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Consumer Culture

American society is characterized by a competitive social climate. A person’s success is gauged by how high he climbs on the social, professional, and economic ladders. In other words, with success being relative to that of others, a person succeeds by way of others’ shortcomings. Materialistic societies, like our own, encourage conspicuous consumption. For many people, achievements translate into material possessions exclusively available to those who’ve earned them. First impressions are often based on a person’s superficial achievements, in other words, a person’s tangible assets. People constantly compete against each other, every individual vying for the prize of fame and fortune, the American dream.

Our economy is driven by companies competing to sell products to a consumer base of customers determined to outdo each other. The existence of a multibillion-dollar advertisement industry aptly demonstrates the power of promoting the latest and greatest to competitive consumers. Almost anything will be capitalized upon to its highest potential profitability. The influence competitive consumption has over our lives begins before we understand the value of money. The five-year-old girl convinced she must own the new Barbie doll because her friend got one is in the same situation as the forty-year-old man insistent on purchasing a larger big screen TV than his colleague. A phenomenon referred to as “snob appeal” appertains to the tendency of people with sufficient means to purchase items for the sole purpose of showing them off. The “I Am Rich” application developed for the iPhone and iPod Touch is the epitome of such items. This one thousand dollar application is nothing more than an image of a ruby that when pressed proclaims the phrase “I am rich!” across the touch screen. The fact that someone would come up with the idea for this application is almost as disturbing as the fact that several people actually purchased this useless product. Although most sensible people would quickly declare the “I Am Rich” application to be frivolous, wasteful, and quite frankly, ridiculous, those same people are prone to an underlying envy of such immense disposable income. This is not to say that all people would spend extra income in such a way, but the sentiment towards spending without inhibition is intriguing nonetheless.
The phrase “knowledge is power” is quickly being replaced by “money is power.” At present, the American education system is flawed in its predisposition to favor the wealthy. Recent economic conditions have caused severe budget-cuts within the public school system. Students without the means to attend private school are oftentimes subject to an inferior education. Even with the prospect of scholarships, a student able to pay his way through school is more likely to be accepted into a school depending on paid tuition. A tried-and-true example of such is the donation and legacy system practiced in the most highly esteemed private colleges. If two applicants to a college demonstrate the same standard of academic ability, the so-called legacy student or student whose family donates a wing to said college will be favored over the student in need of a full scholarship. In effect, money is the means by which knowledge and power are obtained.
The values of American society are tainted with a competitive edge. The social ladder is widely accepted due to the idealistic prospect of upward mobility. By nature, those with more money begin the competition with a head start. Unfortunately, it’s becoming nearly impossible for those starting with a financial handicap to catch up.





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