Moving Beyond the Consumption Myth

Consumption: the act of consuming. Americans lead the world in consumption (in many different ways) and we consume just about everything. Even those who think they aren’t consumers actually are. There are the commodities we consume, the food we consume, entertainments, education, office supplies, clothing, cleaning and beauty products, and we could probably argue that we even consume our pets.

In writing a dissertation about Disney, the Consumption Myth is something I keep running into. The Disney Critics are quick to point out that the only thing Disney offers us is stuff to consume, thus Disney cannot provide anything of significance beyond that. So, I’m constantly having to defend this point.

There are two components to Disney consumption:

  1. Disneyfication – This is when a story or fairy tale is adapted into a Disney-style visual program (such as a film or television show) that is sanitized and remarkably less “Grimm.” This process takes a story and makes it acceptable for the American mind-set, including emphasizing cultural mores that are not otherwise present in the “original” story. This is the core of the PCA paper that I realize I haven’t posted here yet. I’ll get to that one another time.
  2. Disneyization – This is the impact of the Disney Corporation’s business model on the larger society. Coupled with the McDonald’s/Ford assembly line, Disneyization has created two delivery systems for consumption: the themed environment, in which a particular theme is maintained throughout the entire experience, from the attitudes and behaviors of the employees to the general ambiance of the place; and the notion that consumption is a fun experience. Increasingly, businesses have turned to the specialized theme environment to compete for our attention, and increasingly they’ve gone out of their way to entertain us. This is, according to George Ritzer, one of the reasons why small business are getting run out by Big Box – they just don’t have the ability to keep us amused while we consume.

So then, what are some examples of Disney that I am consuming in my own home?

  • My annual D23 membership and subscription to the twenty-three magazine.
  • My Disney dvd/blu-ray collection, including the D23 exclusive Walt Disney Treasures Box Set.
  • Mouse Ear hats.
  • Mickey Mouse kitchen accessories, including apron, oven mit, and soap dispenser.
  • Epic Mickey video game and collector’s edition walkthrough guidebook.
  • Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series, in hardcover with a couple autographed.

And more, but there’s also the indirect Disney consumption that is found on my Disney shelf: books and articles devoted to all things Disney, and not necessarily published by Disney. So in this respect, I’m consuming the idea of Disney.

But rather than criticize Disney for its mode of consumption, I think it’s time to accept that consumption is a key part of the modern American psyche. And, instead of criticizing us for imposing our modes of consumption on the entire world, consider that the entire world is guilty of linking consumption with democracy since World War II. To be able to consume is an act of empowerment and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But this equation dates back to the early eras of American history. From the first landings of pilgrims on the Atlantic coastline, we have been consuming the land. Manifest Destiny is a theory of consumption that pushed us West under the guise of a “civilizing mission.” First we consume the land. Then we consume the industries that make things more pleasurable – running water, gas light/electricity, public transportation. And so on, until we start consuming stuff. Early Mickey Mouse merchandise was not limited to only toys, but also to stuff people use: watches, writing tablets, drinking glasses, etc. Tourists would come to this country to buy these symbols of empowerment, so corporations thought to make it easier for them and sent their respective consumption modes over there.

The danger of the Consumption Myth is when the consumption turns into an addiction, which is part of the underlying message of 1999’s Fight Club. This has gotten much easier in the last 20 or so years with the push of credit cards onto younger people, who then grow up to have kids and fail to teach these new kids about the dangers of credit cards, and so on. Couple with that this pervasive illusion within America that all people should have a higher education, which has lead to a greater consumption of education (and educators, I might add…), which, in turn, has lead to greater numbers of student loan debt. Or the other channels of debt: good luck trying to buy a car or house with cash (as our grand-parents tried to encourage us) when they cost of these commodities is through the roof (and don’t get me started on Home Owner’s Associations). This is when consumption becomes worth of all of the criticisms.

I’m sure there’s something to be said about an overload of pleasure and something about fetish, but that’s an area of Freud I’m not as familiar with yet.

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