Consumerism: What is it and how are YOU involved?

February 11, 2020

December 10, 2018 marked the historic day when Youtube Rewind 2018 surpassed Baby to become the most disliked Youtube video of all time. 

Considering this massive failure, Youtube sought to correct its wrongs with Youtube Rewind 2019. Luckily, Youtube’s new endeavor performed better. 

It became only the third most disliked Youtube video of all time.

Youtube Rewinds have become the symbol of the disconnect between the needs of the consumer and the product of the producer. For many, Youtube Rewind 2018 was the love-child of faux hipness and advertising deals. But it is not just Youtube Rewind that tries to cater to the masses; American Consumerist culture is thriving and killing us all in the process.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “Consumerism” as “the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable,” and “a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods.” This theory was first expressed in 1723 by a London physician named Bernard Mandeville in his book The Fable of the Bees, in which conjectured that when consumers spend more on useless things, a country becomes richer and more able to help its poor.

This idea of spending more was aided by the Industrial Revolution, in which increased production allowed prices to be more accessible. The coupling of mass-production with Consumerism gained traction post-World War II when wartime production had pulled America out of the Great Depression. With this marked increase in economic prosperity, many Americans saw an increase in spending power. They were eager to spend this newfound wealth on consumer goods scarce during the war.

Historian Lizabeth Cohen explains that "The good purchaser devoted to 'more, newer and better' was the good citizen since economic recovery after a decade and a half of depression and war depended on a dynamic mass consumption economy.”

Decades later, mass production is still deeply imbedded in Consumerism. In my Humanities class, one of our assignments was to bring in our favorite toys from when we were kids. Everyone brought in different types: stuffed animals, legos, figurines, dolls, and more. But they had one thing in common: they were mass-produced.

In the present day, Consumerism has almost become synonymous with mass production. When I think Consumerism, I think of Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Forever 21. I think dirt-cheap, terrible quality, and catered to the most lowbrow needs of the consumer.

This side of Consumerism is probably best exemplified by the dominance of mass pop culture. For example, think of how many sequels, reboots, or live-action movies Disney has released this year. Live-action Lion King, live-action Aladdin, Toy Story 3, Frozen 2, the Mandalorian… it feels like the franchise has run out of creativity. It’s not just Disney that is milking nostalgia for all its worth. According to RadioTimes, 16 out of the top 20 grossing films in 2018 were “unoriginal.”

But in discussing these examples, it is important to note that many consumers don’t actually appreciate the advent of unoriginality coming from Consumerism. Gabe Reyzis, a 10th grader at Hawken explains that “...there are two sides: People who make stuff (producers) and the people who buy the stuff (consumers). The [trap is when] people who make stuff try to take advantage of people who buy stuff …[However], Consumerism is good … when …consumers are pushing the producers for a better product [that fits their needs] and the producers are making money [off it].” This consumer driven change occurred after Youtube Rewind 2018. The outrage over its content directly lead to Youtube dramatically changing its format for 2019. 

However, a bigger problem is the consequence of Consumerism on the planet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $1,803 on clothing each year. While this number has decreased, according to Newsweek, “In less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans toss each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons, or an astounding 80 pounds per person. The EPA estimates that diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road.” 

Additionally, think of how much single use plastics are in the cafe. Virtually everything is plastic. With no recycling program, Hawken basically pumps hundreds of this waste straight to the landfill.  Luckily, the Senate and the school are working together to help resolve this problem. 

That’s not to say that there won’t be many obstacles along the way. For starters, there have been fewer and fewer recycling centers, and even less of them actually recycle their intake. But because in the past, so many communities and schools have worked to become green and have accomplished this goal successfully, we as Hawken School can undoubtedly do it too.


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