Juliet Such high consumption creates an environment of high

Juliet
Schor’s The New Politics of Consumption
and Why Americans Want So Much More Than They Need is particularly
insightful. It evaluates American consumerism and offers solutions to our
currently broken system. In the article Schor to showcases the ever-growing
divide between the rich and poor, and how our consumerism is exacerbating this
trend. She highlights that the gains from the richest in America far outpace the
rest of the population, and that the increase in income from the top 20% is
jeopardizing the financial security of the bottom 80%. There are numerous
scholars that believe getting income into more people’s hands is the solution
to the problem, but Juliet Schor disagrees. She finds that the consumption
methods associated with an increase income would simply further entrench
current social inequalities and unequal distribution of income. Schor then puts
forth the idea of competitive consumption, which is the idea that people spend
more in order to keep up with the norms of a certain social group called the
“reference group”. Such high consumption creates an environment of high
spending and low saving that puts a worrisome stress on households. Due to
competitive consumption what is considered an acceptable income is very
difficult to obtain, as an acceptable income is defined using others as a
reference. Over time, the people who are used as a reference have changed. In
the past, neighbors were used as a reference group, which is beneficial because
it creates more realistic goals as the people who live around you usually share
a similar socioeconomic background as you. However, the reference group has
shifted towards people around you in the workplace. This is problematic because
at work, your interaction with bosses and executives skew your perception of
what is adequate in terms of income. Due to this phenomenon, many aspire to be
in the upper class, yet 85% of the population simply does not have the means
currently to truly make this a reality. This growing aspirational gap is
overcompensated by the increase in consumption by those who don’t have the
means to be in the upper class. Advertisers make it worse, because as people in
the middle and lower class watch more television ads, which in turn means they
consume more television ads that exacerbate consumerism. Schor thus finds “New
Consumerism” to be defined as the growing gap between income and aspiration, which
only further entrenches the way in which the middle and lower class,
particularly, have drastically changed the way they consume.

This section of the readings has its distinct
strengths and weaknesses. A key strength is the intuitiveness of the reading when
you first read it, because the ideas have a very clear and logical flow. They
build off one another such that the current argument strengthens the one that
came before it. The author makes claims of the growing income gap, which she argues
is due to the higher levels of consumerism from the lower and middle class.

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This consistent form of creating followed by strongly reinforcing an argument
makes the reading decidedly compelling. 
The writing also concerns itself with the daily lives of almost everyone
in America, making the text highly relevant for our society today.

Although the text has a very coherent flow, it
falls short when it comes to empirics. There are a few references to numbers
that support the author’s claims, yet not enough for her to cement the ideas
she is putting forth. The numbers on the income and aspirational gap are
readily available, but scholars also almost ubiquitously support them. The part
of the reading that truly requires more evidence to support it is the increase
in consumerism of the lower and middle class because this idea is not
unanimously supported. Furthermore, Shor’s provision of numbers relaying her
root causes in consumption increase is vital. This is where the reading is less
rooted in empirically proven facts. Although the reading is well-structured,
easy to follow, and is very logically sound it is not empirically confirmed. Empirical
confirmation is critical because it demonstrates that the concept is real
through unbiased numbers.

The next section of the reading offers solutions
that combat the adverse effects of New Consumerism. The first of these
solutions is that everyone should have the right to a good standard of living by
focusing on our needs over our desires. An increased focus on the quality of
life as opposed to a shift towards increased materialism is what will help
bridge this gap. With this focus in mind, the quality of life of the middle and
lower class has the potential to drastically improve. Schor continues by
stating that an increase in access should be explored rather than the
exclusivity implied by “New Consumerism”. The retail industry should be exposed
for pushing more upscale products when there is no legitimate need for these
upscale products. She then finishes by stating that the only way for this to
occur is through a consumer movement and government policy. These policies
should favor the average consumer through policies that oppose advertising,
which targets the middle and lower class. Lastly, Schor advocates for an
increased tax on luxury items.

I believe that this section was pointedly compelling
because it offers broad solutions combined with specific policy changes that
can be effective for the American lifestyle. The arguments put forth were
motivating in light of change, as they presented clear paths to reach these
goals. This is where I believe the reading was the strongest, by delivering an
easily digestible message coupled with legitimate ways in which we can change
the status quo for the better.

This analysis is critical to how we interpret
contemporary media formats. The reading outlines how these formats of media
spur consumerism that causes problems for almost everyone in America. This
reading forces us to look at media and advertising in a different way. We are
able to analyze media in the way that it shifts American consumerism. Contemporary
media preaches ideals of exclusivity that are actively consumed by the middle
and lower class. These concepts force the middle and lower class into a cycle
of high spending and low savings in an attempt to reach their reference group,
which are in this case the people on the form of media you are consuming. The
increasing shift from a need-based society to a desire-based society via media
and advertising is problematic especially for the middle and lower class. This
then extends to the way in which we interpret and understand diverse popular
culture forms. We are able to understand that the prevailing forms of culture
are largely skewed in favor of consumerism. Many popular culture forms on the
surface may seem harmless, but when the subliminal messages are interpreted the
truth is revealed. Whether it is fashion, film, television, sports, magazines,
or advertising the prevailing theme of imparting the general population with
the need to consume is a common thread. Schor’s work compels her readers to be
aware of what is going on around them and able to consume mass media in a more
intelligent manner.

The show Million
Dollar Listing idealizes the existence of “New Consumerism”. In the show,
extravagant houses are sold for millions of dollars, which make it, seem
commonplace to own such an expensive home. This is truly the aspect that makes
it problematic for the average viewer. The ability to afford a house in this show
is portrayed as the standard. The ideology that the show conveys is that the
way of living portrayed in the show is the way that everyone should live. The
content itself seems to be harmless on the surface as simply gives insight into
the world of a luxury realtor in New York. However, the subliminal ideology is
vastly different because it portrays an image that owning expensive houses allows
you to be accepted into society. By looking at the show through Schor’s framework,
it is clearly conveyed that “New Consumerism” is at play.  Certainly, viewers of the show are vulnerable
to its subliminal message, coercing them into desiring such homes Million Dollar Listing is a perfect
example of a show that illustrates exactly what the author is trying to convey.

It displays the sheer amount of wealth held by the top 1% and the fact that
nobody in the middle and lower class can truly hope to achieve that economic
status. This is where the show details the income gap that the author was
referring to, but the aspirational gap is also conveyed through this show. The
show imparts upon its viewers a sense of longing to be a part of the upper
class, which makes it an active contributor to the lifestyle of consumerism
that involves high spending and low savings, in turn placing a large financial
burden on middle and lower class families. 

Schor demonstrated how the media that we consume
everyday conveys messages that advocate for entrenching of consumerism in our
society. We have always been aware of the growing income gap between the rich
and the poor, but the aspirational gap is one that many people are unaware of.

We fail to realize that our society is moving towards a materialistic one, where
everyone aspires to be rich. In attempts to feel rich we spend money on luxury
items, both of which we don’t necessarily need. The cyclical process of
consumerism leading to the widening of the aspirational and income gap is
fascinating. It displays the extent to which media controls our lives and how a
television show about buying houses can push us towards a lifestyle of avid and
problematic consumerism.