Entry 4: "Why The Self Is Empty"

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Hi all:

"Why the Self is Empty" is an academic article.  It's too long, the print is too small, it's full of citations and names you won't (and don't have to) know.

Forget that stuff and read for the main idea.  Cushman is trying to talk about how consumerism shaped identity as older and more traditional forms of identity formation slipped away.

Or to put the matter another way: Cushman is interested in consumerism as a psychological rather than economic phenomena.

Do as you did with the last blog comment.  Pick a quotation you find interesting and then write about why you found it interesting (you agree/disagree; something you had not thought about before; important to over all argument; no clear or confusing).

You might end up using this article or parts of it in some way in your paper 1.  Clearly it ties in with parts of the other readings that all, so far, mention the role of consumer society in the creation of identity.

Thank you.


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"The process of studying humans is not the same as "reading" persons as "texts", but more like standing behind them and reading over their shoulder the cultural text from which they themselves are reading."

This intrigued me because the excerpt is saying that culture shapes who we are, every aspect of ourselves. It says that "culture is not indigenous clothing that covers the universal human; it infuses individuals". Our society is what makes us who we are, it says that we have no say in our actions, the things around us influence our actions. People see what we see in ourselves. People are not what they make themselves, but rather what society influences them to be. We are a tabula rasa that is constantly changing due to our environment.

"The thesis of this article is that the current self is constructed as empty, and as a result the state controls its population not by restricting the impulses of its citizens, as in Victorian times, but by creating and manipulating their wish to be soothed, organized, and made cohesive by momentarily filling them up." (pg. 30) This article states that in the modern era adults just aren't achieving self actualization or fulfilling their stage of euphoria. People feel internally and emotionally empty with no obvious solution to get rid of the feeling. As it was seen in Victorian times the state controls the people. However, during the Victorian Era the state was straightforward in ruling the people and asking of them whatever they wanted. It was intriguing to put into context that in our modern era the media uses advertisements as a sort of manipulation. The public sees advertisement in the every day life and they come to figure that attaining materialistic assets will fill their inner void. Contrary to popular belief, trying to become "whole" through the spending of money will prove to be a bottomless pit.

"Now a new paradox has arisen: One of the wealthiest nations on earth is also one of the emptiest" (38).

This quote for me really summarizes the entire reading. As the United States has grown in size and wealth it has become consumed by a consumers society. We live in a world controlled by advertisement wether we like it or not. Society has determined that we will always adhere to what advertisers want us to. Everyday we see ads and commercials selling products that will make us healthier, look sexier, run faster, and be a perfect person. Our own empty self desires to become the perfection that advertisement leads us to believe is perfect. If as a society we could grasp the idealology that everyone is perfect in their own self image then we would no longer live in the earth's emptiest nation.

First off, I'd like to say that I really like this article and everything it had to say about our consumer culture being a very empty, hopeless culture. I agree with nearly everything Cushman stated about our society losing value by constantly pursuing meaningless things we inflict value upon. There are many quotes that I could write about, but I picked this one:
"Ads seem to criticize and condemn the average consumer while glorifying the model, extolling a standard of beauty and mastery impossible to achieve." (Cushman 605)
This quote really spoke to me, especially as a female in today's world. Cushman is addressing the fact that advertisers thrive off of making the average feel inadequate and insinuating that their product will perfect flaws. However, what really struck me was that Cushman (and therefore advertisers!) admits that models and products are presented in IMPOSSIBLE perfection. Have you read a woman's or teen magazine lately? I can guarantee you that there is not a single photo in any magazine that remains unaltered. Yes, the models are extremely beautiful and their clothes, hair, and make-up look great. However, this is mostly due to photo alterations and touch-ups. They make models skinnier and more perfect. No one is like that in real life, but women yearn to be that unreal model. As a female, I buy make-up and clothes to compete with other girls. If others look better, I look worse, and so I NEED THINGS to make me feel more confident. And none of these things matter, and I can never be perfect, because, as stated earlier, its impossible to actually reach the standard that advertisers set. Yet, I still fall for it; I still buy clothes and make up. Thats what hit me hard, that advertisers have the power to make me feel inadequate and I buy into their game. And I know for a fact that I'm not the only one.

"The post-World War II self thus yearns to acquire and consume as an unconscious way of compensating for what has been lost: It is empty" (30). I chose to write on this quote because I feel that this quote basically embodies what the whole article is talking about. The quote essentially says that people born post-World War II are empty, and are trying to find themselves through consumption of materialistic goods. The author also points out other examples of emptiness expressed in forms of low self-esteem, confusion in values, and eating disorders. I believe that the author uses these examples to reflect onto our current society in a way to say that all of these disorders come from this post-World War II generation being empty. They essentially can not be full, and are always going to be let down by themselves because of the expectations that they give themselves. In conclusion the quote sums up the article, and I think it reflects greatly onto our modern society as our generation struggles with narcissism and low self-esteem at the same time, which could be a sign that our generation is an empty self.

“Ads seem to criticize and condemn the average consumer while glorifying the model, extolling a standard of beauty and master impossible to achieve” (35). While reading, I found this quote absolutely true. Our society became a world where we no longer have control on how our image will be presented. We have been raised as robots. There are advertisements in our everyday life everywhere we go. Even when we were young we were told what we should do and how we should act. For example, cartoons show girls as dainty and boys as tough. Through commercials and ads we are told that girls should be playing with dolls and ponies while boys should be into cars and legos. Ads have become so influential that once we see an item we believe we have to get it. “One prominent type of ad offers the fantasy that the consumer’s life can be transformed into a glorious, problem-free life… by purchasing and “ingesting” the product” (35). As we grow older, there are many imperfections we see within ourselves due to magazines showing us how we should look, dress, and even behave. We start to consume various products over the years to enhance our looks and to fit in with the crowd. We are forced into a world where we believe in order to be beautiful we have to be skinny and flawless. Some of us even spend thousands of dollars on plastic surgery. Since when did the world we live in became filled with Barbies and Kens? Since when did our natural beauty become ugly? The world we live in revolves so much around propaganda that we don’t even realize it. Everyday we are convinced how to live our life whether it’s our hair color, eye color, our clothes, etc.

"I believe that in the post-World War II era in the United States, there are indications that the present configuration of the bounded, masterful self is the empty self. By this I mean that our terrain has shaped a self that experiences a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning." I agree with this. Currently, families and communities lack the connection that has existed before. Families go out to shop or buy things for their children to please them when something is wrong. Before families would spend more time together talking to each other. Dinner was a special family event where everyone talked about their days. The difference now is that families gather whenever and eat with the television on. Consumerism has taken over people's lives. I don't think that there is an empty self but consumerism has moved in where tradition and community was.

"[...]Ads sell by convincing the public that a certain product is indispensable to their well-being or by implicitly addressing or exacerbating a personal fear in the customer that could be reassured or soothed by purchasing the product" (35). When reading this article, I found this quote to be very eye opening and true. Advertisements tap into the consumers' mind psychologically, making them feel like they absolutely need the product that is being sold. Presenting ads of people with flawless skin, perfect bodies and wearing the latest trends makes people want to recreate this "perfect" image by buying the advertised products. Addressing people's imperfections and providing solutions for them though their products gives people hope the product will provide "an instant, illusory cure, a transformation". Ads and articles presenting images of how one should look, creates insecurities leading them to these products that promises them solutions for these fears. Our society has become "empty" as the article states, making people vulnerable and gullible for these products that will supposedly provide them with the solution to their problems.

“It must consume in order to be soothed and integrated; it must “take in” and merge with a self-object celebrity, an ideology, or a drug, or it will be in danger of fragmenting into feelings of worthlessness and confusion.”(36)
I agree with most of what Cushman describes, the “empty self” seems to be the perfect embodiment of what it means, psychologically speaking, to be a consumer. The “empty self” that Cushman describes is a being that can only be satisfied with materialistic goods. In order to feel “integrated” or accepted it must consume what everyone else is consuming, luxuries. It is not as if the “empty self” was born this way rather its culture drove it to be an empty vessel. Cushman describes a self that must live vicariously off of the images advertisers put out. Something had to replace the sense of community and shared meaning that was lost, and the replacement turned out to be the perfect algorithm for a striving economy. Being consumers and idolizing the fads promoted by beautiful people has been taught to be the only way to fill the void which was created by society as a whole. The “empty self” continues to grow among new generations and seems to be on this endless cycle because of advertisers and societies’ eagerness to find out “what the next best thing” is. As long as advertisers continue using seemingly perfect models as their promoters, and people continue indulging their “empty self” in hopes of one day looking as beautiful and as happy as they do, the cycle will never end.

"Ads seem to criticize and condemn the average customer while glorifying the model, extolling a standard of beauty and mastery impossible to achieve." I can't help but to think about the saying of "how far is too far?". When people get psychologically brainwashed into thinking that the need to look a certain way and act a certain way, that imitation can certainly kill them. If ads say that you need to be a size 0, that society accepts you with that certain number, your mind wants to follow what "others" are doing. Perhaps global problems like anorexia, bulimia, etc have grown over time with the help of advertising. Problems like these have exploded with the fact that people feel self conscious and do not see themselves as what society know to be a "beautiful". How far is too far? When the world sees the numbers of suicide, death from eating disorders and illnesses of starvation grow rapidly, do they stop? So far not much has been done, sadly because of the fact that people want to make money, therefore want people to consume their products. The problem is that sometimes consumerism can in fact lead into psychological disorders which harms people on a daily basis. Consumerism goes much deeper than money and the growth of our country, it affects our everyday lives.

"Susman (1973, pp. 271-285) has demonstrated how, especially in America, the quest for developing a secular personality came to take precedence over building religious character. Unlike character, which is centered on personal moral integrity, advice manuals of the time taught that personality was synonymous with becoming liked by others. The self was conceived of as capable of personal change; impressing others and gaining their approval became an important aim in life, far outstripping the value of doing the morally correct act, which was dictated by one's character." (pg. 32)

With the rise of consumerism came the development of the fragmented self. In America, the building of a charismatic personality superseded the development of a moral character. We started to focus on impressing others, becoming popular, and achieving success. Our outer selves started to become more important than our inner selves, thus leading to the creation of the empty self. The empty self poses many problems in a our society. A whole field of study, psychology, was created to cure this "empty self." Although the empty self represents a reclusive, individualistic ideology, it is actually a loss of individualism and connection to ourselves. We've become automatons, easily controlled and manipulated by higher institutions. People who can't think for themselves are easier to control, thus higher institutions take advantage of people's desire for more.

I really enjoyed this article. It actually has changed my thoughts about psychology in general since I am a psychology major. It brought up a lot of ideas about how we use this kind of work to profit out of illnesses that have grown out of this idea of the empty self.

"But with an empty self, people always need." (34) I thought this quote was a revelation to me. I never actually thought about the pieces that make us are never as complex as we think it really is. The idea that consumerism and advertisements, and the idea of being materialistic has definitely changed who we are. We are pieces of the puzzle and we try to fit everything in like clothes, food, products, but it never is enough. It is a cycle that binds us to buying more and more. "Ads seem to criticize and condemn the average consumer while glorifying the model, extolling a standard of beauty and mastery impossible to achieve." (35) The idea of empty self makes way for the products always trying to beat us down until we try to achieve the "illusory cure, a transformation..." Of oneself. We try to fix ourselves and to adjust to the society's ideals.

“Because emptiness is, in part, an absence of communal forms and beliefs, individuals in the postwar era are thus particularly vulnerable to influence from cultural forms such as advertising that emanate authority and certainty. A good case could be made that many current advertisements are less a type of benign guidance and more a kind of coercive attack” (35).
I think this statement accurately depicts the influence advertisements place on society, most of which take advantage of the natural human weakness of insecurity. In order to greaten the chances of having a product sold, most companies create bold and sometimes aggressive messages to gain their audience’s attention. As a result, many people feel pressured into buying something that is in actuality unnecessary, but at the same time serves as another to filler of “emptiness”. Many people are never satisfied with life because of its infinite possibilities, which is why so many people are controlled by a media that promises more self-fulfillment with each purchase.

"A good case could be made that many current advertisements are less a type of benign guidance and more a kind of coercive attack. Ads seem to criticize and condemn the average consumer while glorifying the model, extolling a standard beauty and mastery impossible to achieve" (Cushman 35). This quote really stood out to me because i believe it is becoming more and more accurate in our society each day. If we really think about, advertisements are constantly telling us how wrong we are and that we should be doing this and that, and looking a certain a way. They're nagging us to buy into their products by pointing out all our flaws. Advertisements are everywhere and we just can't seem to escape them. They truly glorify their products to draw in consumers and they do this by making the average consumer feel inadequate about their life in one way or another. In fact, we give in to these tactics and fuel them to continue false advertising. Although we may not know it, we are the reason advertisements are consuming our lives. It is really just a never ending cycle that has us locked in.

"Culture "completes" humans by explaining and interpreting the world, helping them to focus their attention on or ignore certain aspects of their environment, and instructing and forbidding them to think and act in certain ways (Heiddeger 1962/1977)."
The idea of brain-washing is what I think of when I read this quote. The consumers of today's date are so bombarded with advertisements and informercials that they start to believe all that is shown. For example, all we know today is what we see on the media. It can be presented on the news or even hidden in children television shows. Our world is what we see, but what we see is limited to what is taught to us. We are taught how to eat, dress, and even talk! If other's do not follow a certain way or close to a certain way of being one with society, others start to look at them funny and even "ignore" them. Being ignored on a daily basis would send that person negative signals and eventually force them to change. This idea of changing behaviors has taken impact on every single thing we do, especially in public. Consumerism seems like the biggest player in shaping the society. It gets to decide on what's fashionable and what's out of date, and even if it may be necessary. Having people believe that an item or a luxury is needed would shape their beliefs in very expensive ways. (That is exactly what is needed) All culture does for us is try to explain who we are. How can we truly know who we are if our culture today strips us of our own identity to fall into "the crowd" and change us to be someone else?

"The current self is constructed as empty" (30). This short and sweet quote defines the whole context of the passage. It is the main idea. The self is empty refers to humans only know and react to how the world around them was at that time. We define our own limits. An example of the empty self goes back to post-World War II. People felt the need to spend money and act on impulse. This happens because our economy requires it to be. It needs people to have the desire to be consumers. Our country thrives on us being empty selves. Another example is culture. Humans require culture because it explains the world and allows them to "fit in".

"The central point of my argument is that in a world sorely lacking in community and tradition, the most effective healing response would be to address those absences through structural societal change by reshaping political relationships and cultural forms and reestablish the importance of their transmission." (37) I really liked this specific quote because it sums up the author's main point. Cushman is reemphasizing that the society we live in now has lost its value. We, humans, focus on the present day. We worry about insignificant things, which we swear are valuable, but in reality they're not. Most people have an "empty self" now, since our society has shaped us that way.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Tingle published on December 7, 2012 11:01 AM.

Entry 3: Response to "Setting the Course: 1900-1930" was the previous entry in this blog.

Entry 5: Response to "Consumerism versus Consumption" is the next entry in this blog.

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