The Rebel Sell

Here is an excerpt from a summary of The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed:

What we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction. People consume in order to set themselves apart from others. To show that they are cooler (Nike shoes), better connected (the latest nightclub), better informed (single-malt Scotch), morally superior (Guatemalan handcrafts), or just plain richer (bmws).The problem is that all of these comparative preferences generate competitive consumption. “Keeping up with the Joneses,” in today’s world, does not always mean buying a tract home in the suburbs. It means buying a loft downtown, eating at the right restaurants, listening to obscure bands, having a pile of Mountain Equipment Co-op gear and vacationing in Thailand. It doesn’t matter how much people spend on these things, what matters is the competitive structure of the consumption. Once too many people get on the bandwagon, it forces the early adopters to get off, in order to preserve their distinction. This is what generates the cycles of obsolescence and waste that we condemn as “consumerism.” (continue reading The Rebel Sell)

This argument does not negate the value of shaping consumer culture to humane ends, through it does upset the idea that affectation of rebellion through the simple-minded consumption of counterculture is ineffectual (or, worse, harmful) nonsense. The silly romantic Rousseau-like premises articulated in this piece trouble me. There are better reasons for challenging consumerism.

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