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Consumer culture: some notes on product placement. June 28, 2005

Posted by Winter in capitalism.

Has any one else noticed, and been alarmed by the amount of stuff people buy these days, most of it pretty useless and purely for novelty value. In Britain we work the longest hours in Europe, we have little leisure time and what we do have we spend in the shops getting hot, bothered and frustrated while we cue for hours gripping the next must have item between our sweaty fingers. We don’t live lifestyles anymore, we consume them. We buy more and more, and as I say this I know that I am in no way innocent of this and actually quite complicit in the phenomena. I have clothes in my wardrobe I will never wear, books on my shelf that make me look quite intelligent, but somehow I have never found the time to read. My boyfriend is a lecturer in University and he feels that the same feeling has come to surround students as the study for their degrees. Quite regularly people will tell him that they don’t want to do this or that because it’s too hard, shy of anything too challenging and far more interested in consuming large quantities of alcohol in the student union. Here at Mind the Gap head quarters we are just entering our second year of trying to whip up interest in a feminist group and have found lots of interested people. However, quite a few of those interested people don’t actually want to do anything. They are quite happy to sign their name to a group but don’t want to put any effort in when it comes to actually getting the thing of the ground. People have come to consume groups and education like they consume chocolate and new clothes.

So what has this got to do with feminism? Well actually quite a lot. Increasingly the pressure is on how you look, not who you are. Women especially (although the tide is turning for men too) are required to keep up with fashions, wear make up, shave their legs (has anyone else seen and been disturbed by those horrible veet wax virgins advert by the way?), wax their pubic hair, have a sun tan, own the right hand bag and the right shoes. Looking right is a time consuming and costly business, while women ‘invest’ in their appearance, men are investing in their careers. In 2002 54 billion euros were spent on cosmetics. Just imagine if all that money, time and effort had been redirected into some thing else. Why is it that in the first quarter of this year, 21,900 women started up their own business, as compared to 78,600 men?

“Women constitute half the worlds population, perform nearly two thirds of the world’s work, receive one tenth of the world’s income and own less than one hundredth of the worlds wealth.”- UN decade of women 1975-85 findings.

The goal in life seems to have become owning the best objects, leaving a large proportion of the population running to keep up. We all dream of having a better quality of life, but that quality has been redefined in terms of conspicuous consumption. “My life would be perfect, I would be happy if I just had…” Every single day, 30,000 children are dying as a result of extreme poverty in Africa, and yet some how we find 54 billion pound to spend on make up. Why are we all doing this? When you come down to it, what’s really important? Car? House? New breasts? New face? Or is it more than that? Is it a satisfying career, good friendships, strong families and tender lovers, all of which cannot be bought on the high street? I have a challenge for any one willing to take it up. Try spending just £10 less a week on your appearance and on the next best thing purchases. Spend just 10 minutes less a day on your appearance, and with that time and money try writing, drawing, meditating, have an extra ten minutes of quite contemplation in the bath, join a feminist discussion group, plant a tree, sponsor a child’s education in the third world, what ever works for you. Just try it out for a month you never know, you might learn a little more about yourself, and possibly make the world just a little bit better for everyone else too.



1. Siberian Fall - June 28, 2005

Fantastic article, I couldn’t agree more. I also find myself becoming complicit in this culture of consumerism and it’s not an easy thing from which to extricate yourself. There’s an excellent chapter, I think in ‘The Beauty Myth’, which discusses the economic control of women by demanding they direct their money into buying themselves the ‘body beautiful’ as defined by the various medias. Food for thought. Thanks again for a thought provoking article. Lx

2. Naiades - June 28, 2005

Thankyou, i was thinking about that chapter when i wrote this, but don’t have it with me and wouldn’t want to miss quote.

3. Winter - June 28, 2005

I think you’re right that people have started to “consume” their politics too. They don’t seem to want to get active and “produce” the movement. They want other people to set it all up so they can come along and enjoy. We’ve come a long way since the grassroots politics of the 70s I think.

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