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Consumerism, Little Children

Essay One: Consumerism

Consumerism is described as a society in which a majority of people formulate their life goals partly through the acquisition of items that they do not need for subsistence, and also for traditional display. It appears as mentality, behavioral motivation, individual action and commercial institutions defining society and its spending culture. Consumerism is measured by a rise in material standards and the social status of individuals. It has been deemed to erode identities and disorient individuals. The consumerist culture exists because of commodity fetishism, status anxiety, and the continuous drumbeat of the media to promote it. This paper seeks to explore the theories have been advanced to explain this consumerist culture, as well as today’s consumer. It also aims to describe, characterize and assess the current marketplace.

Marxists have attempted to explain mass consumption using capitalism. Marxists opine that the production of commodities has evolved from attributing values to commodities based on the labor that went into creating that product. Today, the value of commodities is attributed to the commodity itself, and not to the labor used in its production process; a phenomenon termed as commodity fetishism. Capitalists use fetishism to mask the fact that individuals were exploited to produce those commodities. Today’s consumers are blind to the exploitation in factories. Most factories today are outsourcing their production to countries with an abundance of laborers, whom they pay low wages. Apple products, for example, are highly valued, but their factories in Asia have been characterized by employee suicides and a flout of child labor laws (Cooper). Marx argues that fetishism allows capitalists to produce in a capitalistic mode without regard to the real repercussions of the scheme of exploitation on which they depend.

Capitalists have resorted to advertising and the use of media outlets to portray an imaginary world of excitement and pleasure for consumers. Consumers thus tend to purchase products for which they have no need. Cultivation theorists assert that people’s perception and understanding of the world arises indirectly from mass media. Adverts in mass media like television construct an imaginary world where the audience can experience extreme excitement without being accosted with the risk that usually accompanies such excitement in reality. The focus of mass media is on consumer products that communicate a symbolic meaning,and that can be used to express one’s self-concept. Studies reveal that the most consumer products possess symbolic features that make their consumption dependent on their social meanings rather than their utilitarian functions. This symbolism has led to consumers purchasing commodities that they do not need for subsistence.

In most television programs and commercials, people display the pleasure of ownership and consumption, but rarely are they portrayed engaging in the actual purchase where hard-earned money is spent. To promote the acquisition of goods, mass media rarely provide accurate information for consumption-relevant skills.Althusser called the inculcation of value and culture in consumers as interpellation. He opined that ideology is the medium through which humans operate in and experience the world. He states that ideology is irreducible, and the mass media controls our ideologies to promote the capitalist system of mass consumption. Hence according to the Althusserian theory, the mass media interpellates the subject. Many current media theorists, however, are of the notion that the subject projects meaning into the mass media texts. What is evident though is that mass media dictates ideology, and those ideologies influence the purchase choices of consumers.

Another influence of the consumerist culture is status anxiety.  Status anxiety is the yearning by individuals in society to advance their station and their perception by others. In their pursuit to be perceived as asuccess and be judged kindly, individuals develop a pernicious worry about failing to conform to society’s norms. People crave for identity in thecommunity, and this identity has been politicized into a culture of materialism. The materialistic theory has always tried to explain how people want to live their lives. Materialism has become an important cultural trait concerning consumption. People today are respected and treated well if they are wealthy, or portray themselves as being wealthy. In their search for identity and respect, many people are turning to material possessions without regard for whether they are essential for their subsistence. Consumerism has become a way in which people identify in society. Shopping has now become an emancipatory activity through which individuals, and especially women, define a new sense of bourgeois identity, carve out new public spaces, and become energized as political actors.

Markets today are filled with people who need material possessions in order to have a sense of identity, and will go to great lengths to uphold that status. It is now commonplace for consumers to take out loans and mortgages in order to finance their purchases. Corporations who have carried out research on consumer behavior now produce commodities that advance the status of those who buy them, even though they have no intrinsic value. Capitalists have managed to create a culture of consumerism that advances their profits, even though detrimental to the consumers. Shopping has become a story of a search for authentic sociality, one derived from the mass consumption of commodities.

Essay two:Little Children

Media and technology are used today to bring out issues affecting society. They are also used to advance some themes that the public perceives as normal. Film technology uses motion and images to impact how society behaves. Little Children, a 2006 film directed by Todd Field, enounces issues affecting American society. Derived from a novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta, it brings out the themes of technology addiction, arrested development, feminism, mother issues, and gender roles and identities.

Gender identities have been widely reviewed in the movie. Sarah (Kate Winslet) has a doctorate in English but after getting married and having a baby, she is relegated to taking care of Lucy) the daughter and sets aside her research. Kathy, Brad’s wife, handles the family’s business affairs and wants Brad to succeed. Brad is supposed to provide for the family but has already failed the bar exam twice. The family even have to accept financial aid from Kathy’s mother. Instead of working Brad enjoys staying at home and watching kids skate, a thing that angers Kathy, who becomes domineering over Brad. Women are also the ones taking care of children in the movie, except Brad, who enjoys taking his son Aaron to the park. Men are supposed to be protectors, and Larry, an ex-police officer, takes it upon him to rid the neighborhood of unscrupulous individuals like Ronnie, the ex-felon who was incarcerated for indecent exposure. Larry even tries to enlist the help of Brad in getting rid of Ronnie.

Todd Field has also concentrated on feminism. He has attempted to bring out women as being on a level playing field as men. Kathy, Brad’s wife, is the breadwinner for her family. Brad is a stay at home dad who takes his son Aaron to the park. Sarah is also depicted as a feminist. Brad enamors most of the other women, but they refuse to talk to him as this would scandalize them. Sarah, however, approaches Brad in the park, and even asks him to write down his number for her, much to the bewilderment of the other women. When Sarah catches her husband masturbating to internet porn, she goes ahead and has an affair with Brad. During the book club Mary terms Madame Bovary a slut and deems having sex outside of marriage as unethical. Sarah defends Madame Bovary stating that her behavior is a feminist impulse and a declaration of independence from a dull and stultified existence.

Arrested development or infantile infatuation is widely exemplified in the film. Starting with Brad, all the adults in the movie struggle with sexuality and responsibility. Brad cannot focus on his studies and fails the bar exam twice. Instead of being constructive, he enjoys watching kids skate. When the teenagers taunt him to try it, he is unable to resist the urge of feeling young again, and he crashes and gets knocked out while at it. Ronnie, the neighborhood pervert, still lives with his mother. After his date with Sheila, he asks her to drive by the playground so that he can masturbate. Larry cannot stop taunting Ronnie. When Brad stands him up, he goes to taunt Ronnie and while at it wakes up the whole the whole neighborhood with his bullhorn. Richard, Sarah’s husband, spends most of his time on the internet masturbating to porn with panties on his head.

Technology addiction has also been espoused in the movie. Richard spends his time masturbating while logged on to Sluttykay.com, a porn website. His addiction causes his relationship with Sarah to dwindle. The neighborhood teenagers are always skateboarding outside Brad’s house. Brad, who has a longing to be young again, likes watching the teenagers and fantasizing about his earlier days. On one occasion, he cannot resist the urge to re-live his youth and hops onto one of the crashes, but he falls and hurts himself. The directors did not, however, focus too much on the theme and hence it is not quite as evident.

Little Children also explores mother issues. Ronnie, the neighborhood sexual deviant, best exemplifies the idea. After his incarceration, he lives with his mother who takes care of him. May is aware of his mental problems and believes that if he were to reside with her, he could somehow change his behavior. Ronnie comes out as a spoilt man-child who even has his mother arrange his date. He is used to his mother protecting him, as is evinced by the scene where May comes out to confront Larry, who is taunting Ronnie. When May dies, she writes a note asking him to behave properly. He is distraught, destroys most of her Hummel figurines, grabs a butcher knife and then heads to the park where he castrates himself. He sees no use for living now that his mom is not around.

Both essays tackle issues that are rife in today’s society. Mass consumption has led to individuals spending more than they can earn, and usually on items that have no intrinsic value or benefit them. The drama, Little Children, exposes issues facing the American populace. Gender role identity, feminism, mother issues, infant infatuation, and technology addiction are some of the issues that the movie portrays. Society today is marred by many problems that need to be addressed to achieve a better community.

Works Cited

Cooper, Rob. “Inside Apple’s Chinese ‘sweatshop’ factory where workers are paid just £1.12 per hour to produce iPhones and iPads for the West.” 25 January 2013. dailymail.co.uk.Document. 12 March 2015. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2103798/Revealed-Inside-Apples-Chinese-sweatshop-factory-workers-paid-just-1-12-hour.html>.