Sample Essay: Consumerism and the Popularuty of Reality TV.

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Before radio and television, the family home was a space that could function in relative seclusion from public life. In the advice manuals of Victorian times, the ideal middle class home was one that sheltered women and children from the evil influences of the public sphere. With the rise of consumerism, however, all this began to change. The phonograph, the radio and finally the television replaced the piano. The virtues of thrift and self-improvement gave way to consumerism and the pursuit of leisure for its own sake. Conservatives have always decried these changes and called for a return to the old ways, but modern capitalism depends on its consumers to keep going. Without this shift in family life from thrift to spending and from self-improvement to consumption, the industrial age might never have kept going. [1]

Television programming evolved hand-in-hand with consumerism, first in its birthplace in America in the mid-20th century, but increasingly everywhere else in the world too. Television has spread the ethos of consumerism around the globe. It has also spread voyeurism, a more insidious form of consumerism; in the way it reveals what used to be private aspects of human life to public view. Television has normalized consumerism and voyeurism, and in turn these cultural preferences, encouraged by television, exert an influence over the medium, so that there is a relationship of reciprocity between television and society. The TV industries monitor this give-and-take by sophisticated marketing surveys to tailor programmes to what they perceive as the interests of their consumer-viewers. [2]

Most people are unaware that their viewing habits are carefully monitored, and the television industries have created what they call “audiences,” which are really market segments, to buy and sell in the global marketplace, just like any other commodity. Although people think that they are sitting at home watching the tube, the tube is also, in a sense, watching them, and their viewing habits are traded in the marketplace. [2]

Our society relies heavily upon the fantasy that perfection and happiness can be purchased and obtained by following various marketing schemes.  This consumerist mentality for always needing the next best thing generates new needs, and people everywhere begin to share the same wish-lists in order to make statements about themselves.  This in turn makes reality television popular.  People judge the existence of others solely on their materialistic possessions and individuals gain self-acceptance by striving on others humiliation.  Introducing new, innovative products is a pattern of behavior, more easily dictated by the popular and beautiful, which helps to destroy ones personal financial health and the common good of individuals.  This constant pushing for new wants has evolved over time based on the influence of those who can control it.  This connection between consumerism and reality television leaves a large percentage of our society feeling as if they are “less than enough.”  This may possibly cause low self-esteem, depression, and feelings of unworthiness.

The subject of consumerism was topically addressed in David Fincher’s film “Fight Club”:

“You are not how much money you have in the bank.
You are not your job. You are not the car you drive or the contents of your wallet.”

This war cry of the consumer-controlled male is his fight against society and its views. The main character of the film asks while looking through an IKEA catalog, “What kind of plates defines me as a person?” He is not asking what personal characteristics and attributes define him, but what possession most accurately does. Corporations have replaced personal qualities with corporate logos. The modern person cannot be anything unless he has certain products in his possession. No longer does one own things, the things own them. In the movie, the two main characters are staring at a Calvin Klein ad and ask each other if this is what a man is supposed to look like. Fight Club shows the extent of consumerism controlling life. The consumer culture even defines how the modern male should look and how he should wish to look. The film shows the extensive emphases the consumer based culture of the 20th century has on individualism and values associated with being a person. Demonstrates unfulfilled desperate male seeking to be free from societies control.

As consumers we like to see people with status humiliated. It gives us a sense of self-worth.  By finding pleasure in others misfortunes, we somehow give ourselves more credit. We feel better knowing that the popular people can also make mistakes.  We also tend to attribute their failures to internal factors, such as their personality.  On the other hand, we attribute our own failures to external factors, such as the present situation.  This gives us the opportunity to belittle the intelligence of the status holders by simply stating that we, ourselves, would have done things differently.  For example, in the reality television show “Survivor,” when the two tribes are competing for immunity and one of them makes a mistake that causes them to loose, we may say, “I would not have made that stupid mistake, given the same situation.” Our thoughts and actions dictate social comparison in that we constantly evaluate ourselves in relation to others.

As consumerism lives on, our society holds a prejudice against the individuals who can afford it.  This negative attitude causes us to place all the individuals that are highly successful in one category.  We seem to group them, we see them as a colossal of people, with all of the same bad qualities, not as individuals with special personal attributes.  We constantly put-down the personal traits of all the people appearing on the reality television shows.  Our society is envious of this group’s position in our society.  Each of us wishes at one point or another that we too could belong to this elite group.  This is dictated by the continued success of the reality shows.  When watching reality television we are able to share their same qualities, we pretend to be in the same situation.  For that one hour, once a week, we too can “live the good life,” except we do not see ourselves as ever getting humiliated.  We can see ourselves living that same lifestyle, making their decisions, and having their recognition, but of course, making better choices.  In a sense, this accomplishes our desires.  We no longer have to wish, we can actually play the part.  The social comparison, through which we evaluate ourselves in relation to others is now more evenly distributed, and the prejudice seems to minimize.

Consumerism and reality television shows present us with “ideals” that are out of our reach. This constant portrayal of needs installs these “ideals” in us and the reality shows act them out for us. We are told that the “ideals” are personal possessions and the wealth to achieve them.  We are made to believe that without these items we will not fit adequately into our society. This is presented over and over again in the reality show “Eliminate.”  Women compete against each other for the attention of a man, using only materialistic items, such as clothing, to win the favorism of the man involved and the television viewers. The women degrade and humiliate themselves throughout the entire program.

If consumerism persists, our society may possibly be overwhelmed with unsatisfied and clinically depressed individuals with little or no self-worth.  Keeping this in mind we must all, as a whole, remember and recognize what is truly important.  Beauty and status go far beyond the possession of materialistic items.  Consumerism will never be eliminated, but our attitudes can, and should, be adjusted.

Reference List

  1. Mander, Jerry Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.Brighton:Harvester Press,1980
  2. The role of television in the spread of consumerism and voyeurism. Retrieved at:
  3. Postman, Neil Amusing Ourselves to Death: public discourse in the age of show business.New York:Viking, 1985
  4. Potter,W.James et al.”Antisocial acts in reality programming on television”,Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 1997,v41,n1,Winter,pp.69-90

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