Douglas J Goodman. Handbook of Social Problems: A Comparative International Perspective. Editor: George Ritzer. Sage Publication. 2004.
Consumption is a problem. One of the most interesting aspects of our consumer culture is that this statement really requires no argument. Consumer culture itself proclaims consumption to be a problem. For example, we are inundated with advertising that attacks the absurdity of advertising, people buy books that condemn consumption, and, indeed, as I argue below, we often consume products that express our disdain for consumption.
This chapter starts with an examination of the contradictions of Western, mainly United States, consumer culture—its contradictions with the demands of production, with bourgeois culture, and the contradictions in the view of the consumer. All of these are themselves social problems, but what makes consumption an especially interesting case is that these contradictions have been transformed into further reasons to consume. Consumer culture has managed the trick of presenting more consumption as the solution to the problems of consumption. The second part of this chapter traces how this has happened, because it is important to look at the history of the “consumption of anticonsumption” in the United States before turning to its present international manifestation.
The contradictions associated with the globalization of consumer culture are the focus of the final section. At the transnational level, a new contradiction has emerged between consumer culture’s Americanized homogenization and its production of a heterogeneity of hybrid forms and invented traditions. I argue that this contradiction has also provided an impetus to more consumption.
Contradictions between Consumer Culture and Capitalist Production
A capitalist economic system requires, by definition, the accumulation of capital that is then consistently and rationally invested in production. Capitalism was able to emerge because it was originally linked to a culture that emphasized self-control, delayed gratification, and rational planning in the pursuit of clearly defined goals. However, a culture structured around production has, to a large extent, been transformed into a culture structured around consumption, and this is hardly a culture of 226 self-control and delayed gratification. A culture that once saw work as a moral end in itself now sees work only as a means toward more consumption (Schor 2000).
The French social theorist Roland Barthes (1990) notes the difference between what capitalism requires of those who produce and those who consume—even though they are usually the same person. “Calculating, industrial society is obliged to form consumers who don’t calculate; if clothing’s producers and consumers had the same consciousness, clothing would be bought (and produced) only at the very slow rate of its dilapidation; [clothes f]ashion, like all fashions, depends on a disparity of two consciousnesses, each foreign to the other” (p. xi).
Capitalist production still requires self-restraint, discipline, and frugality in our work, but our consumer culture promotes just the opposite. Daniel Bell, in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976), argued that the only solution to this contradiction is for us to become fragmented, to have one set of values at work and another when we consume. As Bell puts it, “One is to be straight by day, and a swinger at night” (p. 72). But Bell did not believe that this fragmentation would be sustainable. The industrialized world would soon enter a crisis because the capitalist economy is contradicted by a consumer culture that is focused on hedonism and novelty. Consumer culture’s pursuit of the new and improved and rejection of all that is old-fashioned and passé has infected a culture that now rejects all traditions and that accepts new values with an ironic stance that degenerates into bitter attack once they are no longer fashionable. We have lost all overriding values motivating us to work—only the desire for more consumption. But Bell believed that this value cannot get us through an economic downturn in the way that a work ethic could.
More than 25 years later, Bell’s analysis appears to be absolutely correct. Capitalism seems even more riven by this contradiction than ever. However, his prediction appears to be absolutely wrong: the disjunction continues and even worsens, but it does not appear to be bringing us any closer to a cultural crisis. Indeed, I argue below that our very fragmentation now fuels our consumption as we purchase commodities that promise a lost wholeness.
Contradictions between Consumer and Bourgeois Culture
Those, such as Marxists and the aristocracy, who see themselves as outside of consumer culture have always had an animosity toward it. Marxists have argued that consumer culture rests on the exploitation of workers (Sklair 1995). Even where it seems to benefit the workers, that benefit is only a device to “buy off” their revolt and delay the triumph of the popular will (Marcuse 1965). Those who see themselves as part of an aristocratic tradition advance a more elitist condemnation (Gronow 1997). Consumer culture is, for them, a contradiction in terms. Nothing that can be popularly consumed could be a true culture. The aristocratic critique believes that the triumph of consumerism is the triumph of the popular will, and this is precisely what they do not like.
Because consumer culture became identified with bourgeois culture, the disdain of consumer culture by both Marxists and aristocrats is usually combined with a rejection of the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, even though bourgeois culture is deeply intertwined with consumption, bourgeois culture has roots that preceded consumer culture (Schudson 1998), and despite the best efforts of modern advertising, bourgeois culture is still not entirely comfortable with the centrality of consumption. Consequently, we see a contradiction between consumer culture and the bourgeois culture out of which the former emerged. Bourgeois culture was related to the Christian, especially Protestant, religion (Weber 2002). Its early emphasis was on sacrifice and self-restraint. Identity and personal satisfaction were to be found in a career or vocation. In addition, it included a sense of family and community that encompassed but extended beyond the self-reliant individual (Ashcraft 1972).
All of these traits are inimical to consumer culture. Rather than sacrifice and self-restraint, hedonism and luxurious indulgence are emphasized. Consumer culture presents identity as being infinitely transformable with the purchase of new products (Halter 2000), and even on the production side, people are encouraged to be flexible, mobile, and transitory rather than devoting themselves to a lifelong vocation (Hage and Powers 1992). Finally, consumer culture emphasizes the individual over the community. It may take coordinated groups to produce objects, but these objects are usually consumed by individuals.
Consumer culture grew out of bourgeois culture, but parent and progeny are often at odds and there is little hope that there will ever be a complete reconciliation between bourgeois culture and its “prodigal son.” A bourgeois critique of consumer culture has persisted and helps to explain the long sociological neglect of consumption as a serious subject of study (Ritzer, Goodman, and Wiedenhoft 2001). And even ordinary shoppers are often subject to self-contempt because their consumption is so indulgent and unrestrained.
Michael Schudson (1998) lists three bourgeois objections to consumer culture. The first he calls the Puritan objection, which criticizes the pursuit of material goods because it takes away from the spiritual. The second he calls Quaker, and it objects to the frivolity and indulgence that are not compatible with a life of simplicity and self-restraint. Finally, there is the objection that he calls republican, which believes that consumer culture has undermined the community, leading to political complacency and the lack of civic engagement.
There is a long history of bourgeois anticonsumption sentiments (Breen 1993; Horowitz 1985). Indeed, consumer culture has always developed in tandem with its own critique. We consume, but we often feel guilty about it. The belief that consumer culture is not compatible with spirituality, simplicity, and community is a strong part of our bourgeois heritage. The feeling that virtue lies in thrift and self-restraint, and sin in consumption, is still present, even when it has lost its religious roots. But just as our fragmentation fuels more consumption, so does our guilt and loss of spiritual meaning. Advertisers have found ways to use this guilt to get us to consume more. As I describe below, we buy objects that promise spirituality, simplicity, and community.
The Consumer as Sovereign and as Dupe
The demands of capitalist production and its relation with bourgeois culture do not exhaust the contradictions of consumer culture. There is also a strong contradiction in regard to the rationality, autonomy, and power of the consumer. On the one hand, the consumer is sovereign. The consumer’s rational choices determine the direction of the economy. Everything is designed with the intent (albeit often failing) of pleasing the consumer. The rich and powerful of our society must listen to the consumers’ voice and try to discern their fleeting whims. On the other hand, the consumer is often portrayed as nothing but a dupe, subject to uncontrolled impulses and manipulated by the most transparent tricks.
Probably the first thing that we think of in terms of manipulating the consumer is advertising. Billions of dollars are spent on advertising every year, and very little of it is of the informational variety that the assumption of a rational consumer would expect. Advertising is increasingly pervasive. In 1880, only $30 million was spent on advertising in the United States; 30 years later, it had increased to $600 million (Durning 1992), and today it is in excess of $200 billion in the United States and over $300 billion worldwide (Cardona 2002). Every day, North Americans are exposed to an estimated 12 billion display ads, 3 million radio commercials, and more than 200,000 TV commercials. Not only are ads plastered on billboards, shown between breaks on TV shows, popped up on our computer screens, and placed beside text in our newspapers, but they are also beamed into classrooms, played in elevators, featured as props in movies, placed above the urinal in men’s bathrooms, made part of athletes’ uniforms, and displayed in every place and in every manner that human ingenuity can devise. We seem to be currently engaged in a grand experiment to see just how much of our society can be given over to the economic system, and perhaps the riskiest part stems from the constant exposure of people—from cradle to grave, from waking to sleeping—to advertising.
Examining advertising makes it clear that the concept of a consumer culture includes much more than a direct relation between individuals and the objects they consume. To a large extent, that relation is mediated by the meanings attached to the objects. Of course, all cultures have attached traditional meanings to objects, but our culture is so flooded with a constant stream of new (and improved) products that they long ago exceeded all traditional meanings. Many objects depend, at least initially, on the meanings produced by advertising. Whatever its initial aim, advertising does more than sell products. It is an integral part of consumer culture. It not only attaches meanings to commodities but also to the people who purchase and use them.
The advertising in the women’s magazines, the house- and-home periodicals, and sophisticated journals like the New Yorker was to teach people how to dress, furnish a home, buy the right wines—in short, the styles of life appropriate to the new statuses. Though at first the changes were primarily in manners, dress, taste, and food habits, sooner or later they began to affect more basic patterns: the structure of authority in the family, the role of children and young adults as independent consumers in the society, the patterns of morals, and the different meanings of achievement in the society. (Bell 1976:69)
Indeed, the meanings produced by a consumer culture extend even to the personality of the consumer. It is not just a motorcycle or a white ball gown that one purchases, but the identity that goes with it. One becomes a biker or a debutante. Identities become commodities to buy, and like other commodities, there are competing identities on the market. As a 1991 cover of Cosmopolitan declared: “By changing the way you look…you can create a new you!”
One of the early leaders in advertising, Helen Woodward (1926), stated the attraction of the purchasable identity: “To those who cannot change their whole lives or occupations, even a new line in a dress is often a relief. The woman who is tired of her husband or her home or a job feels some lifting of the weight of life from seeing a straight line change into a bouffant, or a gray pass into beige. Most people do not have the courage or the understanding to make deeper changes” (p. 345).
It is in this sense that consumer culture and advertising contain a strong dose of idealism. We are more attached to the ideal meaning of the object and to the ideal identity represented by the object than the object itself. This is the phenomenon that Raymond Williams (1976) refers to when he writes that advertising is proof that people in modern capitalist societies are not materialist. “If we were sensibly materialist, in that part of our living in which we use things, we should find most advertising to be of an insane irrelevance” (p. 26). It is not that we are tricked by the meanings that advertisements deliver. To a large degree, it is the meaning—the advertising, the brand, the logo, the Nike swoosh, the Polo pony—that is wanted, especially by the young. The actual commodity is just the convenient carrier of that meaning.
The idea that we wear the logo, not the clothes, drink the advertising, not the soda, and drive the image, not the car has seemed to many to prove that we are being manipulated. Advertisers, it has been argued, create desires that consumers obediently express as if they were their own. This has been called the hypodermic theory of advertising—ads inject us with false needs (Key 1972). According to this theory, the desire to consume is largely the product of the manipulations of advertisers on an unsuspecting public. A passive public is duped into spending money on things they do not need.
Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1957) was an early and influential example of this viewpoint, arguing that our minds are controlled by the hidden, subliminal messages contained in advertising. Packard’s interviews with advertisers revealed their rather disturbing attitude toward the general public.
Typically they see us as bundles of daydreams, misty hidden yearnings, guilt complexes, irrational emotional blockages. We are image lovers given to impulsive and compulsive acts. We annoy them with our seemingly senseless quirks, but we please them with our growing docility in responding to their manipulation of symbols that stir us to action. (P. 12)
Another influential book attacking consumer culture was Stuart Ewen’s Captains of Consciousness (1976). He argued that consumer society is a gigantic fraud, a conspiracy to manipulate the public and sell people items they do not need. Whereas those who controlled society were once captains of industry, society is now controlled through the manipulations of advertising by captains of consciousness.
These books have been followed by a steady succession of anticonsumption books, including most recently The Overspent American: Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer (1998) by Juliet Schor; No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Name Bullies (2000) by Naomi Klein; Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge—And Why We Must by Kalle Lasn (2000); and Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop Them All by Brian Czech (2002)—not to mention the magazines such as Ad Cult and AdBusters.
Of course, it is easy enough to dismiss this hypodermic theory by pointing to advertising’s spectacular failures. New products with substantial advertising are introduced every day and the vast majority of them fail. One of the most cited examples is the huge amount spent introducing and marketing the Edsel car, which became a laughable flop (Larrabee 1957).
Furthermore, it has been argued that the creation and control of meaning is not a one-way process. Advertisers may create saleable meanings for the new commodities, but consumers often create meanings of their own (Abercrombie 1994; Fiske 1989). For example, hippies took the American flag and unpatriotically used it as clothing, punks took the safety pin and used it as bodily adornment, rap DJs took the turntable and turned it into a creative instrument. None of these uses were intended or even imagined by those who created and marketed the products. Advertisers may often have the first word on meanings, and there is no disputing the power of that position, but consumers sometimes have the last word. Rather than simply a conduit for the producers’ meanings, consumer objects are often a site of struggle over meaning.
Despite this, few can doubt that advertising is aimed at controlling our behavior, and we must suspect that it is fairly successful. Otherwise, why would corporations continue to spend billions of dollars on it? Nevertheless, most people, although they often feel disdain for advertising, are not ready to revolt against the “captains of consciousness” and their “hidden persuaders.” Perhaps this is because the sort of control that advertising exerts is not one that is experienced as disagreeable. It is not a rigid, constraining control, but exactly its opposite. It manipulates us toward unrestraint in spending. It encourages us to enjoy forbidden pleasures, to break the old rules of thrift and self-discipline. One might say that it is controlling us to go out of control, at least where consuming is concerned. Controlling us to be, in a sense, out of control is a contradiction, but it is one that is easy to avoid examining too closely. Despite the contradiction, it is easy to think of this control as freedom and this manipulation as power.
What the vast amount of advertising really sells is consumer culture itself. Even if advertising fails to sell a particular product, the ads still sell the meanings and values of a consumer culture. As Christopher Lasch (1994) writes, “The importance of advertising is not that it invariably succeeds in its immediate purpose, much less that it lobotomizes the consumer into a state of passive acquiescence, but simply that it surrounds people with images of the good life in which happiness depends on consumption. The ubiquity of such images leaves little space for competing conceptions of the good life” (p. 1387).
What advertising constantly sells is the idea that there is a product to solve each of life’s problems. That the good life, the attractive personality, the appropriate taste can be purchased along with the object that we are told represents it. However, this promise is constantly broken. One of our first great disappointments is the discovery that buying that special toy does not bring us the infinite fun portrayed on television (Gunter and Furnham 1998). Neither, we soon discover, does buying those clothes gain us social acceptance. Our first car does not translate into freedom, and buying a beer does not surround us with beautiful members of the opposite sex. We buy the commodities, but the good life does not follow.
The authors of Beyond the Limits explain why, despite our continued dissatisfaction, we continue to consume.
People don’t need enormous cars, they need respect. They don’t need closets full of clothes, they need to feel attractive and they need excitement and variety and beauty. People don’t need electronic equipment; they need something worthwhile to do with their lives. People need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgment, love, and joy. To try to fill these needs with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to real and never-satisfied problems. The resulting psychological emptiness is one of the major forces behind the desire for material growth. (Meadows, Meadows, and Randers 1992:216)
The greatest contradiction that consumer culture has had to face is not an economic system that values both the accumulation of capital and consumer extravagance, nor its contradiction with the bourgeois ethics out of which it emerged, nor the contradiction between the rational and irrational consumer. The greatest contradiction that consumer culture has had to deal with is that it does not deliver on its own promises.
The Consumption of Anticonsumption
Whatever the problem, advertising has tried to position a product as its solution. Not simply the personal problems of halitosis, shyness, unattractiveness, but also social problems such as oppression or inequality. For example, advertising has always portrayed itself as on the side of liberation, especially from everything old and traditional. This usually takes the form of a liberation from old commodities in favor of new and improved commodities, but there has sometimes been an actual political component. For example, advertisements for cigarettes were early public proclamations for women’s equality. A leading advertiser of the 1920s described an advertising-inspired parade where, with the support of a prominent feminist, some young women lit “torches of freedom” (i.e., cigarettes) “as a protest against woman’s inequality” (Ewen 1976:161). Gender inequality could be solved by buying the right brand of cigarettes, the right toys for little girls, the right suit for the businesswoman.
By the middle of the 1950s, consumer culture and advertising were increasingly seen as part of the problem rather than as solutions. A common theme of popular magazine articles, movies, and sermons, as well as of academic writing, was the problem of conformity, of consumerism, and the loss of the work ethic. It shows the protean ingenuity of consumer culture that advertising was able to present even this problem as solvable by more consumption. Because this innovation was so important to the spread of consumer culture, I examine it in detail.
Thomas Frank, in The Conquest of Cool (1997), has described the changes in advertising as one of the most important processes behind the counter-culture of the 1960s. Frank’s main thesis is that the counterculture received its impetus from the momentous transformation that advertising underwent in the early 1960s. Advertising made the hatred of consumer culture one of its own themes and presented the consumer as a rebel against the “establishment” and conformity.
The counterculture of the 1960s was deeply critical of consumer culture. One of the founding documents of the counterculture, the Port Huron Statement, condemned marketing techniques intended to “create pseudo-needs in consumers” and to make “wasteful ‘planned obsolescence’ … a permanent feature of business strategy” (Miller 1987:339). However, many on both the left and right have commented on the deep connections between consumer culture and the counterculture of the 1960s. Both promulgated a doctrine of hedonism, liberation, and continual transgression. Frank (1997) makes sense of this contradiction by demonstrating that consumer culture was itself critical of consumer culture, and the counterculture was, to a large extent, a reflection of that.
The central theme that gives coherence to American advertising of both the early and late sixties is this: Consumer culture is a gigantic fraud. It demands that you act like everyone else, that you restrain yourself, that you fit in with the crowd, when you are in fact an individual. Consumer culture lies and seeks to sell you shoddy products that will fall apart or be out of style in a few years; but you crave authenticity and are too smart to fall for that Madison Avenue stuff (your neighbors may not be). Above all, consumer culture fosters conventions that are repressive and unfulfilling; but with the help of hip trends you can smash through those, create a new world in which people can be themselves, pretense has vanished, and healthy appetites are liberated from the stultifying mores of the past. (P. 136)
In other words, consumer culture presented consumption as a solution to its own problems.
The generally accepted story of the relation between the 1960s counterculture and consumer culture is that the latter co-opted the former. In the beginning, the story goes, there was an authentic counterculture, which was in opposition to capitalism and corporate culture. However, this authentic movement either sold out or was effectively mimicked by a mass-produced counterfeit culture of groovy, psychedelic products that captured the youth market and subverted the real counterculture’s threat. Frank (1997) contends that the mass-produced counterfeit culture was “not so much evidence of co-optation, but rather evidence of the counterculture’s roots in consumer culture” (p. 27).
Of course, few would deny the connection between the counterculture and the popular music and “rebel” celebrities of consumer culture. Furthermore, the role of television and popular magazines in advertising the “summer of love” and the entire hippie phenomenon is unquestioned. Frank’s argument goes further than this to claim that it was in the heart of the beast, in advertising itself, that the first changes occurred that triggered the counterculture and the hippie movement. “The changes here were, if anything, even more remarkable, more significant, and took place slightly earlier than those in music and youth culture” (p. 27).
Frank’s study of advertising in the late 1950s and early 1960s shows that it was developing its own counterculture. A new generation of advertisers was growing tired of the repetitive, “scientific” ads of the 1950s and was finding success with ads that were ironic, rebellious, and that attacked or made fun of consumer culture itself.
In 1960, the advertising company Doyle Dane Bernbach launched a campaign that was to define hip consumerism. It was for the Volkswagen beetle. It is no accident that the commodity most identified with the 1960s counterculture is the Volkswagen.
Most car advertising before the 1960s was a beautiful fantasy of some sort: a verdant green countryside, elegantly dressed models, and gleaming metal; or a racetrack, skimpily dressed models and more gleaming metal. Its photography grabbed you, and its text labored powerfully to extol the virtues of the car. The Volkswagen ad, in contrast, was simple, not flashy; self-deprecating, not self-congratulatory; and funny, not serious. It was the opposite of advertising as everyone knew it. One of the first ads was a full page of mostly white space with a small picture of the car in the upper corner, a small head-line toward the bottom saying “Think Small,” and a couple of paragraphs that described how strange the car was.
Most significantly, the ads made fun of the product, advertising, and consumer culture. It was the ads that first called the car a beetle, and said that the station wagon “looked like a shoebox.” But it was at consumer culture itself that the ads aimed their sharpest barbs. They ridiculed the use of cars as status symbols. They poked fun at dealers’ sales tactics. They pilloried the faddishness and planned obsolescence of the fashionable commodity.
These new ads were extremely successful and initiated a revolt in advertising against the hard sell that still dominated the industry. In this “revolution,” the new generation of advertisers saw the emerging counterculture “not as an enemy to be undermined or a threat to consumer culture but as a hopeful sign, a symbolic ally in their own struggles against the mountains of dead-weight procedure and hierarchy that had accumulated over the years” (Frank 1997:9). This partnership changed consumer culture.
Almost no American car manufacturers were still using the idealized, white-family-at-play motif by that year . And with the exception of luxury lines (Cadillac, Lincoln, Chrysler), virtually every car being marketed in America introduced its 1966 model year as an implement of nonconformity, of instant youth-fulness, of mockery toward traditional Detroit-suckers, or of distinction from the mass society herd…. The critique of mass society leveled by the American automakers was noticeably different from that of Volkswagen and Volvo. The ads of the Big Three automakers were not concerned with evading planned obsolescence, but with discovering for annual style changes a more compelling meaning. Where Volkswagen and Volvo emphasized authenticity and durability, Detroit stressed escape, excitement, carnival, nonconformity, and individualism. It is a cleavage that goes to the heart of the commercial revolution of the sixties: every brand claimed to be bored, disgusted, and alienated, but for some these meant the never-changing Volkswagen and blue jeans; they steered others toward the Pontiac Breakaway and the Peacock Revolution. (Frank 1997:156-7)
What we see then is not the emergence of a movement that opposed consumer culture and was then co-opted and defeated by it, but rather a change within consumer culture itself. In the 1960s, consumer culture entered a new phase, which Frank calls “hip consumerism.” It is now more resistant to criticisms, because it is able to transform those very criticisms into reasons to consume. Hip consumerism uses the ambivalence, the contradictions, and the disappointments due to advertising’s constantly broken promises as further inducements to buy more. The protests against manipulation, conformity, and loss of meaning are transformed into reasons to consume. Disgust with consumerism is turned into the fuel that feeds consumerism because we express our disgust with consumer culture through consumption.
Advertising no longer sells a commodity so much as a rebellious stance. For example, Benetton’s ads have not used pictures of its products since 1989. Instead their ads feature shocking images of AIDS victims, racism, war, and death row inmates. Oliviero Toscani, Benetton’s head of advertising, sees these as a criticism of consumer culture. “The advertising industry has corrupted society. It persuades people that they are respected for what they consume, that they are only worth what they possess” (Tinic 1997:325). This is not the head of the politburo speaking, but the head of advertising at a major international company.
Hip consumers are anticonsumption, but they have been taught to express their attitudes through what they buy. They are rebels, but they have been taught to rebel against last year’s fashions and especially to rebel against the old-fashioned Puritanism and frugality of their parents. They crave traditions and are willing to buy the latest tradition. They want authenticity and will pay for its simulation.
What changed during the sixties, it now seems, were the strategies of consumerism, the ideology by which business explained its domination of the national life. Now products existed to facilitate our rebellion against the soul-deadening world of products, to put us in touch with our authentic selves, to distinguish us from the mass-produced herd, to express our outrage at the stifling world of economic necessity. (Frank 1997:229)
Hip consumerism has become the latest and strongest version of consumer culture. Both the critique of consumption and the solution to the problems of consumption are now contained within consumer culture. In other words, consumer culture presents itself as a problem that only more consumption can solve. Ads that incorporate ironic attacks on consumer culture are themselves protected from those attacks because they have positioned themselves on the side of the skeptical viewer.
Advertisements that promote rebellion, mock authority, and promise a mass-produced nonconformity are now ubiquitous. For example, one of the main targets of the counterculture’s and feminist’s critique of consumer culture was the cosmetics industry, which was taken to be the epitome of artificiality and conformity to mass-produced standards of beauty. However, hip consumerism has revamped these commodities as signs of ironic artificiality, defiance, and nonconformity. A case in point, one company, significantly named Urban Decay, offers cosmetics with names like Plague, Demise, Rat, Roach, and Asphyxia.
New Age Consumerism
In addition to buying to express nonconformity and rebellion, consumers also buy to express an interest in living a simple life, a concern about the environment, and a declaration of spirituality. For instance, those who seek the simple life can choose among over 100 models of sleeping bags. They can peruse the ads in Real Simple, “the magazine devoted to simplifying your life.” They can buy an SUV to get off-road and closer to nature. They can furnish their home with the latest craze in traditional crafts. They can, if they possess the money, have custom-made, one-of-a-kind clothes fashioned for them out of hand-spun fabric.
We can call this variant of the hip consumer, the New Age consumer. An article by Sam Binkley (forthcoming) discusses one of the most important documents of the change from hip consumption to New Age consumption, the Whole Earth Catalog. This strange mix of a Sears Roebuck catalog and opinionated Consumer Reports put together by dropouts from the counterculture used its lists of commodities to carry the sixties’ rebellious spirit into the spiritual environmentalism that characterizes the New Age consumer.
The hip consumer responds to the contradictions of consumer culture through consumption that emphasizes artifice, irony, and nonconformity. The New Age consumer responds to these same contradictions also with consumption, but they prefer commodities that represent a noncommercial and more spiritual life. The New Age consumer prefers boutiques to national chains, gentrified neighborhood centers to shopping malls. However, even the mall-based chain store can be sold to the New Age consumer if it is properly marketed, as Anita Roddick proved when she introduced the environmentally friendly, politically correct, and eminently hip chain, the Body Shop.
New Age consumers demonstrate through their consumption that they are earth-friendly, socially responsible, enlightened global citizens in tune with nature. They prefer natural wood, natural fibers, natural ingredients, organic food, and herbal body care products. All of these are sold as remedies for the problems of consumer culture.
Kimberly Lau provides an interesting case of New Age consumerism in her study of New Age Capitalism (2000). She covers a number of examples, including the spread of yoga and macrobiotic diets, but most germane is her examination of the marketing of aromatherapy. In it we see many of the attributes of hip consumption that Frank described, but with a New Age twist.
Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda, introduced aromatherapy to the American public in 1978. Since Aveda’s success, others have followed suit, including specialty stores such as the Body Shop, Garden Botanika, and H2O. In addition, noncos-metic but hip retailers such as the Gap, The Limited, Eddie Bauer, Urban Outfitters, Banana Republic, Pier 1 Imports, and The Nature Company have all introduced aromatherapy products. Lau (2000:34) estimates the sale of aromatherapy products to be $300 million to $500 million, with an annual growth rate of approximately 30 percent.
Lau describes three characteristics of the aromatherapy advertising campaign that appeal to the New Age consumer: (1) it is presented as eco-friendly; (2) it is a remedy for the psychic ills of modern civilization; and (3) it is able to function as a hip consumer’s status symbol.
As Lau (2000) informs us, “[E]veryone from aromatherapists to essential oil suppliers and aroma researchers praises the earth-friendly nature of aromatherapy, but no one articulates the precise nature of its environmentalism” (pp. 39-40). Finding no evidence for its ecological beneficence, Lau can only surmise the following formula: “[T]he association seems as simple as plants = green = earth-friendly” (p. 40).
In addition, aromatherapy is associated with ancient and contemporary cultures that are portrayed as unsullied by the problems of modern consumer culture. It is variously associated with the ancient practices of Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, and China. In addition, Aveda advertises that some of its ingredients are obtained from the Yawanawa, who live in the rainforests of western Brazil. Lau (2000) sees this identification of aromatherapy with ancient and nonindustrialized cultures as “part of an attempt to counter modernity and the techno-industrial capitalist system it signifies” (p. 30). In other words, it positions this product outside of consumer culture, as an alternative and even an antidote.
Of course, this alternative to consumer culture can only be consumed by those able to afford it. This allows Aveda products, like most hip commodities, to function both as a status symbol and as an antistatus symbol. It represents both the material resources to buy expensive body care products and a criticism of Western materialism.
Aveda makes available for purchase the idea of participating in cultural critique, of living according to ancient philosophies, of living an alternative lifestyle…. Consumption becomes a mode of addressing social, political, and cultural disenchantment, although the very processes enabling consumption are what characterize modernity, itself the cause of the disenchantment being critiqued. (Lau 2000:133)
Furthermore, all the New Age commodities discussed by Lau claim to remedy the fragmentation that Bell predicted would destroy consumer culture. Reconnecting mind, body, and spirit is a primary theme of these products. They are all, at least in name, holistic. Here too, the contradictions of our consumer culture function as another reason to consume.
Not only do these products turn anticonsumption into a reason for more consumption, but it is arguable that they co-opt any real opposition to consumer culture.
Each product comes with a tag, an address, a lifestyle. The act of purchase locates the individual within a tribe, and in this way, fashion functions to regulate lifestyles and produce the belief that every consumer choice is a free choice, a way in which individuals invent themselves. Such practices can co-opt self-identifying groups into the consumer cycle, even those who may be politically and ethically opposed to it—for example, those targeted by the new niche markets in anti-fashions, eco-sensitive clothing, and products from recycled materials. (Finkelstein 1995:232)
Consumption as a Culture
The social problem of consumption involves much more than just the act of consuming. We live today in a consumer culture. To say that we are a consumer culture means that our central shared values have to do with consumption. Accordingly, a consumer culture has effects far beyond actual consumption and its associated advertising. The shared concepts and values of a culture help people to relate their individual lives to larger themes. Because of this, a culture tends to change all other institutions into something compatible with its values.
Historically, most cultures have been centered on a set of religious values and concepts. Alternatively, a few cultures have found their values and concepts in secular intellectual and aesthetic movements, usually called “high” culture. This is the type of culture that one refers to when speaking of the arts, manners, or education. A consumer culture is distinct from either of these.
This is not to say that religion and high culture have disappeared from our society, but they have become instances of consumer culture. People still have religion, but increasingly, they “shop around” for the right religion and choose one that fits their lifestyle. Religion is not a tradition that we are inextricably embedded in; instead it is chosen, consumed, and sometimes discarded, returned, or exchanged like any other commodity.
Similarly, high culture has simply become a niche market in a consumer culture. People who go to opera and art museums are a marketing cluster group who also buy Italian espresso machines, BMW convertibles, and Hugo Boss clothes. For the rest of us, high culture is what we listen to while we are on hold waiting for customer service. It is what we pass on our way to the museum gift shop. It is what we buy to match our living room. Even where high culture is not simply a commodity, it functions more and more like a commodity, with an emphasis on the new, the latest, the attention-getting, the controversial, the shocking.
The same sort of transformation happens in higher education, where students are more and more treated like consumers and the mission of the school is increasingly shaped by its attempts to market itself to its target audience. Similarly, news becomes entertainment, and history is turned into theme parks. Indeed it seems that every human expression, from art to sex to outrage, is either sold as a commodity or used to sell a commodity. It is this consumer culture that is now spreading over the entire world.
Consumption as an International Social Problem
That consumer culture is becoming a global phenomenon seems increasingly difficult to deny. A global consumer culture is connected to the international flow of goods, money, people, information, and services that has been called globalization. The international and cross-border “diffusion of practices, values and technology” (Albrow 1997:88) has resulted in a compression of time and space (Giddens 1990; Harvey 1989) that encourages not only economic but also cultural interdependence. The borders that once separated cultures have become so permeable that “there are no absolute political, social or cultural boundaries unbreached by global flows” (Kelly 1999:240).
To be sure, analysts have challenged the magnitude and, indeed, valence of globalization’s effects. But whether globalization is good (Friedman 1999; Ohmae 1990) or bad (Gilpin 2000; Mittleman 2000), strong (Appadurai 1996; Hobsbawm 1997) or feeble (Hirschman 1982; Hirst and Thompson 1996), there can be little doubt that the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and that this has enormous cultural implications. Just as with globalization itself, these cultural implications are also open to various interpretations. Some see globalization as leading to the creation of heterogeneous local cultures, others as an Americanized homogeneity, still others as leading to hybrids of the local and the global, the new and the old. I argue next that all of these are happening in globalization and that there is evidence to point to a global consumer culture as an explanation for the increasing presence of what appears to be a contradiction.
Clearly, there are multiple forces at work in globalization—economic, political, institutional, technological—but undoubtedly the most obvious form that globalization assumes is as a global consumer culture.
Few expressions of globalization are so visible, wide-spread and pervasive as the worldwide proliferation of internationally traded consumer brands, the global ascendancy of popular cultural icons and artifacts, and the simultaneous communication of events by satellite broadcasts to hundreds of millions of people at a time on all continents. The most public symbols of globalization consist of Coca-Cola, Madonna and the news on CNN. (Held et al. 1999:327)
Steger (2002:36) cites Nike sneakers on Amazonian Indians, Texaco baseball caps on sub-Saharan youths, and Chicago Bulls sweatshirts on Palestinians. In such descriptions it is easy to see a homogenized—even Americanized—consumer culture spreading throughout the world by creating standardized tastes and desires. And, in fact, this homogenized world is often precisely what the advertising for consumption promises, as in the McDonald’s ad, “It’s what everyone around the world keeps saying—It’s MacTime,” or when Pepsi wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.
Nevertheless, the question over whether globalization increases cultural homogeneity by establishing common codes and practices or whether it increases a heterogeneity of newly emerging differences seems now, to many analysts, to have been answered. Globalization does both. Globalization appears to make people more different but in a similar way. It creates a mixed system, where people are homogenized into similar individuals, ethnicities, and nations who want different things. It creates what Roland Robertson (1995) has called glocalization.
According to Robertson (2001), “globalization is not an all-encompassing process of homogenization but a complex mixture of homogenization and heterogenization” (p. 199). There is an interpenetration of the global and the local that creates a difference-within-sameness. Robertson (1995) points out that a global culture can bolster, revive, or even create a local culture. Indeed, he argues that “what is called local is in large degree constructed on a trans- or super-local basis” (p. 26). The local is not opposed to the global; rather it is an aspect of the global. Consequently, the homogeneity of global cultural flows will be matched by the heterogeneity of their reception, appropriation, and response. It is this that characterizes glocalization.
Glocalization is related to delocalization—what Scholte (2000) calls deterritorialization. According to Scholte, the defining characteristic of our global culture is that relations between people are no longer dependent on a territorial location, territorial distance, or territorial borders. Instead, we now inhabit a new supraterritorial space along with the preexisting territorial space. The idea of glocalization is that our relation to the territorial locality is changed by the supraterritorial global context. Transnational forces undermine our bond to a fixed local culture, its unquestioned traditions, and stable identities. As Cowen (2002) says, “[I]ndividuals are liberated from the tyranny of place more than ever before” (p. 4).
Not only is delocalization caused by supraterritorial forces, but people themselves are more mobile and prone to cross borders (Mittleman 2000:58-73). Many of a locale’s residents did not grow up in that locality, and they bring other traditions to this new place. In addition, indigenous locals travel, interact, and return, thereby transforming their cultures. These processes are so prevalent that a number of cities are dominated by cosmopolitan elites and immigrant neighborhoods. Sassen (1991) describes these as global cities.
These processes lead to a cultural form that is referred to as “hybridization” (Pieterse 1995) or “creolization” (Hannerz 1992). Zwingle (2000) describes “sitting in a coffee shop in London drinking Italian espresso served by an Algerian waiter to the strains of the Beach Boys singing ‘I wish they all could be California girls’” (p. 153). Pieterse (1995) describes “Thai boxing by Moroccan girls in Amsterdam, Asian rap in London, Irish bagels, Chinese tacos and Mardi Gras Indians in the United States” (p. 53). We regularly see these hybrids in music, novels, restaurants, paintings, crafts, and so on. The hybrid form pervades both high and popular culture and even “traditional” culture.
In fact, much of what we take to be local and traditional is a hybrid. Glocalization is connected to delocalization through the creation or recreation of the local traditions in a way that conforms to global forces. Robertson (1995) notes the “increasingly global ‘institutionalization’ of the expectation and construction of local particularism. Not merely is variety continuously produced and reproduced in the contemporary world, that variety is an aspect of the very dynamics which a considerable number of commentators interpret as homogenization” (p. 38). In an earlier work, Robertson (1992) explains that “the contemporary concerns with civilizational and societal (as well as ethnic) uniqueness—as expressed via such motifs as identity, tradition and indigenization—largely rests on globally diffused ideas” (p. 130).
This is not to say that delocalization leads directly to heterogeneous glocalization; it could lead to the complete global homogenization that so many critics fear. Robertson’s theory of glocalization is not purely theoretical. Robertson (1995) calls this “an empirical problem.” “It is not a question of either homogenization or heterogenization, but rather of the ways in which both of these two tendencies have become features of life across much of the late-twentieth-century world. In this perspective the problem becomes that of spelling out the ways in which homogenizing and heterogenizing tendencies are mutually implicative” (p. 27).
This means that, on the one hand, we cannot ignore the powerful forces of homogenization that are at work and simply trust to an inevitable glocalization to provide heterogeneity. On the other hand, we need to further analyze why transnational forces and delocalization do tend to heterogeneous glocalization, at least to the extent that they do.
The reason for heterogeneous glocalization is that one of the primary forces propelling globalization is consumer culture. A global consumer culture encourages glocalization because the local provides a valuable resource for our supralocal exchanges and therefore leads to increased heterogeneity of content along with homogeneity of form. Robertson (1995) recognizes this.
To a considerable extent micromarketing—or, in the more comprehensive phrase, glocalization—involves the construction of increasingly differentiated consumers, the “invention” of “consumer traditions” (of which tourism, arguably the biggest “industry” of the contemporary world, is undoubtedly the most clear-cut example). To put it very simply, diversity sells. From the consumer’s point of view it can be a significant basis of cultural capital formation (Bourdieu, 1984). This, it should be emphasized, is not its only function. The proliferation of, for example, “ethnic” supermarkets in California and elsewhere does to a large extent cater not so much to difference for the sake of difference, but to the desire for the familiar and/or to nostalgic wishes. (P. 29)
The anthropologist Ulf Hannerz (1992) also notes the similarity between glocalization and the niche markets created by consumer culture.
If one tendency is to homogenize and reach as widely as possible with the same product, there is again the alternative of seeking competitive advantage through distinctiveness, in a particular market segment. The scenario of global homogenization rather too much ignores this alternative, but since it is so often preoccupied with the commodities of popular culture, it is reasonable to make the observation that much of what the entrepreneurs of popular culture in the Third World are doing these days seems to involve carving out such niches. (Pp. 237-8)
This should not be a surprise, since the very term glocalization began as “one of the main marketing buzzwords of the beginning of the nineties” (Tulloch 1991:134). Global culture seems to be precisely tracking the trend among consumer goods that marketers have already recognized. Although there are some global brands, one business analyst observed that this “does not mean that there is a global consumer for companies to target. International cultural differences are by no means disappearing and, in the late twentieth century, individualism is as strong a world force as internationalism. Consumer goods are becoming more, rather than less, focused on the individual” (Fitzgerald 1997:742). However, the individuals focused on by global marketing are, as one business leader put it, “heteroconsumers”: “People who’ve become increasingly alike and indistinct from one another, and yet have simultaneously varied and multiple preferences” (Levitt 1988:8).
Not only do traditions become glocalized as an “invention of tradition” (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) to appeal to the consumer tastes of tourists, but identity itself becomes a form of consumption shaped by a global consumer culture.
Every social and cultural movement is a consumer or at least must define itself in relation to the world of goods as a non-consumer. Consumption within the bounds of the world system is always a consumption of identity, canalized by a negotiation between selfdefinition and the array of possibilities offered by the capitalist market. (Friedman 1994:104)
Thus, there is indeed greater heterogeneity, but it is in the context of and, to a large extent, in response to the homogeneity of a consumer culture. As Jonathan Friedman (1994) points out, “[W]hat appears as disorganization and often real disorder is not any the less systemic and systematic” (p. 211). Global consumer culture creates what Wilk (1995) calls “global systems of common difference.” Again, this seems to be recognized by consumer advertising. An AT&T ad says, “What makes us all the same is that we’re all different” (quoted in Wilk 1995).
Mcdonaldization as Heterogeneity and Homogeneity
Because McDonaldization (Ritzer 2000) has become a widely used term for the globalization of consumer culture, it is useful to employ it to examine the interplay of heterogeneity and homogeneity. First, however, it is necessary to clearly define what is meant by McDonaldization. It is not simply the spread of a particular restaurant chain. Instead it is the spread of the processes of efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control that McDonald’s successfully introduced into consumption. The idea of McDonaldization is that these processes are coming to dominate more economic and cultural sectors as well as spreading globally.
Although McDonaldization refers to much more than the restaurant chain, it is instructive to begin with a focus on the heterogenizing aspects of McDonald’s itself. We see within the homogeneity of McDonald’s (the vanguard of McDonaldization) four types of heterogeneity.
First, McDonald’s in a non-American setting provides a cheap and easily accessible tourist experience. Stephenson (1989) describes the experience of Dutch patrons where a local McDonald’s provides “a kind of instant emigration that occurs the moment one walks through the doors, where Dutch rules rather obviously don’t apply and where there are few adults around to enforce any that might” (p. 227).
Second, when McDonald’s is accepted as a local institution, it creates a new heterogeneous hybrid locality. The literature is rife with descriptions of tourists to the United States from other countries who are surprised to see a McDonald’s here. Watson’s (1997) collection is full of descriptions of the acceptance of McDonald’s as a local phenomenon in East Asian countries. This is indicative not of the power of the local but of the power of McDonald’s to recreate the local. As Ritzer (2001) points out, “Its impact is far greater if it infiltrates a local culture and becomes a part of it than if it remains perceived as an American phenomenon superimposed on a local setting” (p. 171).
Third, the chain varies its menu to adapt to particular localities. In India, McDonald’s outlets serve Vegetable McNuggets and Maharaja Macs made with mutton. In Turkey, they offer a chilled yogurt drink. In Italy, espresso and cold pasta. Teriyaki burgers are on the menu in Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (along with red bean sundaes). The main sand- wich in the Netherlands is a vegetarian burger; in Norway it is McLaks (a grilled salmon sandwich); in Germany, frankfurters; in Uruguay, a poached egg hamburger called the McHuevo.
Finally, the process of McDonaldization is adopted by indigenous competitors of McDonald’s to create a local variety of fast food. Ritzer (2001) mentions Russkoye Bistro in Russia, Ronghua Chicken and Xiangfei Roast Chicken in China, Mos Burger in Japan, and Uncle Joe’s Hamburger in Korea. Ritzer (2001) writes that “it is not the existence of American chains (and other new means of consumption) in other countries that is the most important indicator of the spread of McDonaldization, but rather the existence of indigenous clones of those McDonaldized enterprises” (p. 170).
We see then that, on the one hand, McDonald’s itself becomes more heterogeneous by adapting to the local, and, on the other hand, McDonaldization promotes heterogeneity in the locality by creating a tourist experience, a hybrid local, and by promoting McDonaldized local competitors. Nevertheless, as glocalization would predict, along with this increased heterogeneity of product and locality comes an increased homogeneity of process—of calculability, efficiency, predictability, and control.
The Contradictions of Global Consumer Culture
We see in global consumer culture the same contradictions that we outlined above. Of course, as capitalism has spread, we see also the spread of its contradiction between a calculating, rational, frugal producer and an impulsive, irrational, prodigal consumer. In addition, even though many of these countries don’t have a Protestant tradition or a bourgeois culture, we nevertheless see a contradiction between their traditional ethos and the impulses of a consumer culture. This often takes the form of a generational difference in developing countries.
In each nation, there remains a significant population segment who have lived through underdevelopment, whose collective memories of material deprivation and thrifty ways are still fresh. Their moral/ideological position on savings has made them resistant to the rapid expansion of consumerism. In addition, this group often sees the arrival of consumerist culture as the consequence of the penetration and contamination of traditional cultural practices by “Western,” particularly American, cultures. Thus, the moral debate on consumption has often been characterized as a “generational conflict,” supposedly between the deprived generation who embody thrift as a traditional value and the affluent and fast-spending, “Westernised” generation. (Beng-Huat 2000:8)
We also see the same contradictory view of the consumer. On the one hand, the spread of consumer culture is driven primarily by the choices made by those who live in the invaded territory. The consumer is the sovereign director of globalizing consumer culture. On the other hand, as Wilk (1994) writes, “it is clear that people are not making completely free choices about goods. They are not merely absorbing foreign goods into their existing modes of consumption, and making free strategic choices in the global marketplace. Third world consumers are subject to various forms of coercion, both economic and ideological” (p. 81).
These contradictions of global consumer culture are also resolved through the consumption of anticonsumption. Just as in Western culture, others are encouraged to consume in order to represent their belief in anticonsumption traditions, their disdain of advertisers’ attempts to control them, or their rebellion.
We certainly see some of the same aspects of hip consumerism in response to the globalization of consumer culture. For example, marketers in Eastern Europe have introduced a new product labeled “Ordinary Laundry Detergent” as a hip response to the heavy promotion of Tide as cleaning “better than ordinary laundry detergent” (Money and Colton 2000:190). However, most characteristic of the response to the contradictions of global consumption has been what Robertson (1992) calls a “willful nostalgia.” Woodruff and Drake (1998) report, for example, that “Czech made” soft drinks promise to relieve the stress of the urban, cosmopolitan life that is associated with such global products as Coke and Pepsi. The cosmetics company Shiseido emphasizes its Japanese origins even outside of Japan and advertises an image of Japanese mystique, luxury, and exoticism (Schutte and Ciarlante 1998). The makers of French chocolates emphasize a nostalgic other of tropical cocoa jungles, but also the craft tradition of handmade chocolates (Terrio 1996).
We even see this willful nostalgia being used by McDonald’s itself. The McDonald’s in Singapore offers a “kampong” burger. Beng-Huat (2000) tells us that “kampong refers to the villages in which most Singaporeans lived prior to being resettled into high-rise public housing estates, a time which is remembered nostalgically as the ‘good old days’ when life was much more relaxed and community more organic than today’s high-stress living in a globalised economy” (pp. 195-6).
Of course, nostalgia has been an important part of the empire building and nation building of the past few centuries (Anderson 1991), but in comparison to this politically driven nostalgia, the consumer-driven nostalgia is more focused on the particular and even the marginal as a resource for producing products and tourist experiences for a transnational capitalism that is oriented to niche markets interested in the exotic and the authentic. Robertson (1992:159) is quick to point out that this politically driven nostalgia has not been supplanted (and that is so much clearer in the post-September 11 world), but nevertheless, the politically driven nostalgia is embedded in or, at least, intertwined with consumer-driven nostalgia. There is a consumerist demand for and a production of nostalgia that is ready at hand when political crises have need of it.
Along with these familiar contradictions, we see also the highlighting of a new one, the contradiction outlined above between heterogeneity and homogeneity. In reaction to the new contradiction, people are encouraged to consume in order to resist a homogenizing globalization that is usually and most effectively presented as Americanization.
The Consumption of Anti-Americanization
Before I describe the way in which anti-Americanization is used to spur consumption, I should point out that America first spurred consumption as a symbol for rebellion rather than as a symbol of homogeneous conformity. Schutte and Ciarlante (1998:195) describe Coca-Cola, Levi’s, and Marlboro as symbols of individualism and freedom. Yoshimi (2000) describes American consumer goods as “symbols of ‘emancipation’ and ‘resistance’” (p. 202). According to Beng-Huat (2000), “American products have been used to express resistance to local repressions” (p. 16). Humphrey (1995) says that Western consumer goods represented “resistance to the regime” (p. 57) in the Soviet Union, and this continued in the post-Communist Russia with Chevrolet successfully selling cars to Russians with a “Born in the U.S.A.” campaign (Money and Colton 2000:189).
Despite the use of images portraying American products as symbols of emancipation and resistance, quite the opposite symbolization has often occurred. This has emerged naturally enough from the contradictions of global consumer culture listed above. There has been a condemnation of the unbridled consumer both as not rational enough and as not traditional enough (Sachs 1998). Furthermore, the image of the sovereign consumer that consumer culture introduced has often been used as the basis for criticizing the manipulated consumer. It was not long before both nations and local entrepreneurs saw the advantage to be gained in portraying globalization, or more usually Americanization, as the enemy. Appadurai (1996) notes the benefits of “posing global commoditization (or capitalism, or some other such external enemy) as more real than the threat of its own hegemonic strategies” (p. 32). Beng-Huat (2000) describes the “moral panic” created by the South Korean government and media against an Americanized consumer culture.
Of course, these moral crusades have not diminished consumption in South Korea or in any other culture. Instead, as I describe below, these antiglobalization attitudes function like the anticonsumption attitudes described in the first part of this chapter. They fuel more consumption. This might be suspected, since, as many analysts have noted, the United States is “the home of opposition and resistance to globalization, in spite of the widely held view that globalization is an American project. In fact, it has by now become appropriate to talk of the globalization of anti-globalism” (Robertson 2001:459).
Mcdonaldization in France
Let us return again to McDonald’s and look at its reception in France as an exemplary case of the consumption of anti-Americanization. McDonald’s was, for the French, identified with America, and the French relation with American culture has been, to say the least, ambiguous. France is well known for having rejected American culture in the 1960s and 1970s, only to embrace it by the mid-1980s (Kuisel 1993). Even though McDonald’s was introduced into France in 1972 in the period of supposed American rejection, it nevertheless benefited from this American association because many saw McDonald’s as a kind of “reverse snobbery” (Fantasia 1995:227). This was true even among the upper class, as evidenced by the fact that a haute couture fashion show served a buffet of McDonald’s food during this period. Even more recently, Fantasia’s (1995) research shows that French teenagers are attracted to McDonald’s because of what they perceive as the American characteristics of informality, brashness, brightness, and playfulness (pp. 218-27).
Along with McDonald’s there was an accompanying spread of McDonaldization among the French food industry. In the beginning, these French fast-food restaurants tried to benefit from the association of fast food with America with such names as Magic Burger, B’Burger, Manhattan Burger, Katy’s Burger, Love Burger, and Kiss Burger (Fantasia 1995:206). In addition, their look and food products were copied from the American model. Indeed, Fantasia (1995:206) reports that French-owned hamburger places far outnumbered American-owned ones. More important than the food and the look, the restaurants copied the processes of McDonaldization: its efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control.
Of course, McDonald’s identification with America has not been solely to its benefit. The very thing that has made McDonald’s so popular has also made it the target of antiglobalization activists. French McDonald’s have been sites of protest as well as of vandalism and bombing. The case of Jose Bove, who destroyed a half-built McDonald’s in protest of a WTO ruling, has become a cause célèbre with support from tens of thousands of protestors as well as political leaders (Antonio and Bonanno 2000:56). More recently, those protesting the invasion/liberation of Iraq have burned a Ronald McDonald statue in Ecuador, smashed McDonald’s windows in Paris, and scaled a McDonald’s sign in South Korea.
Nevertheless, despite the opposition to McDonald’s, McDonaldization has continued apace and increasingly acquired a French twist. French fast food quickly moved from American food and look to traditional French foods such as croissants and sandwiches on brioche or baguettes. Despite their now identifiably French names, products, and looks, these food outlets follow the same standardized, mechanized, and efficient practices that McDonald’s introduced. However, they market themselves as a French, that is, non-American, fast food. In a minor reverse incursion, a few of these French fast-food places (e.g., Pret a Manger) have invaded America, drawing upon the French identification with fine food to help sell their McDonaldized products.
More important than this reverse incursion is the fact that the French fast-food places have used the rejection of McDonald’s and of Americanization to sell their own products. In other words, the rejection of McDonald’s has been used to promote the spread of McDonaldization. France provides us with a clear example of the increase in heterogeneity—of products, look, national identification—along with the increased homogenization of process.
This is not merely an economic phenomenon. As Chua Beng-Huat (2000) describes in the case of Singapore, the state is deeply involved:
Consumption expansion thus tends to lead to some level of global homogenization of culture among consumers; an effect that gives rise to negative responses to globalisation. As consumer goods are always also cultural goods, expansion of consumption of imported products and services often gives rise to an exaggerated sense of “panic,” of cultural “invasion” which, supposedly, if left unchecked will result in the demise of the local culture. Critics, including the state, thus inveigh against specific “foreign” targets, such as “Americanisation” or “Japanisation,” and take upon themselves to promote “local” culture as ballast against the “foreign” cultural invasions. The desire of the state to involve itself in such ideological critique is obvious. Homogenisation of culture globally is antithetical to the idea of the “uniqueness” of nationalist sentiments and, therefore, is potentially threatening to the hold of the nation-state on its citizens. Emphasising the “national” as “local” differences is in the interests of the nation-state as an act of self-preservation. Hence, existing alongside embracing the arrival of capital is a cultural/moral critique of both the commodification of social life and the “cultural imperialism” of the countries from which the goods originate. (Pp. 183-4)
We see a similar effect in the marketing of such soft drinks as Mecca Cola and Qibla Cola, which target the European Muslim community and position themselves as an expression of anti-Americanization (Hundley 2003). The idea is that individuals are to express their contempt for America and its associated consumer society through the consumption of products that are produced, packaged, and marketed in a way that is deeply dependent on American consumer culture. In addition, although not so strongly anti-American, the Japanese create a national identity that is presented as distinct from others, especially Americans, and which is tied to what Yoshino (1999) calls a cultural marketplace. Likewise, Foster (2002) describes the people of Papua New Guinea as using consumption to create a local identity in opposition to the identity attached to global brands. As one final example, Johnston (2001) describes an ad for a flavored milk drink in New Zealand that is strongly critical of American culture, but which uses a musical rap form to express it. In these and many other cases, the spread of consumer culture is supported by the rejection of consumer culture represented as Americanization.
In the context of globalization, the consumption of anticonsumption is given a new twist. As discussed in the first part of this chapter, we have been encouraged to buy in order to establish our individuality in a mass-produced culture; to express our disgust with consumption by more consumption; to purchase the latest improved traditions. Now people are encouraged to buy to express their rejection of homogenized Americanization. Our disgust with the homogenized Americanization of McDonald’s is used to expand the underlying process of McDonaldization. Our disgust with global consumer culture is used to strengthen and spread it.
Consumption is, by its own declarations, a social problem. Consumption is experienced as a mix of pleasure and guilt, anticipation and fear, desire and trepidation. We both love and hate our consumer culture, and our guilt, fear, trepidation, and hate involve us in this culture just as deeply as does our love.
Far from creating a crisis, the problems of consumer culture have made it more resilient. This is because our dissatisfaction with the culture is expressed through more consumption. Consumption has become our model for dissent, our model for freedom, our model for political activity. All alternatives to consumer culture—the simple life, the spiritual, the traditional, the local—become variant consumer fantasies. Consumption is a social problem and it is offered as its own solution.