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January 2019    Dennis R. DuBe'     702/3833

0. The Culture of Consumption
          R.W. Fox and T. J. J. Lears, Editors #3833   Created 04/21/2016   Updated 04/25/2016

[from The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History 1880-1980; by Richard Wightman Fox (Editor), T. J. Jackson Lears (Editor)] pages 3-37

dd notes:

ethos of salvation;
theraputic ethos;
Culture of Consumption
negemony of intellectural and (illegible) leadership /
are 'values' replaced by 'terms of service'?
dominant culture is continual process (non-static superstructure)
"real life"
creed of progress (16)
attention field (18)

"On or about December 1910," Virginia Woolf once said, "human character changed."

..a new set of values sanctioning periodic leisure, compulsive spending, apolitical passivity, and an apparently permissive (but subtly coercive ) morality of individual fulfillment. The older culture was suited to a production-oriented society of small entrepreneurs; the newer culture epitomized a consumption-oriented society dominated by bureaucratic corporations. [cites virginia wolfe]

...Further, a producer orientation survived in the consumer culture, though it was cast in a secular mold By the 1920s, among the American bourgeoisie, the newly dominant consumer culture was a muddle of calculated self-control and spontaneous gratification. 3

My point here is obvious but usually overlooked: advertising cannot be considered in isolation. Its role in promoting a consumer culture can only be understood within a network of institutional, religious, and psychological changes. 3

I shall argue that the crucial moral change was the beginning of a shift from a Protestant ethos of salvation through self-denial toward a therapeutic ethos stressing self-realization in this world--an ethos characterized by an almost obsessive concern with physic and physical health defined ins sweeping terms. 4 A dialectic developed between Americans' new emotional needs and advertisers' strategies; each continually reshaped and intensified the other. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes unwittingly, advertisers and therapists responded to and reinforced the spreading culture of consumption. Their motives and intentions were various, but the overall effect of their efforts was to create a new and secular basis for capitalist cultural hegemony. 4

By helping to create a taken-for-granted "reality", the leaders of the dominant culture identify beliefs that are in the interest of a particular class with the "natural " common sense of society (and indeed of humanity) at large. 5

A dominant culture is not a static "superstructure" but a continual process. The boundaries of common-sense "reality" are constantly shifting as the social structure changes shape. As older values become less fashionable, they are widely discarded but persist in residual forms. 5

"....Bruce Barton, an advertising executive and therapeutic ideologue whose career not only illustrates the centrality of therapeutic attitudes int he new consumer culture but also demonstrates that a cultural transformation can never be reduced to a conspiracy or an impersonal conceptual scheme. 5

[emergence of a therapeutic ethos] "For the educated bourgeoisie in the late nineteenth century, reality itself began to seem problematic, something to be sought rather that merely lived. A dread of unreality, a yearning to experience intense "real life" in all its forms--these emotions were difficult to chart but nonetheless pervasive and important. 6

"To begin: Feelings of unreality stemmed from urbanization and technological development; from the rise of an increasingly interdependent market economy; and from the secularization of liberal Protestantism among its educated and affluent devotees. 6

[ dd dread of unreality -- yearning to experience real life; dread of isolation-- yearning to experience connections, exposure, wide-spread renegotiation of self. ]

Quest for real life...reverence for "life" itself....intense experience...(10)...tacit realization that self-realization was the largest aim of human existence...(11)

Rooted in largely personal dilemmas, the therapeutic ethos nevertheless provided a secular world view that well suited the interests of corporate proprietors and managers in the emerging culture. 11

The older form of therapy, with its frequent money metaphors and in its insistence on careful husbanding of resources, expressed the persistent production orientation within the dominant culture. 13

At the most obvious level, the therapeutic injunction to "let go" eased adjustment to the rhythms of life under corporate capitalism. 15 Ultimately, the most corrosive aspect of the therapeutic ethos was the worship of growth and process as ends in themselves. By devaluing ultimate purposes, abundance therapists (like "antiformalist" social scientists), tended to undermine possibilities for any bedrock of moral values. And by urging unending personal growth, abundance therapists encouraged the forgetting (one might say the repressions) of the past. They embraced the creed of progress and transferred its effects to the most intimate areas of life. 16

Scarcity therapy addressed anxieties; abundance therapy addresses aspirations. But the main point is that longing for reintegrated self-hood and intense experience were assimilated by both therapeutic and business elites in the emerging consumer culture: not only by psychiatrists, social theorists, and captains of the nascent "leisure industry" but also by advertising executives. 17

Amid a mounting din of product claims, many national advertisers shifted their focus from presenting information to attracting attention. (18 cites 34) The shift toward sensational tactics for attracting attention was accelerated by a broader movement from print to visual modes of expression. 18

Advertising was part of a new visual environment, where innumerable images jostled for the attention of a mass audience. 18 (cites 35)

Hopkin's "reason why" poined advertising away from the product and toward its alleged effects, away from sober information and toward the therapeutic promise of a richer, fuller life. 19

To some advertisers, the implication was clear that human minds were not only malleable but manipulable. And the most potent manipulation was therapeutic: the promise that the product would contribute to the buyers's physical, psychic, or social well-being; the threat that his well-being would be undermined if he failed to buy it. 19


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