Consumerism can be defined as the creation of material needs in order to swipe money off the unsuspecting consumer. It blurs the line between a need and a want, and companies all around the globe use it, via the media (TV, radio, print media etc.), to manipulate us into thinking we need their products. We will be happier, smarter, more beautiful, more popular . . . you get the picture. But do you want to know the really sad part? It nearly always works. That’s the common perception, anyway.
But is it that simple?
Consumerism is a current anxiety trend regarding contemporary media practices. And rightfully so – media practices promoting consumerism do have detrimental effects on society. Think of all the photo-shopped models in magazines. This is done to convince a person they need to be of equal beauty or social status as the model, and to do this they must purchase the goods being advertised. This can be seen as good for the economy – sales are boosted, more money goes back into society, more jobs become available and so on.
But what about society? We are no longer in a time where people believe everything they see and hear, we are shifting into an era where we we trust nothing and no one. I suppose that’s because businesses have realised they can more successful if they lure consumers in through deceit and artificial needs, not on the basis of their actual needs. Now, every signal the media sends us we judge as fake and a hoax . . . we teach our children to be critical of everything they see. I remember my year nine commerce teacher impressing upon us “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t (true)”. Which version represents a healthier society? Currently, I believe we are somewhere in between. Should we end up in a world where we disbelieve everything we see by definition, where businesses are seen to be greedy and manipulative? Or do we go back in time to the 20th century, a time including two world wars, among others, and the Great Depression, where consumerism was not seen as such as issue and the economy struggled, but the idea of artificial needs had not corrupted society?
Let’s go back to that person viewing the ad. What do you think happens to their self-esteem when they see a person, airbrushed and edited to perfection, portrayed as normal? Will any of you argue with me when I say it will sink as surely as the Titanic (Have any of you ever looked at a picture of a photo-shopped model and felt good about yourself? No, I didn’t think so.)? Multiply that by the number of times that person will be exposed to advertisements of that kind in their lifetime, and multiply that by the number of people in the world, and you will notice this becomes an issue.
“Half of young women between 16 and 21 say they would consider cosmetic surgery, and we’ve seen eating disorders more than double in the last 15 years”
– Jo Swinson, Scottish member of Parliament (A campaigner against misleading advertising)
But is the media really to blame? Yes,women all over the planet are trying to live up to someone they are not, but if that wasn’t a body on a magazine, it would surely be the head cheerleader, that skinny girl from work or even someone whom you pass on the street. It’s the same thing with the creation of needs; if a corporation isn’t convincing you that you need to eat nutrigrain to be an iron man, you will look out the window and see trendy Trudy from down the street driving a Mercedes – and you will go out and buy a Mercedes because that’s what you perceive as a stylish vehicle.
So yes, the media manipulates people into buying things they think they need to become someone they think they should be, but that is not the only way consumerism exists. We are just as easily manipulated by other people and by what is “normal” for our class – or our perceived class – in society. And of course, we always have a choice. The magazine or TV advertisement doesn’t force you off the couch and to the bank to extend your credit card limit, and drag you mercilessly to the nearest mall to purchase that iPhone you need to live . . . so next time your credit card maxes out, don’t be too quick to blame the media and advertising. It’s just as likely something (or someone) closer to home has planted and nourished that seed of consumerism inside you. And even that doesn’t have the final say, you do – so stop blaming the media and the rest of the world, and learn to budget, folks!
- Domingo (2012) Media and Consumerism, http://mediaandconsumerism.blogspot.com.au/,accessed 10.3.15
- Shah, A (2003) Creating the Consumer, http://www.globalissues.org/article/236/creating-the-consumer, accessed 10.3.15
- Shah, A (2012) Media and Advertising, http://www.globalissues.org/article/160/media-and-advertising, accessed 10.3.15