“These rocks don’t lose their shape, diamonds are a girl’s best friend” sings Marilyn Monroe as she dances while draped in jewels and surrounded by gentlemen in suits. In the Howard Hawks film, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) is followed by a private detective hired by her fiancé’s father to keep an eye on her. Lorelei is a gold-digging showgirl who pronounces her love for material items. This film was made in 1953, a time in history that marked an immense growth in consumerism.
Consumerism is the desire to purchase goods and services, and emphasized people’s economic freedom of choice. Films, television, and magazines promoted a consumer culture through the use of advertisements and the products placed in television and movie scenes.
Women’s magazines featured advertisements and editorial content about new products, making readers feel as if they needed these commodities to keep up. Advertisements play a crucial role in the growth of consumerism and economic growth, as they communicated to magazine readers and television watchers which of the hot new products were the best ones to buy.
Just like magazines, when we see characters on shows and movies wearing expensive clothes, living in a fancy home, and driving a nice car, we might assume that this is the way people live. However, it is important to note that the shows and movies are a heightened reality, and the characters have luxurious goods because it makes for an entertaining half hour (and the budget per episode is higher than our monthly budget). When we sit down on the couch and flip through the channels to find our favorite show, we want to escape reality and project ourselves into this imaginary world. I don’t want to necessarily see the world I live in everyday, but a “reality” that is more glamorous or whimsical.
Sometimes we consume to fill a void or to make us happy. This happens quite frequently through the dangerous act known as “retail therapy.” If we have a bad day, get a low test grade, or just feel down in the dumps, new shoes are a quick fix. However, this is an impulsive decision that we may later come to regret.
In one of my classes, we discussed the guilt consumers may feel when they purchase goods that are sweatshop-made. After reading this article, I thought about what I feel when I purchase a good. Retailers such as TOMS and FEED Projects are guilt-free brands because they give back for every product you purchase. However, what about my Nike running shoes or the dress hanging in my closet made in Asia? Where do our things come from and if they are made in an environment where the conditions are dangerous and the pay is low…do we feel guilty? And if we do feel guilty but continue to buy those products, are we bad people?
Consumerism may have blown up in the 50s, but it still exists today. If we are what we buy, we are a lot of different things. Just as technology has permeated our worlds, consumption overpowers us and is something we do without sometimes even realizing it. Even when we watch a commercial or flip through a magazine, hundreds of products are imposed on us, and we take note of it in the back of our minds. Is it right to live in a world where products are our best friends? Have we lost touch with the important things in life?