She has a weekly newspaper column in which she muses about the sex lives of thirty-somethings in New York City in particular, though presumably with implications for contemporary urban dating everywhere. Ostensibly each weekly installment of the show is an audio-visual rendition of her column, frequently rounded off with a summary observation or even a moral.
Broadly speaking, the genre that Bradshaw and Bushnell ply falls under the heading of advice. In this respect, Carrie is quite clearly a practical ethicist or moral advisor. As she speaks, the question or problem she intends to tackle this week often simultaneously flashes on the screen of her computer.
Then the episode moves from the essayistic mode into narrative, though sometimes, in concert with the voice-over narration, the words from her column interrupt the flow of the imagery. Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. Like a great deal of practical ethics as featured in newspapers, Sex and the City approaches its issues of conduct anecdotally rather than argumentatively.
Nor is the counsel it brokers ever particularly heavy-handed, since the multiple story-line approach that it has toward its animating questions from program to program works against the suggestion that one size fits all. Why does that need to be interrogated?
Surely, it can be said that that is an altogether morally wholesome, if not utterly platitudinous, life-plan to exhort. But, I shall argue, that the kind of life that Sex and the City showcases is more complicated than the preceding thumbnail sketch allows, even though that sketch is generally accurate as far as it goes.
Consumerism 9 Consumerism as a way of life for significant portions of the populations in the economically developed countries of the North Atlantic and elsewhere, including Japan and the Asian Tigers, became an increasingly familiar phenomenon toward the end of the third quarter of the twentieth century.
As more economies, such as China and India, join this group of advantaged nations genuine questions arise about whether or not the Earth possesses enough resources to sustain this kind of lifestyle globally.
It seems fair to hypothesize that this transition first became most evident in the United States, beginning in the first part of the twentieth century. As an industrialist his innovation was to figure out how to make cars cheaply. As an economist his discovery, which was possibly even more momentous, was to turn ordinary folk into consumers and, consequently, to create a sustainable mass market.
Soon everyone had to have a car. Other businesses followed suit. And consumerism was off and running. Consumption, understood in the most basic way, is a necessary part of human life. What is fundamental to consumerism, as I am using the term, and, as I think as most other commentators use it, is that, consumerism, properly so called, involves the acquisition of goods and services that, relative to the society in question, do not count as bare necessities.
Our needs include biological ones, as well as material, social, cultural, and psychological ones. Moreover, this is often achieved by making consumers think that the products on offer can be ingredients in the construction of the kind of person we want to become. Frequently, we are encouraged to crave this stuff because it is associated with lifestyles that strike us as attractive. We want the stuff, in other words, because we think it will grant us entry into the lifestyle we covet.
But the desire for such a TV is precisely the sort of hankering the electronics industry wants to engender in consumers. Creating desire is as important as creating new products to be desired. That is, perhaps predictably, why the advertising industry grows apace with the rise of mass consumerism.
For, advertising abets the spread of consumerism across a widening variety of products as well as across an expanding diversity of peoples otherwise known as customers. Members of that society are invited to see themselves reflected in their purchases.
I shop, therefore, I am. By associating commodities with self-esteem, consumerism, as a system, keeps the markets expanding. Whereas once restraint was the order of the day, impulsiveness rules the consumer society.
In order to convince people to step onto this treadmill of desire, buying gets represented not only as a mode of gratification, but of personal expression, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Sometimes people are encouraged to buy things just because it is fun, and, in addition, its purchase signifies that you are a fun kinda guy. First, the desire for this brand of sneaker sorry, running shoe is implanted across the whole population; everyone just has to have a pair.
But next year, another style of footwear is in vogue, and now everyone wants to have that. No one can keep up with the consumer market. As soon as one desire is satisfied, another one is instilled. Consumerism is not about fulfilling our desires; ultimately it is about arousing them. Bauman, Liquid Life Cambridge: And if things get boring, a trip to the department store can always stir things up. Passing time, walking down the aisles, bombarded by titillating sensations on every side, cravings excite us almost automatically and languor disappears.
As a result, for many an afternoon at the mall is itself a form of entertainment. Consumption is frequently presented as being pleasureable in and of itself as well as being a means to pleasure. Call it shopping as amusement. Or, this toothpaste will make you bright and vivacious in a way that men find bewitching.
As Richard Eliot says: That is, through consumption, consumers attempt to construct a self image not only for others, but for themselves. Ethics and the Evils of Consumerism 25 Even supposing that consumerism, as just described, is a lifestyle recommended by Sex and the City, we still need to be explain why it is an ethically questionable lifestyle, if we intend to chastize Sex and the City for advocating it. It turns out that consumerism is ethically challenged in several different respects. People in developed countries spend large amounts of money on different brands of bottled water that are barely discriminable from ordinary tap water, but which promise to imbue consumers with an aura of Gallic or other sorts of sophistication, while, at the same time, people all over the world are suffering from a lack of clean drinking water.
Thus, consumerism contributes to global inequality. Consumerism insinuates that you are free to be whatever you wish so long as you can pay for it, if only on credit. Consumerism thus involves a curious displacement of certain political ideals. Unfortunately, happiness is finally unattainable, since there is always something else to buy. That is, consumerism abets a tendency toward individualistic social solipsism, thereby undercutting the likelihood of concerted political action with others.
The first, and, undoubtedly the most obvious, is the way in which consumerism misallocates or unfairly distributes resources. Furthermore, some theorists suggest that by providing a surfeit of consumer goods, a populace awash with transitory pleasures is too besotted to notice the machinations of the powers that be and, anyway, happy shoppers are too preoccupied by being on the lookout for the next best bargain to see that anything is amiss.
Consumerism, on this view, is a way of distracting attention from serious public deliberation about questions of justice and equity.
Political parties spend vast amounts of money to curry for their candidates the same kind of gut reactions to which ad men hawking shampoo aspire to pander. Students think of themselves as consumers and make outlandish demands upon their professors on the grounds that they are paying good money for their education. Thus, they should be allowed to search their e-mails during lectures. They take note of the way in which consumerism has bad consequences for the national body politic in particular and the world community at large.
But consumerism also raises questions of personal or individual ethics. That is, consumerism may not only involve harm to others; it may, in addition, involve harm to oneself.
But with consumerism, it is generally not that any particular act is especially evil. Probably most consumer purchases considered individually are neither here nor their on the great moral calculus. It is rather that one of the most significant ethical problems that consumerism raises may be with the kind of person consumerism encourages one to become. Despite the imagery of self-fulfillment, consumerism may promote a squandering of opportunities.
We spend thousands on the sporting goods piled in our closets, promising to start a new exercise regime next week. Though promising the good life, consumerism serves up a much diminished life, a life enmeshed in fantasies.
Bauman, Consuming Life Cambridge: Call this the contradiction of consumerism: And yet, many of us living in a consumer society, at least to some extent, diminish ourselves in precisely this way.
Consumerism and the Mass Media 41 The mass media is central to the lifestyle imagery that stokes consumerism. It produces and disseminates most of it. Of course, it is no accident that consumerism and the advertising industry have flourished in tandem. They are, as they say, made for each other.
Mass consumerism needs desires of all sorts in order to thrive; and advertising specializes in awakening desire. Of course, there are entire television stations that are all advertisements, like the Shopping Channel. And a number of other late night TV networks in the United States turn over substantial blocks of time to paid programming dedicated to selling exercise regimes, strategies for success in business, etc.
And, as well, almost every cooking show, in various ways, is inviting the viewer to spend more time and money in the kitchen. Game shows display commodities in the form of prizes. How-to shows remind you of the wonderful tools you have not got.
Talk shows typically feature segments on new products and styles where the word fun gets tossed around a lot. And even though these phenomena are not technically advertisements, they function as such, as do the style and travel sections of newspapers and magazines.
So much of the information provided in these putatively factual reports essentially concerns what to buy next. Indeed, the line between reporting and publicity begins to blur. But the consumerist lifestyle is not only flaunted in ads and nonfiction programming. It is also built into certain mass media fictions. That is, some fictions are themselves celebrations of and de facto recommendations for consumerism. Many countries, like Great Britain, attempted to limit and to control the distribution of American movies within their borders by means of quota systems.
But these quotas were not only established in order to protect native film industries. It was also realized that American fiction films were, in effect, advertising American products. These stars, in turn, have become, according to Juliet Schor, the targets of what might be called upwards emulation. If you see it in the movies or on TV, you might think that you would like to have it too, or maybe even need it or, at least, something like it.
The movies, later followed by TV, often function as consumer training grounds.