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Consumerism And Relationships Essay, Research Paper

Consumerism and Relationships

Consumerism is the myth that the individual will be gratified and integrated by consuming. This myth is deadly, and can poison everything from our intellects to our relationships. This paper will explore consumerism and its ultimate effects on our relationships and friendships.

The traditional cultural values of Western society today are degenerating under the influences of the power of corporate politics, the commercialization of our culture and the impact of mass media. Our society is merely beginning to awaken from its fascination with television entertainment to find itself stripped of the traditions we once held dear. We are finding ourselves controlled by an oppressive power structure and bound to the credit card bills that symbolize a defunct American dream. What is worse is that we see the actual problem as our only way out. The problem of consumerism bothers us, though we do not actually know why or how. Because we are unaware of the cause of this “uneasiness,” we see buying things and consuming as a “medication.” This just pushes us deeper into the pit of consumerism, where popular culture, under the guise of “all things cool and phat,” has set a clever trap for us.

Consumerism has been imposed on our lives, economy, society, and our environment layer by layer. It can become a disease. This means that one of the only ways to control the problem is to begin by removing one layer at a time. Small, everyday changes are easier to implement than a broad philosophical revolution, but can very well lead to a clearer path to the kingdom.

People who fill their intellectual horizons with nothing beyond sports statistics and fashion magazine quizzes, who know nothing of “real matters” such as justice, service, and gaining independence from mass culture, are in for a hard future. These people have allowed the noose of the anti-kingdom to get tighter and tighter, forming a cultural “death grip.” Soon their hopes, their expectations, and the false sense of security which consumerism fosters will be shattered. This is how consumerism kills.

Most people do not realize that consumerism offers only short-term ego-gratification for those who can afford the luxury. It offers only frustration for those who cannot “buy into” the “lifestyle”. It exists only as an incomplete system of false values that people seem to substitute for a diminishing cultural heritage.

Beneath consumerist tendencies lies an insecure America striving to fill an image projected in media advertising. Our self-awareness and self-worth have been grossly distorted. In short, we are reduced to what we wear. The mindset is that, no matter what a person does, they are never good enough. We are either too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too smart, too dumb, or simply “so totally last month.”

The only way to fix the problem is to buy those new hip-hugging, low-rise jeans with the rhinestone halter and matching earrings. No one seems to realize that, even if we do succumb and buy the jeans and halter, we will never be done. Next, our skin will not be perfect or our haircut will be wrong or outdated. The cycle never ends. It must be stopped.

A quote from a “Madonna” song sums up this notion, and the society who

purchases such music, perfectly.

Madonna bellows:

Each possession you possess helps your spirits soar

That’s what’s soothing about excess

Never settle for something less

Something’s better than nothing, yes!

But nothing’s better than more, more, more

More, by Madonna

As Madonna put so succinctly, what could possibly be better than having more,

more, more? Well, the Catholic Bishops of the Columbia River Watershed have a

different viewpoint. They said:

As people have become more absorbed by material things and less conscious of spiritual and social relationships, consumerism has replaced compassion, and exploitation of the earth has replaced stewardship. There is a need for a spiritual conversion to a better and deeper sense of stewardship for God’s creation and responsibility for our communities.

These Bishops are calling for responsibility and compassion in place of

consumerism and complacency. The Holy Father also addressed issues like this and others in the encyclical entitled Centesimus Annus. This encyclical represents an important insight in Catholic social teaching. It speaks about a “new capitalism,” intended to bring forth new subjects and ideas brought forth after the industrial revolution. This “new capitalism” is marked by an appreciation of the need to maintain a strong interaction between economics, politics, and culture. This sets a framework for a life that can better fight the forces of consumerism. It must be emphasized that of those three facets, culture is the most important, and that at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion.

This is a very significant development in Catholic social teaching that will hopefully nurture a new phase of Catholic social thought. However, a problem arises. Most people know nothing of this encyclical or its implications. I probably would never have found it, had I not been doing research for this paper. Christians, and most especially Catholics, are starving for knowledge, although they usually do not recognize it. We need knowledge concerning the relationship between the pitfalls of consumerism and the downfall of American society as we know it. This is a bold statement, but bold statements need to be made in life and death situations. And the problem of consumerism is, undoubtedly, a deadly situation.

Throughout the past few weeks, our class has made me realize these things about popular culture and how I have been affected by them, consciously or not. One of the ways I began to recognize this was by recognizing the work of the noose in my life. Breaking the hold of the noose most definitely requires education. Education not only for new information like right relationship, but also education based on teaching people to “rethink” what they already hold to be true about society. This class has helped me to do that.

I know that there have been times in my past that I have made use of “retail therapy.” I would feel down or not quite happy enough, so I would go shopping. I would allow myself to “buy into” the notion that if I have something new, if I own something new, I am somehow making myself just a little bit better.

I never realized that I had been doing this as a way to feel better. I never made the connection. I always just thought that shopping was fun, so it made me feel better. That was part of the cloak for me. Recognizing the work of Satan and the Anti-Kingdom in my life has been the key to trying to fight it. But consumerism brings other dangers besides huge credit card bills. The rest of this paper will begin to explore how consumerism can begin to poison the areas of our lives-outside of our bank accounts. I chose to focus on consumerism and its effects on our human relationships.


Consider the following advice from a “women’s website” that tells “us women” what is important in life and what we need to do to get it:

Women, Looking good is not enough to get what you want! If you want the world, you have to get your man and use him to get the world! Don’t look as if you are trying too hard, you should make it seem like its all just happening. You should be confident and strong willed- no emotional tears or breakdowns. A woman should not use these tools.

It (unfortunately) continues:

Divas make themselves emotionally strong, they never cry. They can sing and dance even when their heart is crying. It’s not the tight sluttish clothes or come-hither makeup but it’s about being dignified, sexy and chic. Divas tease, tempt and leave you wanting more. Use your charms, your looks, -whatever it takes. Grab whatever you like, be it the stars or the moon. Go out there and get it. http://www.womeninfoline.com/relation/love/getyourman.asp

This example illustrates exactly how consumerism has poisoned our relationships and the way we interact with the opposite sex. The emphasis here, as is the usual, on the women using what she’s got (meaning her looks, because what else could she possibly have?) to get the man. Once she “gets the man,” that solves all of her problems. She can then move on to “getting the world.”

This article clearly upholds the stereotype that women “need” a man to be successful and get what they want in life. It also encourages women to be sneaky about it in the process. There is no honesty and no respect for the dignity of the person in this kind of relationship. The problem of consumerism has infected the mindsets of people. We now treat people as commodities as well. Consumerist values and “the commodity form” have been force-fed to use via popular culture for so long that we find it nearly impossible not to view others as simply another commodity to be owned or used. This is a reduction of the wonderful and joyful possibilities that can be realized when a relationship is founded in mutual respect for the person, not respect for the label on the back of his or her jeans (and coincidentally, the way their butt looks in them.)

One of the huge ways that our society has been infiltrated by this consumerist mindset is through advertising. The video we watched regarding the portrayal of women in advertising made it surprisingly clear that something needs to be done. What bothered me the most about that video is that I had never really thought it was that big of a deal or that rampant in the media. Since that video, I have recognized hundreds of ads- whether they be around campus, on television, on the radio, or on the side of a bus- that have reinforced that negative stereotype of women. But what can be done?

In order for the problem to be addressed, some sort of responsibility needs to be taken on the part of those in the media. The Pontifical Council For Social Communication’s handbook states some interesting guidelines for ethics in advertising. It relays that the media of social communications has two options, and only two. Either they help human persons to grow in their understanding of the practice of what is true and good, or they are destructive forces in conflict with human well being. This notion is entirely true of advertising.

With this in mind, we point to this fundamental principle for people engaged in advertising: advertisers. These people are defined as those who commission, prepare or disseminate advertising. These constituencies should be considered morally responsible for what they seek to move people to do. They need to be held accountable for the damage that they can do to society. It is also stated that this is a responsibility also shared by “publishers, broadcasting executives, and others in the communications world, as well as by those who give commercial or political endorsements, to the extent that they are involved in the advertising process.” Some kind of moral responsibility needs to be taken. This, however, will be extremely difficult in an environment like today’s, because everyone knows that “only sex sells.” We, as young Catholics, need to attack here, at the root of the evil that is present in much of our advertising today.

Finally, I think that a quote by Monsignor Charles Murphy, pastor of St. Pius X Church in Portland, Maine, adequately describes our grave circumstances and outlines our need for change. He said, “The disparities between human beings who live in squalor and those who have everything money can buy are glaring in a world brought closer together through amazing advances in communication. This great disparity denies social justice, leads to ecological tragedy, and most of all, creates a misperception of what the good life really is, which ultimately makes excessive consumption a religious question.”

The problem of consumerism and consumption is most definitely a religious question. People need to realize that the path to the kingdom is our only way out of the consumerist path to destruction. This is a most difficult task to undertake. It is hard and frightening sometimes to admit that we really do not need anything but God in our lives. He will lead to all other good. Realizing this involves attacking the root, changing the mindset, throwing off the cloak, and really taking culture and the world around us seriously. I feel I am much more confident in this area of my life. I owe this mostly to the recognition of the problem areas in my life and in the popular culture around me. I hope now to be able to help my peers in understanding how consumerism is infecting our lives and our relationships.

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