Exploring the Historical Trends and Ideologies of Consumerism
It had long been considered that the consumerism and consumption patterns used to establish social limits among the existing social groups. However, the emergence of mass culture, as well as proliferation of cultural identities, led to the contrary outcomes.
It has been emphasized, therefore, that “the social patterning of consumption in an increasingly mystified social world” (Holt, 1998, p. 1). Despite this definition, social class distinction had long been associated with different lifestyle patterns that identified consumerism habits among the populations.
The culture of consumption, therefore, is a multi-faceted phenomenon that has been developing over time and space. It has also created underpinnings for the development of counter movements, as well as provided a basis for the development of mass culture and advertising. At the same time, lifestyle identifies have been significantly promoted by means of advertising and by creating the advertising categories of consumerist behavior.
Most importantly, people’s behavior has become largely dependent on specific lifestyles, options, or choices dictated by mass culture. According to Leiss and Botteril (2005), “…individuals often define themselves through a rejection of certain lifestyle options” (p. 267). In this respect, the customization of products has limited the choice of consumers leading to a specific cultural and social diversity.
Tracking the Emergence of Hip Consumerism
The emergence of consumerism culture leads to the critique of consumerist perspectives. Hip consumerism appeared as a counterculture movement fighting against the mass culture imposes a limited possibility to choose. As a result, people often purchase many products which, in fact, are not necessary for them because they bring neither use nor happiness to consumers.
Because consumerism is strongly correlated with conformity, homogeneity, and structure, the opposing view is more focused on the issues that stand beyond this hierarchy. In fact, people neglect such important “social priorities, like health, education, famine relief, and so forth” and, as a result, “a consumerist society is thought to be one that is governed by a set of priorities that no reasonable person would endorse upon reflection” (Heath, 2001, p. 3).
Hip consumerism can also be defined as a rebel, countercultural movement against modern consumerism whose primary purpose is to make people conform to mass culture. Countercultural ideologies, therefore, is more concerned with expanding people’s outlook on more important issues and relieving people from advertising dependency.
Defining the Concept of Countercultural Idea
To oppose the emerging tendencies of consumerism, counter-cultural values appeared. This movement fought against consumer dissatisfaction with existing status competition among the population. This syndrome of conspicuous consumption, “… in which consumers simply try to show that they are richer than one another…,” was the major trend in the 50s of the past century (Heath, 2001, p. 13). The consumerism tendency met a rigorous opposition on the part of counter-culture movements disclosing the opposite values. According to this movement, consumerism is nothing, but about conformity, which seeks to reach a traditional status hierarchy. Hence, consumers are always in the pursuit of social and economic dominance because it provides those with certain competition privileges. Counter-cultural values are presented by the newly emerged movement of hip consumerism, an ideologies criticizing consumerist trends.
Confronting Mass Culture: Consumer Choice as a Means of Expressing Individuality
As it has been mentioned previously, consumerism is strongly associated with the matter of conformity. What is more important it that consumer choices are often made because of the desire to dominate and prevail, since it enables consumers to express their identity and individuality.
In this respect, Goldman and Papson (1996) state, “signs of authenticity in ads reflect a social world in which concerns about the self, identity, and personhood have become paramount” (p. 141). The quest for uniqueness and individuality has become a matter of moral and ethical choice, a component of cultural background. Hence, consumerism integrated into cultural and social domains and become an inherent component of self-expression.
At the same time, because aspiration for self-identity and authenticity has become paramount for consumers, specific false connotations has been introduced because, one the hand, consumer choice is predetermined for individuals ends and, on the other hand, these choices have integrated into the main stream of mass culture. Mass consumption, therefore, has distorted the image of authenticity and self-expression.
Consumerism as the Link between Two Social Worlds: Underpinnings for Exploring False Connotations and Fashion Icons
Because the analysis of different consumer choices is conducted with regard to trends of consumer ideologies development, it is imperative to pay attention to fashion icons as motivators for creating false connotations between different social classes. The point is that consumerism serves as a false link between the poor and the rich, but it does not provide people of lower status with similar privileges (Kotlowitz, 2000).
For instance, teenagers become obsessed with specific brands of shoes, or clothes, and believe that these material values can help them become closer to the communities with higher social status. In fact, these consumerism fashion icon are deceitful because there is nothing but an item of clothes that receive in exchange.
Despite the deceitful nature of advertizing, it has still a significant impact on people’s attitude, perceptions, and consciousness. In such a way, a mass consumerism culture is formed, the criticism of which is fully justified.
Social Dimension of Consumerism and Its Relation to Advertising
Social dimension of consumerism should be considered in more detail because advertising campaigns are always directed at attracting more consumers to buy commodities they do not need. In this respect, hip consumerism is a movement that seeks to make the target consumers re-evaluate their views on consumption and uncover the actual purposes of consumer culture proliferation.
According to Schor (1999), “…individuals try to keep up with the norms of the social group with which they identify – a “reference group”” (p. 2). This tendency in striving to be equal with others is adequate because people have always strived to live better. At the same time, a new politics of consumerism should be oriented on less competitive strategies because people should buy what they need, but not they think they actually need.
In conclusion, it should be stated that the concept of hip consumerism has now evolved into a new policy of consumption. The world is now on the edge of consumption crisis because there is a significant gap between different social groups and, as result, the discrepancies in consumer choices lead to creating false connection between the social statuses.
The criticism of consumerism, therefore, is socially justified because it generates discrepancies and aggravates the economic and cultural crisis. Therefore, counter-cultural movements should contribute to filling in the gaps between these target groups and provides equal opportunities and consumer choices for individuals.
Goldman, R., & Papson, S. (1996). Authenticity in the Age of the Poseur. In R. Golman, & S. Papson, Sign Wars: Cluttered Landscape of Advertising. US: The Guildford Press. pp. 141-186.
Heath, J. (2001). The Structure of Hip Consumerism. Philosophy and Social Criticism. 27(6), 1-17.
Holt, D. B. (1998). Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption? The Journal of Consumer Research. 25(1), 1-25.
Kotlowitz, A. (2000). False Connections. In J. Schor, D. B. Holt, and D. H. Holt (Eds.) The Consumer Society Reader. US: The New Press. 253-258.
Leiss, W., and Botterill, J. (2005). Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediate Marketplace. London: Routledge.
Schor, J. (1999). The New Politics of Consumption. Why Americans want so much more than they need. Boston Review. 1-79.