We all know it’s true: the United States is floundering in a debt unimaginably enormous. The deficits grow larger with each coming year and our economy further plummets into a land of no return. What is the answer to eliminating this gigantic debt? Economists say: consume more, add to GDP and this will lead to the righteous saving of America. But, what if this is completely wrong? Maybe, in actuality, the problem is we consume too much. Maybe, American popular culture has morphed to the point where decisions are made by corporations, rather than decisions based off of our own intuition. Author Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters magazine and a founder of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, shares similar views in Culture Jam, his book on the problems and solutions of over consumption in America. The book opens with assessing the current issues in the United States, which Lasn sums up as being that Americans are living artificial lives derived by corporations and advertisers. The following section, Winter, the problem of the media-consumer trance is roughed out. Lasn expresses that large advertising companies and corporations have trained our thoughts on what is considered “cool”, where “coolness” means wearing and using the latest brands and technologies. Spring is about how to take steps toward the renewal of an America independent of corporate thoughts. This includes stopping consumption (comprising of the consumption of actual goods to the consumption of hours of television) and spreading the word to all of American culture of the devastating path the US is facing. Lastly, Summer gives us a glimpse into the future if Americans were to revolt against the current system. Lasn believes that by reversing and ceasing consumption directed by corporations that Americans could live more “authentic” and fulfilling lives. Culture Jam, along with other popular culture critics’ opinions, in my eyes, has made it very apparent that American popular culture is not so much a culture but a large mass of people who eagerly wait on advertisers and establishments to make decisions on how to live, how to act, and how to be happy; in order to do so, we are told to consume rapidly.
In macroeconomics, our class recently learned about the immense American debt. My professor went around the room and asked each of us how we should stop and reverse this ever-growing monetary obligation. When she came to me, I answered, “ We need to spend less. We consume too much and are too comfortable with debt”. The class laughed at this, probably as a majority of Americans would because spending less, having less is not favorable. Lasn believes we are brainwashed, and while “brainwashed” seems like a rather harsh word, in some aspects he is right. The advertising world surrounding us has made it obvious we all need more to believe we will be happier and fit in. Why would anyone want to consume less if it meant they are looked do
wn upon or are less “cool”? This is the most prominent problem in American culture, we are all so fond of buying and using more products that we are unaware of the effect it is having on our lives. Lasn believes we serve some kind of “implicit contract” with corporations and with these unspoken agreements we become dependent on products. He writes in the voice of a corporation: “You work for me (i.e., you wear my clothes and makeup) and I will guard your place in the social hierarchy. I will protect your turf” (78). For most, this is a reality; we feel protected for an instant after buying the newest product because we are told we will. American popular culture revolves around the idea of furthering growth and wealth because we simply tend to believe more is good and less is bad.
Roy Fox, a professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia, in his piece, Salespeak, places us in the future at a school, where the primary focus is to teach children how to be successful consumers (Common Culture, 54). At this school, marketing pitches, advertisements and corporate how-to manuals are in constant circulation. Interestingly enough, Fox believes this picture is closer than we think. Furthermore, he is primarily interested in the ways that advertising and merchandising have found their way into classrooms, ultimately altering the content and purpose of education. Fox concludes that advertisements and corporate influences have dominant voices in the education system and have found their way into schools’ curriculum. Therefore, children are receiving “educational” messages from corporations. American culture has deemed it acceptable that constant advertising is placed virtually everywhere, including schools and this has directly negatively affected us as a whole. This is because we are furthered pushed to consume and lead lives devoted to spending. According to Fox, children’s thoughts are infiltrated by corporate messages and the urges to consume the promoted products are prevalent. This type of constant exposure, as Lasn explains, has made us “ripe for manipulation” (38). Meaning that we are so disposed to advertisements that we are “buzzed” by certain logos, yet, we hardly notice them.
In the section, “Ecology of Mind”, Lasn dissects our means of relaxing—TV, and how it has causes us to adversely affect interactions with others. The TV has allowed us to, “…receive but we do not transmit. Identical images flow into our brains, homogenizing our perspectives, knowledge, tastes, desires” (Lasn 12). Relatively speaking, the TV has become are primary means of entertainment, form of relaxing, and often information. Lasn, along with other critics, believe this constant exposure to TV has negative effects on humans. While watching TV from time to time has never been proven to cause adverse results, continuous viewing has and these outcomes have altered the way interaction occurs in American popular culture. In the piece, Television Addiction is No Mere Metaphor, by Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszenthihalyi, they address the effects and consequences of TV addiction. They deem that TV addiction harms social interactions and productiveness. In the article, they use study results from Gary A. Steiner of the University of Chicago who collected personal accounts from individuals who’s TV sets had broken. “’The family walked around like a chicken without a head.’ ‘It was terrible. We did nothing—my husband and I talked.’ ‘Screamed constantly. Children bothered me, and my nerves were on edge. Tried to interest them in games, but impossible. TV is part of them’” (Common Culture, 152). Prolonged exposure to TV, which is common in the United States, has radically reduced human interaction to brief, and unfocused tidbits of conversation. American popular culture does not revolve around deep conversation and storytelling as it once did, but rather can be seen as having evolved to fragmented communicating.
American popular culture can be viewed as a group of individuals that consume ever more. Likewise, we tend to expend technology habitually. Every six months or so, a new iPhone or game console is created; we rush to Best Buy and clear the shelves or spend hours upon hours using social networking sites and apps. In American culture today, it is standard for individuals to pull away from the world around them and plug in to the virtual world that lives within phones and gaming consoles. We have created a culture where we can all be together in a room and not exchange a single spoken word; yet, hundreds of words are sent through text, multiple songs are played through headphones, and several levels are completed in the newest game used on a hand-held gaming device. Robert Samuels, a lecturer in the Writing Programs at UCLA, writes in Breaking Down Borders: How Technology Transforms the Private and Public Realms that, “there are new rules for how to act in public places and for how to socialize with and around one another. It’s clear, as well, that none of these changes would have occurred without new technologies helping to break down borders” (Common Culture, 360). With such hasty consumption of technology, social culture has reformed. Evading the present world is easy when there a cybernetic escape just a few clicks away. And, while within this world, we tend to act differently because our minds are someplace else. Socializing in American culture has come to be influenced by consumption—consumption of technology because it is always in our hand’s reach and hours a day are spent on using technology.
Another interesting point Lasn makes in Culture Jam is the idea that the American Dream has ended in place of consumption. He concludes that the American Dream has transformed in to more than having the house with the white picket fence, a home cooked meal, a running car, and a steady, rewarding job. Rather it has turned in to a game of being told happiness comes with purchasing more and more. Yet, as Lasn describes, the game does not have a winner. Rather, it is a never-ending cycle where there just simply is not enough, so further consumption continues. As Lasn explains it, “ We yearn to realize the dream more fully. We work and strive for the promised payoff. We try to catch the river in a bucket. But we never will” (62). These words draw shape to the new American culture where intake rules everything. In American culture today, once a taste of the American Dream is savored, it is impossible to resist the urge to keep nibbling: “We have learned what it means to live full-on, to fly and fornicate like an American, and now we refuse to let that lifestyle go. So we keep consuming. Our bodies, minds, families, communities, the environment—all are consumed” (63). The American has gone a wholly new direction; now, we only want more and simply have the necessities is not enough.
How will the United States overcome the colossal debt? Will the solution be what many economists suggest, to spend and consume more? Or, is the United States economy too stimulated? It’s possible, as Americans, we consume too much. We have let this consumption take over our lives and transform our culture into one infatuated with obtaining to a greater extent. Kalle Lasn strongly suggests that by continuing in this direction the United States will collapse and in terms of economics, the debt will grow exponentially. Yet, Lasn believes there is a possible solution: consume less, live simpler, more “authentic” lives and reverse the American course out of debt. And while Lasn believes this should not happen because of the forces opposing this transition, it will because as a group we can undermine advertisers. And as Lasn puts it, “ American cool is now every bit as vulnerable as the Soviet Union was ten years ago. A revolution couldn’t happen there, but it did. It can’t happen here, but it will. This is a momentous occasion and we shouldn’t doubt or fear, but celebrate. In the dawn of this new millennium, one dream is ending and another being born. And I can’t think of anything cooler than that”(215).