Tuesday 29 November 2011

Opinion: Bev Cadby on American Consumerism

Black Friday shoppers

by Bev Cadby

America’s baby boomers are the first generation to have been submitted to media manipulation from the moment of their conception in the 1950s through their childhoods and working lives; now, with many of them in their retirement, they are still being ‘courted’ by marketers.

The post World War II years were kind to America. Unscathed by the devastating bombing that hit Europe, destroying most of their manufacturing bases, it was ready to supply its citizens with the mass produced goods they were being told they just could not live without.  Consumer durables - washing machines, TVs, cars etc - were being produced at a phenomenal rate; the general populace had more disposable income than ever; mass consumerism was born.

The baby boomers did not stand a chance. They were bombarded by media adverts enticing them to purchase everything from popsicles, the latest Beatles record and later, when they grew up cars, houses and holidays.  A pre-packaged lifestyle was available for them to purchase.  It worked.  The baby boomers consumed.  Caterpillar like they chomped their way through billions of dollars worth of goods emerging into the millennium as butterflies wonderfully decorated with the ‘necessities’ of life.

However, here lies the problem. The baby boomers have now aged and the media is telling them the lifestyle they had bought into is only available to young, healthy individuals.  Firm bodies, taught skin and endless energy is now being advertised as the key to a successful old age.  Now this is where I speak from experience. I say ‘give me a fifty-five year old who wakes up without any aches or pains and I will show you a corpse’ – quite simply, ageing hurts!  One day you wake up to discover lines where before you had smooth translucent skin, adverts for warm sunny climates begin to look even more appealing as you feel the cold more than you used to and you seldom pass by a public convenience without ‘popping in’.  Baby boomers were now in a catch 22 situation: in their fifties and sixties, no longer in the first, second or even third flush of youth they do not fit the advertisers' image.

Images of toned, wrinkle free bodies stare back at them from billboards, television screens, magazine articles, web sites, etc.  Images of men and women in their twenties or ‘exceptions’ like Madonna and Brad Pitt are used to manipulate baby boomers into accepting the lifestyle prescribe for them by the marketers.

So what now?  This generation has been the marketers' ‘cash cows’, milked for all they were worth.  Hooked, when children, by companies who understood the value of brand loyalty, they are still being directed towards products they simply must have.  Many feel the lifestyle they bought into slowly slipping away from them.  However, that does not stop millions of baby boomers putting their hands into their pockets to purchase the latest wrinkle cream, as the promise of everlasting youth is waved enticingly in front of them!

Further reading: From The Awl, a report about Occupy Oakland's attempts to Occupy Black Friday.

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