The promise of a brighter tomorrow. Freedom for all. The ability to better ourselves. These are a few of the many values that we hold dear. We, as an American people, have been programmed to want better – for ourselves, our loved ones, our nation. And, in terms of consumer products, better is what we are given.
Marketers know what we want, they know how to sell us products, and they do it all the time. Even if we tried, we would find it difficult to escape the messages that marketers broadcast. Their effect on us is obvious, even in daily life.
We walk down the street with our new phone in one hand and a hot coffee in the other.
Glancing down, we see our feet trudging forward and we notice a scuff mark on one of our shoes. Luckily, we have just ordered a new pair – delivered tomorrow. We enter the store with a shopping list in our pocket, but it is quickly forgotten as colorful advertisements and new products vie for our attention. We did not know we needed melon-scented two-in-one shampoo but thank goodness the store had it in stock for our easy acquisition.
This is the way that we live, constantly consuming. As mentioned in Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse, we consume not to be happy, but to be less miserable. But what makes us miserable in the first place?
On the occasion that we manage to elude the cloud of consumerism and stop to view the world through our own lens, we are faced with many troubling issues ranging from poverty to outrageously-priced, nearly unaffordable, healthcare. It is no stretch to assume then, that the large majority of us would not hesitate to say, “Yes, we want to live in a society that can battle such obvious social issues as poverty, health care, homelessness, and more.” We want better, yet as history would show us, in terms of these issues, better is not what we get. Perhaps this is the source of our misery, but if so, why do we simply dull the pain by consuming? Why not attempt to solve such issues? Are we too afraid to do more?
Given all that occupies our daily lives, it is plain to see why we do not focus our attention and resources on fixing the environment or battling hunger – arguably, a few of the issues that matter most. It is not just because they are inconvenient facts or because we are not aware of them. We do not do anything about them because they do not affect us, at least not individually.
“Not my problem,” we think.
The man on the street may be starving, asking for our spare change, but we walk past him because we have food at home. The child at school has ragged clothes, but we take little notice because our own child’s clothing is in pristine condition. Perhaps the family next door has an old car that rarely starts on the first try, but what can we do? Our luxury sedan works
I do not wish to create the impression that people do not care. Certainly, by the mere recognition of such social issues and by the idea that we want better, we can tell that people do care. The problem however, is that it is difficult to inspire collective action when everyone else around us is distracted. And therein lies the larger problem.
Those of us who could do something to help, namely the ones who have money to spend, are also the ones targeted by those who wish to obtain our money. Unfortunately, with profit in mind, large companies see no issue with distracting us from the real world and manipulating us to purchase their products. Until we can all break free of the hold that consumerism has on us, this cycle will continue. We want better in terms of social issues, but merely wanting is not enough.