December 8, 2007

The Failings of Our Consumer Society and Its Spectacle

The current consumer society has many problems. It has abused workers, put people out of work, or created an enormous gap between the rich and the poor. However, these problems are not as serious as they seem, because all of them can be fixed with legislation. The bigger harm of consumerism and capitalism in general, however, can never be fixed. It is an intrinsic problem, one that threatens to entirely supplant human nature as we know it. On the surface, this problem might not seem obvious. It's not because the problem itself doesn't exist, but because it's hard to quantify. The problem comes through slowly, in the form of the typical annoyances of the day.

People buy new products just because they're considered cool. Individuals obsessively follow the popular trends. Ardent fanatics of certain products proselytize them endlessly and violently attack each other through the media. While it might seem hard to concretely define this problem with consumer society, eventually the issue becomes clear: consumerism has created a spectacle that has made buying the right products the only means of creating an identity.

This spectacle is all encompassing. Every decision made in a consumer society only feeds into and exacerbates the spectacle. Individuals no longer attempt to live out events to define themselves, but rather buy goods to represent what they want to be. Social interactions are no longer defined by individual creations, but rather by which individuals buy what. The pervasion of capitalism and consumerism has supplanted social life with that of its mere images, and has alienated individuals from what it means to truly live.


Major harms come as a result of the spectacle. Individuals no longer identify themselves with actions, but rather with passive observation of this passing spectacle. While people on an individual level can still take part in social activities, as a group the individuals no longer actively participate. The production of goods supplants everything else, meaning that the most important "activities" are no longer related to people, but rather to the commodities, the goods, and the products that people interact with.


Just as bad is the fact that the spectacle makes it impossible to distinguish between reality and fantasy. With products and commodities as the primary concern of individuals, invented fantasies can take on the same relevance as actual. The consumer society and the spectacle have even gone a step further, and have made it so that the fantasy supplants reality. Individuals now engage in activities that are purely fantasy, which were originally based on real activities. Flavors of drinks that couldn't actually exist, the supposed invincibility of sports heroes, and the fake social worlds created by television and films are all examples of how the spectacle harms society. It has replaced what is reality with a better fantasy version, and through this has managed to entrap individuals in a world that isn't real.


Worse still is that at this stage the spectacle cannot be changed. It is entrenched within the consumer society as strongly as the idea of buying and selling goods. It can never be removed, never be altered, and will never disappear. The only possibility for change comes through the individual's recognition of what the spectacle is and their purposeful rejection of consumer trappings. Only through this can society have any hope of overcoming the spectacle at all.

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