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The Point: Overconsumerism

Published: March 14, 2008
Section: Opinions


Everyone knows that Americans are inundated with advertisements—with everything from print ads to commercials to “high concept” product installations, it’s no surprise that estimates for the number of advertisements we see daily are as high as 3,000. And while I fully admit that I’m writing this from a heavily branded Apple computer and wearing sneakers that were probably made by a malnourished Indonesian child, I’m here to say that consumer culture needs to back off a little. I just read an article about WizMark’s “Interactive Urinal Communicator,” a device that will play a ten-second promotional message…when you pee on it. That’s a sign we’ve gone too far.

What gives, corporate America? I’m pretty sure that even in 1984, people were allowed to use the bathroom in peace. It’s troubling that corporations have the power to invade our lives to such an extent, to force products on us that we don’t need, products that might even be unsafe (recent discoveries about Coca-Cola’s effect on the kidneys, anyone?) or manufactured in morally unsound conditions (child labor?).

It’s certainly true that we have the power to ignore advertisements and the ability to choose products that don’t use morally ambiguous production or marketing techniques. And it’s also true that advertising, as prevalent as it is, may not actually be that effective—it’s hard to say exactly what the correlation is between watching commercials and needing to buy new pants to validate your self-worth. But it’s getting harder and harder to avoid advertising—new methods put products more and more in the public sphere, to the point where the presence of brand names around us seems almost natural.

And it isn’t even just traditional products that are branded and marketed to us. Have you been in the Harvard Coop lately? They have an entire floor dedicated solely to Harvard t-shirts. Obviously Harvard has always been in league with Satan (that’s how they got hardwood floors in their undergraduate dorms), but isn’t it supposed to be an educational institution and not, you know, a tourist trap? How long will it be before Harvard renames itself “Harvard/Coca-Cola University” (Answer: Never, because they have a huge endowment that Satan gave them. But Brandeis, strapped for cash as it is, might try to auction off its name rights.)?

We should be able to take pride in the quality of our culture. I’d really rather not see laws made in the Gillette Razor Senate Building or have to watch a movie called “Citizen Kane Wears Nike Sneakers,” but that’s the direction things seem to be taking. We shouldn’t have to have our quality of life reduced or our experiences cheapened by the presence of corporate culture. Remember, the machine needs us. We don’t need the machine.