Jan 24 2010

Mary Washington Versus National Spending Culture?

Published by at 11:32 pm under Reflection Blog,Uncategorized

In Juliet B. Schor’s 1999 book The Overspent American, she analyzes how Americans have changed the culture of consumerism into a “see-want-borrow-buy” mode, thus putting many in positions where they have to choose between debt or giving into a culture that states that material possessions make happiness.  This book is a fascinating look at an aspect of our culture that, for many, is a way of life.   Schor’s main argument explains that the mass media advertises to millions of people with a product that not all of those millions are intended to buy.  Because of this mass marketing, the poor yearn for products and lifestyles from television and advertisements that they see.  Schor argues that shift in the media brought about a new way of living.  Before television, Americans compared themselves to neighbors and friends, only bothering to keep up with the latest and greatest on the block.  But now that all Americans can see MTV’s Cribs and The Real Housewives of New Jersey, we compare ourselves to the people that more than us.  This negatively affects bank statements and financial futures of the those that buy into this new consumerism culture.

Before class discussion, Josh and Allison asked us all to write down our most recent purchases.  As someone pointed out, we all stated what we bought, but then gave immediate justification for why we bought it or what kind of a deal we got on it.  At first I wondered about whether or not this was an effect of the current economy and the way that it is hip to frugal these days, but I realized that it would have happened two years ago, too.  But not everyone in this exercise would necessarily try to downplay their purchases.  It’s a cliche example for this class, but it fits so well – the women on The Real Housewives Of… show would have no problem stating their last purchase, and probably even brag about how much money they spent.  I think that while we might not all be of the same social or economic class, we all do go to the same school, where there is a money norm. We’re “broke college students,” or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves.  I’m sure that there are people that are not broke, but I definitely am. Therefore, to have started the class saying “I bought a seat cushion for my bike,” would not have worked for me.  I cannot afford a car; I’m paying for my own college and other expenses.  Therefore, my bike is how I get around on and off campus.  So, I have to end that sentence with “… my seat is really uncomfortable and I ride my bike around everywhere.”  When, really aren’t we feeding into consumer culture in a way, just by stating that we don’t?  We are all fitting a mold of frugality.  Like Schor said, shopping is advertised as a way to be different, but it really just ends up in people looking the same.  I guess that by us not spending much money we are actually more similar in our spending habits than at first glance.

As a final note, I want to share something.

In class we were talking about ways to not spend money, and someone mentioned “lifting babies as weights.”  At the risk of not being able to find it and also being that obnoxious kid that isn’t really on topic, I didn’t share this while we were in class.  However, here is a funny video from College Humor about the “Stay at Home Dad Workout.”  I’m not sure how to embed from College Humor, so just click here. No, but seriously. It’s funny.

-Charles

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