Title: Consumerism, Consumption, Consume
Warning: Meditations on consumerism and ambition from the perspective of the fifties, so if you're not in to that, then I guess?Perhaps two decades ago in the midst of a crisis stemmed from crashed expectations and empty pockets, he would have shown more temperance with the cash in his hands; excessiveness, careless satisfaction had been the been the boon of financial woes in the first place, and he understood the need to tighten his belt back then with only the hope that shiny new Rooseveltian deals would pull him out of the gutter nineteen-twenty-nine had left him in.
But this wasn't the Great Depression anymore, and the phase of Europe's own destruction had just ended. Now, well, now—now was the fifties. The dawn of the American century, Pax Americana. Conventional wisdom spoke to him not through Galbraith but through Barney and Fred and their Winston cigarette breaks. Now was the beginning of the affluent society, the mobilization of middle class income propensity in a new age of post-industrial aspirations to live a good life, and what better way than to consume, consumption, consumerism at its finest— for how else does he satiate his hunger?
Hungry wasn't a new sensation for America; starvation had clawed at his birth in a struggle for survival, desire strung from the words of Locke and Paine formulated his taste for independence, and the west had given him an appetite to grow and consume. Hunger was nothing new, hunger drawn from idealistic dreams and desires and the call to manifest a destiny as he trampled over westward come what may with rarely a glance to where his feet landed. Different cravings, different flavors, but the same demand for a supply of satisfaction with little guarantee.
Consumerism, consumption, consume—to consume was patriotic, and to be patriotic was American. This wasn't two decades ago, where conditions made spending an indulgent desire; this was the fifties, and in the fifties this was the new way of life, the ultimate reflection of success. To have was to succeed, and so America kept hungering: hungering for newer televisions, new cars and plastics and frozen easily-accessed food and everything commercialism told him he should have. He kept hungering, hungering for newer vices of mass destruction because there was no way those godless reds should have any more than he has, because growth and expansion was truly what the road to success was about right—
This was his century, Pax Americana. And he dared to keep it that way.
(Quietly, America wondered if this intrinsic hunger would ever be satisfied.)
Consumerism and mass production may have predated the fifties, but the decade certainly saw the rise and expansion of it with the rise of middle class American affluence.
The phrase 'conventional wisdom' is credited to have come from John Kenneth Galbraith in his book 'The Affluent Society'. This isn't quite true of course, but it's relevant to the theme of consumerism and consumption, so I suppose it's a give or take? In any case, it's meant to refer to basically accepted ideas among the public. Product placement was very much normalized in television during the fifties.
In the fifties the concept of being a patriotic citizen included being a consumer. I suppose it's no surprise, given how much the consumer needed to drive the post-industrialized economy which had just gotten out of the Depression, but you can pretty much see how it continues to affect American society today.
America is an ambitious youth, but one has to wonder if he will truly ever be satisfied. /cue quotes from the Hamilton musical