, he begins by mocking his wife’s (Annette Bening) Martha Stewart materialism. Here’s Lester in a voice-over: “That’s my wife, Carolyn. See the way the handle on her pruning shears matches her gardening clogs? That’s not an accident.”
Later, Carolyn halts Lester’s sexual advances in order to prevent him from spilling beer on the couch. They fight. “It’s just a couch,” Lester says. Carolyn: “This is a $4,000 sofa upholstered in Italian silk. It is not just a couch.” Lester: “It’s just a couch!” Capitalism offers us consumer goods as a substitute for sexual gratification. Lester strains at the bit.
The relationship between sexual frustration and mass society is a general theme of the movie. Here is Lester giving his family theses one and three over dinner:
Carolyn: Your father and I were just discussing his day at work. Why don’t you tell our daughter about it, honey?
Lester: Janie, today I quit my job. And then I told my boss to go fuck himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost $60,000. Pass the asparagus.
Carolyn: Your father seems to think this type of behaviour is something to be proud of.
Lester: And your mother seems to prefer I go through life like a fucking prisoner while she keeps my dick in a mason jar under the sink.
So what does Lester do to reassert his individuality, his masculinity? He takes a new job. He starts working out. He lusts after, then seduces, his daughter’s friend. He starts smoking pot in the afternoon. In short, he rejects all of the demands that society makes on a man of his age. But does he stop consuming? Of course not. Consider the scene in which he buys a new car. Carolyn comes home and asks Lester whose car that is in the driveway. Lester: “Mine. 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I’ve always wanted and now I have it. I rule!”
Lester has thrown off the shackles of conformist culture. He’s grown a dick, become a man again. All because he bought a car. Carolyn’s couch may be “just a couch,” but his car is much more than “just a car.” Lester has become the ultimate consumer. Like a teenager, he consumes without guilt, without foresight, and without responsibility. Meanwhile, Carolyn’s questions about how he intends to make the mortgage payments are dismissed as merely one more symptom of her alienated existence. Lester is beyond all that. He is now what Thomas Frank calls “the rebel consumer.”


What American Beauty illustrates, with extraordinary clarity, is that rebelling against mass society is not the same thing as rebelling against consumer society. Through his rebellion, Lester goes from being right-angle square to dead cool. This is reflected in his consumption choices. Apart from the new car, he develops a taste for very expensive marijuana—$2,000 an ounce, we are told, and very good. “This is all I ever smoke,” his teenaged dealer assures him. Welcome to the club, where admission is restricted to clients with the most discriminating taste. How is this any different from Frasier and Niles at their wine club?
What we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction. People consume in order to set themselves apart from others. To show that they are cooler (Nike shoes), better connected (the latest nightclub), better informed (single-malt Scotch), morally superior (Guatemalan handcrafts), or just plain richer (bmws).
The problem is that all of these comparative preferences generate competitive consumption. “Keeping up with the Joneses,” in today’s world, does not always mean buying a tract home in the suburbs. It means buying a loft downtown, eating at the right restaurants, listening to obscure bands, having a pile of Mountain Equipment Co-op gear and vacationing in Thailand. It doesn’t matter how much people spend on these things, what matters is the competitive structure of the consumption. Once too many people get on the bandwagon, it forces the early adopters to get off, in order to preserve their distinction. This is what generates the cycles of obsolescence and waste that we condemn as “consumerism.”
Many people who are, in their own minds, opposed to consumerism nevertheless actively participate in the sort of behaviour that drives it. Consider Naomi Klein. She starts out No Logo by decrying the recent conversion of factory buildings in her Toronto neighbourhood into “loft living” condominiums. She makes it absolutely clear to the reader that her place is the real deal, a genuine factory loft, steeped in working-class authenticity, yet throbbing with urban street culture and a “rock-video aesthetic.” à suivre sur le lien

Joseph Heath is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the author of The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as it Gets, published by Penguin Canada in 2001.

Andrew Potter has taught philosophy at the University of Toronto and at Trent University in Peterborough. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Centre de Recherche en Ethique at the Universite de Montreal.



QUESTIONS DE BRIAN AU COMITÉ CENTRAL:

1) What did you think of the article? What issues did it raise for you?

2) Near the end of the article, Heath and Potter argue that more needs to be done to curb consumption.
(a) Do you agree?
(b) Is it feasible and desirable to curb consumption in a societies where the pursuit of economic growth is a priority (i.e., where government is increasingly focused on supporting economic growth)?
c) Are there reasonable alternatives to a culture driven by consumption? Do Health and Potter offer any hope that change is possible? Is there hope?

3) It is widely known that the challenge for many Western governments is to promote economic growth, and at the same time to address concerns about the environment (i.e., to pursue “sustainable development”). Heath and Potter’s call for reducing consumption doesn’t seem to ‘fit’ with this taken-for-granted pursuit of sustainable development?
(a) How would you explain this omitted perspective?
(b) Is it reasonable to rely on the pursuit of cleaner technologies (that allow for the continuation of a consumption-driven lifestyle) as the solution to environmental issues in consumer societies?
(c) To what extent can we rely on the marketplace to support the emergence and development of a ‘green’ society?
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Isa



Nombre de messages : 102
Date d'inscription : 28/11/2006

MessageSujet: Re: if we all hate consumption, how come we can’t stop shopping?   Lun 13 Oct - 8:56

Cet article est tout à fait intéressant et j'aimerais savoir si il est possible de l'utiliser (à des fins non commerciales!)?

Ca fait un moment qu'avec des amis, on parle d'avoir des "chats" en anglais, histoire de pratiquer et d'améliorer notre vocabulaire (on cherche un vrai anglophone pour l'accent, mais on ne l'a pas encore trouvé!). Mais il est difficile de parler dans le vide.
Serait-il possible de se servir de cet article et des questions très pertinentes qui sont posées à la fin(bien que certaines soient sans doute trop ardues). Je crois que cela donnerait d'intéressants échanges.
Merci d'avance au comité central et à Brian,
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Date d'inscription : 28/11/2006

MessageSujet: Re: if we all hate consumption, how come we can’t stop shopping?   Lun 13 Oct - 18:17

pas de problème Isa. Le but étant de débattre. Je voudrais me mettre à l'espagnol, étant aux Amériques, c'est bien plus utile que l'Allemand. Ainsi je pourrai aussi débattre en espagnol! Tu parles espagnol Isa?
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