Rise of Consumerism

In this post,  I discussed some of the key things that Americans spend their money on. A couple of readers brought up the concept of consumerism and how it’s made some people with a good income still live on the edge.

This resonated with me as I actually know some of these people. They have solid middle class earnings, yet, they still live paycheck to paycheck. The three categories I talked about before definitely come into play here. Buying more house than you can afford. Having new cars all the time. Eating out a lot.

This was definitely true for one person I knew who’d bought a massive four bedroom home, then his wife quit working when their first child was born. Suddenly, making the mortgage was really hard.

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I decided to do some investigating. Things usually happen for a reason, and I discovered that while the the drive to overspend is huge, it wasn’t always. Consumerism came into play at the same time the cosmetics industry has. I believe for the same reasons.

The rise in consumerism, whether buying a bigger house, new car, or just having stuff is a manufactured need. And it was manufactured on purpose. Consumerism has risen along with advertising and the ability for advertisers to reach large sections of the population. Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it’s no coincidence that consumerism has grown along with increasingly sophisticated ads that target humans’ deepest needs.

 

A little history.

After WWI, corporations were making more stuff than people needed. Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers (yes, that Lehman Brothers) wrote, “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

Rather than rejecting this premise, the US government openly supported it.

Advertising was key, and Mazur knew this, so he recruited Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays began to figure out how to make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass-produced goods to unconscious desires.

  •  He was the first to work with car companies on selling cars as a symbol of masculine sexuality than as a means of getting from point A to point B.
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Seems to work to this day.
  • He helped break the taboo of women smoking so cigarettes companies could sell cigarettes to women. He persuaded a group of debutantes to smoke in public at a parade. He then told the media ahead of time that this was happening, and called the cigarettes “Torches Of Freedom” and linked women smoking with challenging male authority.
  • He pioneered product placement and celebrity endorsements

 

Bernays would continue his work, with future generations further refining their understanding of human desire and preying on/satisfying it. Presidents starting with Herbert Hoover embraced consumerism, and after WWII, the National Association of Manufacturers and other groups launched PR campaigns that linked consumerism with capitalism and glorified both.

Advertising got increasingly sophisticated, and with the advent of social media, people were no longer comparing themselves to the Joneses. They were now comparing themselves to the Kardashians.

It’s been a win all around for businesses, and in some ways, for the consumer as we’ve never had such choice.

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And, companies have had to cater to consumer demand and preferences, pushing froward innovation on computers, social media, and even cars. Remember when there weren’t SUVs or crossovers? Or the focus American car companies have had to put on quality or lose their consumers to Japanese companies.

 

Where Does It Leave Us

Does this mean consumerism is the new normal? That there is no escape from it?

I’m going to argue “no”.

For all the bad rap Millennials regularly get, they are driving some industries to worry. They are more focused on experiences than stuff, and this has the diamond industry very concerned. A Millennial is more likely to skimp on the ring and splash out on a huge honeymoon. They want memories, or as some cynics might say, lots of stuff to post on social media.

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Still, millennials are harder for advertisers to reach, and advertisers are fighting to find ways to get to them.

This inability to reach people is part of the reason why advertisers are terrified of “cord cutting” and consumers moving to Netflix or Amazon Prime for their viewing needs. Why? Because they can’t easily reach large numbers people. They can’t influence us to want their product by making us think it makes us sexier, more worthy of love, of whatever other needs they’re now trying to appeal to.

Advertisers are scrambling to find other ways to reach us. Many of us don’t want to be reached. Amazing how many people pay for an ad-blocking service.

In the advent of the internet, it also makes it more difficult for advertisers as there is no longer a mass market. The internet makes it much easier for niche markets to take hold, and for very personalized preferences to be met.

 

My Experience

I can say I’ve seen a significant change in my home when we “cut the cord” (got rid of all cable and even regular TV) in 2009. It was the Great Recession, and we had to trim expenses. Cable was an easy one for us. (So was our gym membership, but that’s another story!).

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We’ve never looked back. After seven years of being close to commercial free, you find yourself a little outside the “cutting edge” of pop culture, but we’ve learned to accept that, too. And if there’s a show you really want to watch, you can usually purchase the individual episodes or find them for free a few days later.

When we’ve gone to a friend’s house and they happened to have a football game on, we were astounded at how many commercials there were.

Afterward, we looked at the average kids’ show our daughters watch. They range between 20 and 22 minutes for a 30 minute time slot. That means a full 1/3 of a child’s show is advertising!

There’s a reason our kids’ Christmas lists are small (other than them being a little spoiled), and why we can walk down the cereal aisle and walk out with only Cheerios and no tears.

 

 

What do you think? Do you see the side-effects of consumerism? Maybe you’ve experienced them? Know someone who has? Do you think advertisers create desire? Do you think they’re part of consumerism?

Siren's Song

My response to a flash fiction challenge posed by Chuck Wendig here.

 

Siren’s Song

Lorik plunked down at an empty table and waved to the innkeeper. A hearty bowl of stew and cold ale appeared. Lorik grunted his thanks, handed a few coins to the innkeeper, and dug into the food.

As he polished off the first bowl, a second was slid in front of him. Lorik dropped another coin on the table and started to eat. Slower this time, actually tasting the rich stew.

“Hungry?” a voice purred as an all too familiar pointed tail traced the inside of his thigh.

Lorik kept eating. “What do you want, Sy?”

“To play,” she said as her tail slid higher.

“Not on that team anymore.”

“You’re still on the team, even if your new master has you sitting out.”

Lorik stiffened. “She’s not my master. And she’s not into those kinds of games.”

“Too bad,” Sy said as her tail brushed him. “We always had such fun.”

Lorik grabbed her tail. “Enough.”

Sy glanced at the stairs and then towards the inn door. “Where is she?”

“Scared?”

“Hoping she’ll see us together.”

“She’s not the jealous type.”

“All women are the jealous type,” Sy said.

Looking up from his stew, he knew what he’d see and he looked anyway. With the low cut black leather corset and matching panties, you barely noticed Sy’s leathery wings or hoofed feet. Her ruddy skin radiated heat, making you want to touch it, to feel it beneath your fingers as you-

Lorik licked his lips but didn’t look away. “Who sent you?”

“If I said I came myself?”

“I wouldn’t believe you.”

“The sex with you is good.”

Lorik snorted. “Sex is always good for you.”

“Better with you. You can take more punishment.” Hellfire lit her eyes. “I could let you be the master tonight.”

“Then punish me for it in the morning.”

“You know you’d like that.”

Lorik swallowed hard. Yeah, he would, but he knew what it would cost him with Elysia. Cost him more than a night with Sy was worth. Besides, he’d worked too damn hard to free himself.

He pushed away the stew and downed the rest of his ale. “Not gonna happen, Sy.”

She smiled, a dark sultry expression that made it painful to stand in armor.

“Goodnight, Sy.”

Her smile faded as she leaned forward. “Lord Thaaxune is giving you a chance to come back. He won’t make the offer again.”

“Way I figure it, he’s making the offer because he’s afraid of Elysia. Which means she has a real chance of ending him.”

“Lord Thaaxune is not afraid of some upstart paladin.”

Lorik shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. But she’s the best chance I’ve got to be truly free of him.”

“There is no freedom. Just another form of servitude. You like servitude.”

Lorik swallowed back the lump in his throat as he looked at her leather clad curves and the whip she wore at her waist. A whip he knew wasn’t just for show. He drank in the view, sucked in a breath, and turned toward the stairs.

“You’ll regret it,” Sy whispered.

“Already do,” Lorik mumbled.

He half stumbled to the room he shared with Elysia. Closing the door behind himself, he bolted it and then slid his shield under the handle. He’d know if anyone tried to break in. Not Sy’s style, but if Thaaxune was desperate, he might have more than Sy coming after him.

The room glowed with candlelight as Elysia knelt beside the bed, her hands clasped and head bowed in prayer. She’d shed her armor for a diaphanous white gown, and her silver hair flowed down her back and over her full fluffy white wings.

“How was your dinner?” she asked as she looked up at him with her hypnotic violet eyes.

Lorik grunted. “I swear you survive on rainbows and unicorn farts.”

“I ate at the temple,” she said as she stood.

With the candlelight behind her, he could just make out a snip of lace underneath the gown. He looked away from the purity of her silver and white beauty. She deserved better than him, way better.

“You don’t smell of brimstone.”

“You knew Sy was waiting for me?”

Elysia nodded.

“Why in the Seven Hells didn’t you say something!”

“You know why.”

Lorik glowered at her as he stomped to his bed. “Still shitty on your part.”

“I’m sorry, but I had to know. I’m trusting you to take me to Thaaxune. If she could have derailed you-”

“She can’t, okay?”

“Now I know. And so do you.”

“Yeah, I guess I needed to know that.” Lorik started taking off his armor.

Elysia came over and stood beside him, her slender fingers helping him unhook and unclasp it before lifting it off of him.

By the Seven Hells, she smelled good, soft, ephemeral. Must be all the unicorn farts and rainbows, Lorik told himself as he balled his fists and tried not to respond to her touch. It was easier to ignore how soft and feminine she was when he wasn’t already aroused. Sy was good at her job.

“You’re tense,” Elysia said. “I hadn’t expected your meeting with Sy to be so trying.”

“You don’t understand men.”

“I’ve witnessed that sometimes your heart and your body are not aligned,” she said as she knelt on the bed behind him and teased her fingers over the wide expanse of his back and up along his broad shoulders. She then began to rub, easing out the knots and chasing away the tension.

Lorik eased back into her skilled hands and closed his eyes. “That’s an understatement.”

“This disconnect, does it happen just with demons like Sy?”

“Happens all the time. Part of my mortal failing, I guess.”

“All the time?” Elysia echoed and her hands stopped rubbing. “Like when?”

He cracked an eye. “You know you’re a constant temptation, right?”

“I’m not Sy.”

“Sy was made to twist and warp men. You do it without realizing it. Might be worse.”

“I never intended harm.”

“Definitely worse,” Lorik said as he pushed away from her.

He grabbed his sword and shield, stomped back down to the common room and ordered a whiskey neat. After downing it and two more like it, he felt Sy’s tail wrap around his leg.

“Girl troubles?”

“In spades,” Lorik said as he looked over at her. The whip and leather had done it for him once, but that’s not what he wanted. Not now. Maybe never again. “Can you look like her?”

“What?” Sy asked.

Lorik leaned over and gave her his demonic half smile. “You make yourself look like her, and I will tie you to the bed and give you the ride of the century.”

“Want her that bad?”

Lorik raised his brows as he sat back in his seat and folded his arms over his chest. “Can you or can’t you?”

Before Sy could answer, the thud of heavy armor on the stairs had Sy on her feet. “Looks like your little paladin is coming for you.”

“She’ll smite you if she catches you.”

Sy took three steps back and disappeared in a puff of red smoke.

Elysia appeared at the bottom of the stairs, her silver armor gleaming and her sword pulsing with holy energy.

“She heard you coming,” Lorik said.

Elysia studied him for a long moment, nodded and turned back towards the stairs.

“Don’t wait up,” Lorik said as he raised his whiskey glass.

She climbed a step and looked back as Lorik stared into the bottom of the glass.

She’d only seen him that bad once before, and it was the night she’d first met him, the night he’d agreed to throw his life away to see justice against Thaaxune done.

He was sinking back there because of her. Because she’d tested him rather than trusted him. After all they had seen together, all they’d been through, she’d known he’d pass. Testing isn’t what he needed.

Elysia sheathed her sword and offered him her hand. He looked at the whiskey and then at her. He groaned, but pushed the glass away and followed her back to their room.

She closed and locked the door, then took off her armor.

Lorik climbed into bed and faced the wall, counting backward from 100 as he tried to slow his breathing and keep himself in check. He felt her sit on the bed beside him.

“We both need our sleep. Go to bed,” he grunted.

“The Light doesn’t forbid physical contact.”

“Good thing, because I’ve seen you slay a dozen zombies with one strike.”

“That’s not what I meant.” She lifted his hand and laid it against her cheek.

“I know what you meant,” he said as he turned and met her intense violet gaze. “And you have no idea what you’re saying. No idea what I want to do to you and with you.”

“I know how I feel about you.”

Lorik thumbed over her soft cheek as the heat of her caressed him and the scent of her drugged him.

“Show me,” she whispered as she leaned forward and touched her lush full lips against his.

Every muscle in Lorik’s body tensed as the delicious touch sank into him and mixed with the whiskey in his brain. He couldn’t be sure that this was the real Elysia and not some elaborate illusion Sy had concocted. He didn’t care.

It was everything he’d hoped for. Everything he wanted.

He wrapped her in his arms and kissed her back.