Here I would like to look at consumerism. Consumerism generates wants, a sense of lack, both for the product being hawked and, more importantly, for the setting in which the product is portrayed. To fuel consumption inadequacy in our roles as mother, father, provider, male, female, achiever, lover, or other positions of social value is evoke.
For the product on sale the messages may range from simple product display to deep titillation. We can ‘get that tingle’ or achieve the mystery and ecstasy of great intimacy with ourselves, another, or nature. Our children are immersed in and continually bombarded by the psychological agendas of advertising.1
Far more subtle and powerful is the background in which the product is displayed. The immaculate kitchen with all the requisite appliances, the luxurious bedroom, the nicely appointed office, the serenity or thrill of ‘getting away’ to nature, each of these promulgates an atmosphere of what is necessary to be a part of and to live within the greater society as well as to have a feeling of inner completion and wholeness.
Advertisers have realized the influence of setting. Large amounts of money are spent to have products placed in movie and television scenes. Many children’s shows are simply continuous displays of products worked into a story line.
To meet these implanted expectations requires money, so most parents work. Children find whatever nurturance and safety is available by both adapting to parental moods and modeling parental behavior. On the treadmill chasing the desires and illusions of consuming, parents are tired, stressed, and frustrated. Children become scheduled appointments. A child needs organic presence, not time slots. ‘Quality time’ is both hype and rationalization.
There are many families that no matter how much labor they put forth will never earn enough to match the vague and changing norms generated by advertising. They simply cannot afford the ‘right’ shoes or the ‘in’ clothing. The home and car when matched against the social template are marginal. For many there is a sense of failure, loss, sadness, and anger.
For single-parent families - somewhere around a third - all these problems are magnified. This is not being critical of single parents, working or not. They are the product of a fragmenting social environment. Of course, single parent families are the perfect answer to an economic system based on consumption of materials and services. The more households, the more blenders.
Our economy is predatory - whether it is the soul of the individual, a demographic focus or another nation.
Secondly and intimately tied to the above is the ongoing state of the world. Wars, famines, child abuse, ozone depletion, child abductions, chemical pollution, overpopulation, violence on the streets, greenhouse gases, AIDS, corruption in government, brutality towards women, nuclear wastes; the list is long, pervasive in our lives, and overwhelming.
As the previous generations have lived with Toffler’s Future Shock2, our children live with ‘No Future Shock.’ Future shock can be seen as a moving ground where the only way you can stay even is to keep running like hell. No Future shock is having no ground at all.
There is an age group that has been called Generation X. These are the first full blown electronic media advertising babies. The generation that is following them might rightly be called Generation Y. Why care? Why respect? Why work? Why value? They have a sound bite view of the future. They are electronically embedded in the runaway engine of commerce. The defense of denial is an eroding veneer.
Consumerism and No Future Shock dovetail at the confluence of resource depletion, pollution, over-population and worldwide exploitation. Our children know this in their bones. They know that they inherit a systemic attack on both human and planetary adaptability. They know they are being invited onto the consuming treadmill that is ever increasing in speed, with more and more people trying to get on, with hazard of being poisoned imminent, and with sheer terror awaiting those who can’t keep up. No Future Shock is the meeting ground of angst and rage.
John Weber 1998
1 Bakan, Joel. 2011. Childhood Under Siege. Penguin. Canada.
2 Toffler, Alvin. 1970. Future Shock. Random House. N.Y.