The Triumph of American Materialism
Coke adds life. Just do it. Yo quiero Taco Bell. We live in a commercial age, awash in a sea of brand names, logos, and advertising jingles—not to mention commodities themselves. Are shoppers merely the unwitting stooges of the greedy producers who will stop at nothing to sell their wares? Are the producers' powers of persuasion so great that resistance is futile?
James Twitchell counters this assumption of the used and abused consumer with a witty and unflinching look at commercial culture, starting from the simple observation that "we are powerfully attracted to the world of goods (after all, we don't call them 'bads')." He contends that far from being forced upon us against our better judgment, "consumerism is our better judgment." Why? Because increasingly, store-bought objects are what hold us together as a society, doing the work of "birth, patina, pews, coats of arms, house, and social rank"—previously done by religion and bloodline. We immediately understand the connotations of status and identity exemplified by the Nike swoosh, the Polo pony, the Guess? label, the DKNY logo. The commodity alone is not what we are after; rather, we actively and creatively want that logo and its signification—the social identity it bestows upon us. As Twitchell summarizes, "Tell me what you buy, and I will tell what you are and who you want to be."
Using elements as disparate as the film The Jerk, French theorists, popular bumper stickers, and Money magazine to explore the nature and importance of advertising lingo, packaging, fashion, and "The Meaning of Self," Twitchell overturns one stodgy social myth after another. In the process he reveals the purchase and possession of things to be the self-identifying acts of modern life. Not only does the car you drive tell others who you are, it lets you know as well. The consumption of goods, according to Twitchell, provides us with tangible everyday comforts and with crucial inner security in a seemingly faithless age. That we may find our sense of self through buying material objects is among the chief indictments of contemporary culture. Twitchell, however, sees the significance of shopping. "There are no false needs." We buy more than objects, we buy meaning. For many of us, especially in our youth, Things R Us.
"A tongue-in-cheek nod to the misplaced moralism we invoke every time we rationalize our will to purchase." — Mother Jones
"[A] gripping and illuminating account of the culture of consumerism and everything it involves: marketing, brand names, fashion, shopping, packaging, garbage, and above all the nature and meaning of consumerism itself." — A. C. Grayling, Financial Times
"Twitchell is a manic writer. But the mania never overshadows the scholarship, which makes this a book that has the facts to back up the bons mots." — Ted Anthony, The Associated Press
"[A] feisty defense of American materialism.... Informative, lively.... Twitchell has written vibrantly about everything from vampires to aesthetics, and he once again offers a stimulating ride." — Jack Sullivan, The Washington Post Book Worldchair of American Studies at Rider University
"An entertaining and insightful history of American commercialism." — David Kusnet, Baltimore Sun
"[Twitchell] sets out to debunk the widely held belief that Americans are the hapless victims of advertising demons.... A good read." — Booklist
"Twitchell... offers an unparalleled diagnosis of consumerism as the primary meaning-making practice in Western culture." — Christianity Today
1. Attention Kmart Shoppers: A Brief Consumer Guide to Consumption, Commercialism, and the Meaning of Stuff
2. The Language of Things: Advertising and the Rhetoric of Salvation
3. But First, a Lot of Words from Our Sponsor: How We Hear What Things Have to Say
4. Boxed In: The Power of Packaging
5. The Branding of Experience: Or Why the Label Has Moved from Inside the Collar to Outside on the Shirt
6. The Function of Fashion in an Age of Individualism
7. Enough Talk: Let's Shop!
8. The Liberating Role of Consumption