Entry 3: Response to "Setting the Course: 1900-1930"

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Hi all:

This reading is a bit long, but not hard, mostly facts, history, mixed with analysis.

It's about the development of consumerism in the early part of the 20th century.  That was an amazing time.  Much like our own.  Very rapid changes and adjustments, of course, for human beings as a result.

Hard to believe but back then Henry Ford said he was going to make just ONE car, and it was going to be a damn good one.  But then a man named Sloan, who worked for GM, came up with the idea of different models for different years and economic groups.  Today we take that for granted, but it was not always so.

For this entry pick a quotation (could be a paragraph long), type it into the comment box, and then say why you picked that particular quotation.


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"Packaged goods also assumed new symbolic meanings. The generic cracker in the barrel and the potato by the pound were gradually replaced by the products of a vast and diverse processing industry: Cambell and Heinz offered precooked soups, condiments, and vegetables in quantities for single-family meals; -"(Cross, 32)

This quote says a lot about the quick industrialization of our 18th century. The expanding consumer society built a kind of structure for our mobility within our community. For example, the new popular fad of "fitting in" was not "seeking status, but to simply try to be among the majority"(Cross, 26). Just like how Henry Ford decided to build one model that would fit for all buyers, this simple idea of mass production led to how our society became today. It's funny to think that fitting in is the new way to stay with the crowd! I am very shocked because I never really thought about how today's date still follows that trend. The only difference is that there is a new crowd that is starting to pop up, and they are called the "Hipsters". Yes, this term was new to me too and I just learned about it last year. This group believes that main stream is TOO main stream, and they try to break this following of trends by starting their own style to stay away from the trendy. The only thing they don't understand is that the companies of "top" style see being "Hipster" as the new fad, and they take the hipster idea and run it through the clothing shops like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters. America has become sucked into a world of status, and teens back a couple decades used to be the top consumers on the chart. I believe that they still are today due to the fact that social status is most important to them. The idea of fitting in is integrated and runs through their minds. Even when they're old enough to shop for their own families- they will decide to pick up a can of "Cambell's" instead of standing out and choosing a generic brand. It's the only thing they- we- know.

"The myth of mobility often was more humiliating to the relatively poor American than permanent low status would have been to a member of a caste society. Low income and a dead-end job was clearly 'the penalty for and proof of personal failure'" (Cross 10).

This quote not only portrays the way that people view others but how people view themselves. One of the major goals in society is to get a well paying job that leaves room for fun. Not many are satified with a dead end job and like Cross states, it was "the penalty for and proof of personal failure" (10). Although failure is a rather extreme choice of word, most people would not be saisfied with a dead-end job. This qoute generally covers the entire college population. People go to college to hopefully get a good career after earning a degree. If the "humility" or dissatisfaction of having a dead-end job there would be no point in going to college. This ties greatly to consumerism because college students pay for their education. Students pay thousands of dollars to better their chances of getting a good job. The quote shows that people are willing to take risks to achieve a higher status even if it doesnt gaurantee sucsess.

"Listerine mouthwash became a necessity in the bathrooms of millions of Americans when, in the 1920's, ads warned the insecure that "halitosis" (offensive breath) unbeknownst to them could ruin their careers, love lives, and friendships unless prevented with daily use of Listerine" (Page 17)
This quote portrays the gullibility of the consumer society and the manipulation of the producers in both the 1900's and today. In many instances, people began to believe that they had a type of malady and had to purchase unnecessary items to obtain optimal health and finesse. People did in fact have better paying jobs and more leisure time and thus needed something to fill the slot, like friends and lovers. Producers came up with nonsensical ideas to convince people that they need to do, say, and purchase things they would't normally do in order to "keep up with the times" and not get shunned by the people in their lives. People bought things only to appear better off than their counterparts. People in today's society still do the same things by buying name-brand clothing and technological items, such as iPhone's to keep up with the ever-changing trends. Although the purchased items have changed, the idea of improvement moves on.

"Twentieth-century Americans discarded frontier values-Lincoln's old idea of the democracy of labor and property- and often replaced them with the new dream of display and consumption and the "democratization of desire," self satisfaction in the attainment of more and more things". (8)
This quote exemplifies the complete paradigm shift for the average American at this time. Old values included working hard for your land and living simply. The general public quickly replaced these old values and occupied themselves with displaying flashy possessions and consuming in great amounts. I find the last part of the sentence powerfully displeasing. It says that the only way people were satisfied with themselves was by buying more and more things. I can really relate to this; I see it in my life and the lives of people around me. I feel like the American public judges people by their possessions, and someone's worth is defined by the worth of their stuff. I can also relate to feeling unsatisfied with what I have, and having that desire for more and more. People have the need to buy, buy, buy to feel satisfied. A great example is "retail therapy". We've all bought something just to make ourselves feel better or fit in more. The American greed instilled in this lifestyle is incredible. How much self-worth we put into getting unnecessary things for pure pleasure, or just because its the trendy thing to buy, is nearly disgusting.

“Even more important in accelerating American spending was the installment plan. American purchases of cars, pianos, and other big-ticket items nearly doubled over the 1898-1916 because of credit.” (13) I find this quote interesting because credit still plays a big role in consumerism today. With the economy being unstable, and unemployment still significantly high, many Americans rely on credit to survive. And of course credit companies and big business industry love that. While they may offer Americans a great bargain by offering a “credit card with no annual fee” and the required monthly payments “just as low as 20 dollars” the interest rate is where they really make their money. Even if people try to stay out of the credit world they will eventually be pulled in because in order to apply for a job, buy a car, or a home you need to have credit. It is also quite ironic if we think about it. “It taught them to set aside enough each month to make the payments, and this meant steadiness in work and play.” (13) Supposedly, installment plan was created to teach middle class Americans how to save while still being able to enjoy the luxuries that used to be only available to rich people. However, due to overconsumption, Americans often spend more than they can afford leading to bankruptcy. Purchasing luxurious items became too easy with a swipe of a card and a signature that we don’t think much about it and tend to get carry away. The idea that credit and installment plans were to help Americans live freely and happily turned into a trap as people buy more than they can actually afford.

"Immigrant parents sometimes were intimidated by their children's education and demanded their offsprings' pay packets for family needs. In response, the second generation often criticized parents for their ignorance of good English and flaunted their Americanness with new clothes and entertainments." I picked this quote because of how much I could relate to it. It's not entirely true as my parents encouraged my education and were happier of the opportunities that I have had available. I did however when I was younger, criticize my parents' ignorance of English and being different. Throughout my life, I was raised with the idea that being American was about getting a well-paying job, living in the suburbs, and having a small comfortable family. Being American did feel like buying the latest electronics and fashionable clothes. It was all about "keeping up with the Joneses". Advertisements in the news, television, etc. worked to make me materialistic when I was younger. While my parents stuck with their traditions, I insisted on assimilating to what I saw was normal on television sitcoms. I grew out of the idea but I can only imagine how this idea continues to enter children's' minds.

"While the new culture of spending gave identity to individuals, it also redefined the meaning of democracy in a nation where political involvement was in sharp retreat." This quotation got me thinking, if spending money gave identity to people in this new ever changing era, what was their identity before? Was it completely encompassed around family or did people base their identity around something else? Was there even a worry of having an identity or did that come around the time when people wanted stuff instead of actually needing certain items? Politically, people became less active since there was no need to advocate for farms, it was an industrialized era now. Citizens of America had it really good, they were enjoying life and all of there new gadgets coming out ever so often. There was no need for change in the country at the time, for the most part everyone was content and did not seek any sort of change. Reading this article and this quote makes me saddened that instead of finding unique, personal things to identify oneself with, people used materialistic things to earn a certain stance and identity.

“In the generation after 1900, consumption had become a substitute for conversation in a society where rituals of communication were already weak and growing weaker” (Cross, 21).
I found this quote interesting because it still has relevance in society today. However, more recently the use of communication has further suffered due to the use of consumerism as well as technology. I often hear adults complain about teenagers in particular who chose to communicate through text rather than in person or even by phone. These habits lead to negative consequences in that they cause people to develop weak social skills and become more introverted. Also, regarding consumerism, the behavior of using material goods to replace communication is dangerous because it causes people to view exterior appearance as a way to develop preconceived and often judgmental opinions.

"The car was clearly the bellwether commodity, and its Americanization powerfully illustrates the possibilities of a 'democratic' luxury...it was the rich man's toy" (Cross 11). This quote truly symbolizes just how luxurious the automobile became several years ago. It was seen as an item of prestige as opposed to as a necessity in life. People most definitely did not take it for granted, they rather yearned for it . It was a highly desired item that distinguished the rich from the poor. It's importance gradually increased over time and nowadays its just about one of the most essential things in life. I think it's safe to say that without cars life would not only be extremely difficult but almost impossible. I could not imagine life without having the convenience and immediate use of a car. Automobiles were known as luxuries many years ago, but in modern times it has come to be one of the most essential parts of life.

"The car was clearly the bellwether commodity, and its Americanization powerfully illustrates the possibilities of a 'democratic' luxury...it was the rich man's toy" (Cross 11). This quote truly symbolizes just how luxurious the automobile became several years ago. It was seen as an item of prestige as opposed to as a necessity in life. People most definitely did not take it for granted, they rather yearned for it . It was a highly desired item that distinguished the rich from the poor. It's importance gradually increased over time and nowadays its just about one of the most essential things in life. I think it's safe to say that without cars life would not only be extremely difficult but almost impossible. I could not imagine life without having the convenience and immediate use of a car. Automobiles were known as luxuries many years ago, but in modern times it has come to be one of the most essential parts of life although we take it for granted most of the time.

"In an economy that made luxuries like cars available to a majority (but not all), keeping up was not seeking status but simply trying to be among the majority"(10). I chose to write about this quote because I feel it accurately captures the idea of American consumerism. In the sense that when it comes to American consumerism it is not not necessarily based on what one person needs, but, what the majority seems to have. If the majority was a particular item, that item must be a necessity. The most obvious examples I could think of when trying to talk about this idea of consumerism, are items that almost every American household has. A television and car, there was a time when having a television or car was a luxury but, now, it seems weird to see a household not have a car or television. One item that is more recent that I could relate to, is the laptop. I remember when I was able to use my brothers laptop when I was around 10 or 12 all of my friends thought it was the coolest thing in the world, but, now if a child does not have a laptop, they are looked at as deprived. This example just shows how nowadays people are looking to what the majority has as the determinant for what item is deemed a necessity.

"Beginning about 1905, advertising innovators like Ernest Calkins advocated that modern psychology be used to link products with the desires and insecurities of consumers, thus creating a longing for particular items" (Cross 16). This quote truly exposes how businesses use tactics to make consumers buy their products. Targeting people's insecurities and providing a solutions for them through the products of these markets has and still does,attract many consumers to the the product being sold. These advertising tactics have been successful even in present times in things such as beauty products to hide skin imperfections and special shakes to help people lose weight. It is very interesting to read how businesses come up with all of these techniques to make sure their products are sold. Continuously attacking people's imperfections has continued to be the perfect way to attract the attention of many consumers. Consumerist society has only continued to expand on this idea through t.v commercials and billboards, continuously reminding us of our insecurities and our desire to try and fix them through these products.

"This was hardly a painless process: native cultures were crushed, traditional ways of life were case aside for the machine age and the modern market, and far more dreams of riches were dashed than fulfilled." (7)I chose this quote because I never realized how large the process of industrialization changed our culture in America. The impacts of industrialization has shaped how we live and how we see ourselves with products from food to clothing to transportation to products that we use like toothpaste. The advertisements had a great effect on consumers to buy things that would be a luxury in other countries. Us, consumers, bought everything that we thought we would want, but did not need. Now that I think about it, I believe that this idea of consumers and production has definitely been a large part of my day to day thoughts rather than thinking of family, friends, and things like culture or religion. It definitely shapes who you are when you buy products and becomes a cycle when you want more. We take a lot of things for granted when us, consumers, become materialistic.

"The 'Book of Etiquette' offered security with the essentials of authoritative social ritual. Such ads may have made people more superficial in their judgments of others and themselves, but these appeals were also rational and a advantageous... people judged others by their houses and cars: 'It's perfectly natural. You see, they know money, and they don't know you.'" (page 17) This quote demonstrates how rules that were imposed by society were utilized as advertisement tactics to draw social class differences. The population that made up the higher social class held pride for their exclusive, luxurious items. They recognized when others weren't up to their standard of living based off the items they owned and excluded them from social circles. The significance of this quote lies in the fact that even at the very birth of the United States capitalist society the upper class deemed themselves superior and unreachable. They kept their own interest at mind disregarding the less fortunate and even the middle class as sort of an inferior addition to their communities. The beginning of consumerism further emphasized the difference in social classes.

"Twentieth-century Americans discarded frontier values -- Lincoln's old idea of the democracy of labor and property -- and often replaced them with the new dream of display and consumption: the 'democratization of desire,' self satisfaction in the attainment of more and more things. (Cross, 19-20)
Old roots were to soon become a thing of the past. I feel as if the turn of the century and the revolutionary time period which was the early 1900's caused a shift in people's thinking. Rather than relying on the previous standards, with new opportunities in which people obtained, they began to think more materialistically. If someone had something, they also needed it as well. It was in the early turn of the century where we began to lose insight of what was truly a necessity and what was a luxury. Luxury and materials was starting to become a way of distinguishing one's class. Thus everyone kept consuming in order to be looked as the high tiered class of society. Consumption would soon there after become the norm and trend throughout the rest of the century and continuously keep that standard.

"What distinguished the American labor force was not so much high wages, but the fact that the salaries of well-paid skilled workers(often native) often put them at the same lifestyle level as the presumable "higher" class white-coller workers." Before this quote, the author mentions that unskilled workers had a higher wage than unskilled Americans. In America, people were able to live and feel lavish without having a whole lot of money. People owned cars and clothes in ordinary families. Immigrants were raised on this idea and felt acceptance because they were able to look like natives who have lived here all their life by dressing like them. Individuals aspired to have better consumer items because it showed to other people that they were apart of the same social class. What people owned portrayed their wealth.

"The surge in free time, personal income, and new products made possible a new consumer society. In turn, new spending opportunities helped Americans adapt to profound social change" (8).

I chose this because I felt so connected to the quote. As we talked about in class ( or it may have been a discussion in my other class ), we have gotten so much more free time as well as money after production and techonology has advanced. Everything was so much easier and there was less to work for, which in turn gave us more time to fool around. I always wonder how it was back then before this social change and definitely want to experience it

"As economic historian Stanley Lebergott notes, consumers used electric lighten, cars, prepared foods, and even medicines and health care to extend the greatest scarcity in life -- free time." (pg 12)

With the production and sale of a plethora of products, such as electricity, cars, and prepared foods, society was able to indulge in more free time. With more free time, Americans were able to spend more on products. There was now a rise of buying "luxuries" and people constantly desired more. Once new trends came around, people threw out their old items and bought the latest up to date items. People were starting to not be satisfied with what they had, succumbing to constant desire. This brings up the idea of boredom, a term rarely used before the emergence of consumerism. There now seemed to be a lack of stimulation and interest in many activities and things that at one point didn't pose a problem. Desire leads to dissatisfaction, and in a society constantly craving something new, there definitely was a decline in happiness. People thought, with the rise of consumerism, society would be happier, but this wasn't the case. People were never satisfied with what they had so they shopped. Later on, once trends changed and new products were created, people started to desire more. It's a never-ending cycle of dissatisfaction and the solution is to decrease your consuming and appreciate what you have.

"New consumer good brought more than physical comforts, pleasures, and mobility. They introduced new styles of life, especially fresh ways of accommodating the societal changes that gripped turn-of-the-century Americans." (Cross, pg. 8)

I chose this particular quotation because it explains how new consumer goods improved and helped contribute to the development of the consumerist society we live in. Most new consumer products have definitely changed our lifestyles. For example, smart phones have made it easier and faster to stay on track with our daily lives. We can stay in constant touch with our family and friends, keep up with the news, navigate our way to any destination, etc. It is only reasonable to assume that with the continuous advancement of technology, consumerism will keep expanding.

My Mom Said I would like this blog she was right you are a nice person and you write well

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Tingle published on December 7, 2012 10:54 AM.

Blog Entry 2: Response to Emergence of Consumerism was the previous entry in this blog.

Entry 4: "Why The Self Is Empty" is the next entry in this blog.

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