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The Culture of consumerism

What Barbie Dolls
Have to Say...

The Culture of Consumerism
Christopher Lasch

Start | The Celebration of Waste | Resistance to Creative Waste | Spending for Prosperity
The Affluent Society | References

Resistance to Creative Waste.

This open celebration of waste, so obviously incompatible with the ideals of thrift and saving in which most Americans had been raised, met with a good deal of initial resistance in the business world. Henry Ford (1863–1947), a pioneer in the technology of mass production, took an unfashionably narrow view of consumption. In 1926, he declared that Ford owners represented the "vast majority [who] cling to the old-fashioned idea of living within their incomes." A year later, he brought out the Model A and immediately froze its design, to the dismay of the advertising industry. His intention, he said, was to manufacture a car "so strong and so well-made that no one ought ever to have to buy a second one." But Ford's rival Alfred P Sloan (1875–1966) had already pointed the way to the future by introducing annual model changes at General Motors. By 1927, his Chevrolet was outselling the Model T; the introduction of the Model A, notwithstanding Ford's hatred of extravagance, was itself a concession to the principle of "creative waste," as the advertising consultant Christine Frederick called it (Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, pp. 157–159). Eventually Ford capitulated to fashion and allowed his designers to introduce new models every year, like his increasingly successful competitors.

The Great Depression forced millions of Americans to spend less freely than before, but it did not revive respect for the simple life. Walter B. Pitkin (1878–1953), a Columbia professor, warned advertisers that hard times might encourage a "return to the primitive, a back-to-the-soil type of living" (Marchand, pp. 300–301). Instead of deploring such a prospect, a handful of prominent figures actually welcomed it. Senator John H. Bankhead (1872–1946) of Alabama called for an agrarian revival, a "restoration of that small yeoman class which has been the backbone of every great civilization." Ford himself, still unreconciled to the culture of consumption, launched an abortive movement back to the land in 1932: "The land! That is where our roots are. No unemployment insurance can be compared to an alliance between a man and a plot of land" (Schlesinger, The Age o f Roosevelt: The Coming of the New Deal, pp. 361–363).

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