Consumer society

May 04, 2009 in

Well as you all know, I started to study sociology in Granada. Some of the books I am reading are really inspiring to think further about society and more specific things in society because they create a framework to take a viewpoint from outside the society to look on society. To not take stuff as granted but to be astonished about the culture (and society) over and over.
Now, to take this viewpoint is a bit easier for me now as the culture here is a bit different, so it’s easier to gaze and wonder. I am not integrated into Spanish society.

Intentionally or not, I think that the mass media – and I mean especially advertising – botches up society1. In the sense that they procure a world with objective meanings to the masses that didn’t come from a “natural” development of society but orientate itself solely towards business interests. Mass media is extremely powerful to inject ideas, values, habits, desires and interaction patterns into society, even from the outside. That it works and that it is done you can see with how for example Coca Cola expands in new countries – they must deliberately change their desires and habits but even their values: let them associate Coca Cola with good values like freedom, creativity, the Western world, some movie or whatever values are valued in that society2. Take a look at advertising in TV nowadays – apart from sex they always try you to associate other good things with their product to create the desire to buy it. Mass media can change society and advertising does it through it. The creation of the consumer society is in that fatal because individuals conceive (this) society as almost as real as the physical world:
“…Society is commonly apprehended by man as virtually equivalent to the physical universe in its objective presence – a ‘second nature’, indeed. Society is experienced as given ‘out there’, extraneous to subjective consciousness and not controllable by the latter.” (Peter L. Berger, The sacred canopy, p.11, 2)

Advertising, or say, the culture of consumption (“advertising” sounds so puny and harmless) does not just “stand there”. Successful advertising creates values, habits, desires and patterns of interactions and structures on how-things-work in general. The human world is not only heavily influenced by the culture of consumption, propagated by the media, it is formed by it!
We live in this society were the dream world of the mass media and the values that they procure are conceived as given reality, in fact without noticing it or finding it weird:
But it’s not just advertising. I saw this with all this Bollywood business in India and with soap operas, they tell you how to feel, what to value and when it is proper to act how. Actually the same thing happens in normal socialisation but that is not devised and injected from the outside but comes from natural interaction. In many aspects, consumption has replaced religion (and we are proud of it).
And as I said, the fatal thing is that it’s really hard to notice all that because it is part of our society in which we are in. It is normal and objectively real by our standards and actually we even stand and propagate these values by being a socialised member of that society. But it’s enough to watch a really old Hollywood movie to find the values that are tried to be procured there really weird and antiquated. (Because it’s not your culture you see on the screen) Mind you, you think your culture is superior and the only normal one? Time to change your point of view.

To bring it to the point: It bothers me very much that the powerful instrument of mass media to form society is used not by identifiable people and not even by a power-seeking conspiracy society but by certain human-created phenomena (global capitalism and consumption) that long lost any controllability by (democratic) organs. The society is running into a volitional dictatorship of the global market without noticing it as this seems to be a completely normal part of our society. And while a human dictator might still show some benevolence for his people, this one does not. It is not created to be. That capitalism is not about welfare of man is nothing new.

1 Now, there will always be society and it’s difficult to judge if a society is good or bad objectively. But I am not trying to be objectively here: It just bugs me that society goes into this direction.

2 On that note: