Invisible Puppeteers: Consumerism’s False Persona (Pt. 2)

Andrew Wu

July 14, 2023

I was promised happiness, love, belonging, and leisure, but it was all just a facade. How could something priceless ever be bought? How could something non-physical ever be traded? Consumerism has exploited humanity’s own desires for its own benefit.

During the early days of the print media era, advertisements appealed to human rationale, presenting lengthy facts about why someone should buy their products. However, this approach is inherently flawed because humans are irrational beings with different instincts and desires, and rationality varies among individuals. Some individuals are very educated and others aren’t. Consequently, a rational approach based on complex reasoning is inaccessible to certain individuals.

In the case of politicians, language is often "dumbed down" in favor of making the message more accessible. Thus, larger number of supporters could support a message. Consequently, it becomes necessary to compensate for this simplification by appealing to pathos. This trend persists, leading to an increase in polarized language and generalization.

Similarly, appealing to the irrational and instinctual aspects would attract a wider audience in advertising. This doesn't mean that rational reasoning would disappear completely, but rather that it would be utilized less. Modern advertising has predictably taken this path, targeting humanity's instinctual needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs, including love, belonging, esteem, respect, and so on, would be exploited.

By the time video media emerged, a more interactive and visually appealing approach became possible. Thus, opening up alternative advertising strategies. For instance, beauty advertisements exploited individuals' self-esteem to look pretty. In simple terms, the message told viewers, "buy my product, and it will solve your problems." While no individual would consciously believe this rationale, it is subtly implanted throughout the media. Product placement featuring an attractive actor in a movie. Idealized images could showcase a product's elegance. Unrealistic beauty standards fuel insecurity. 

Professor Sut Jhally refers to this as an "image-based" culture. Advertisements aim to make consumers “imaging” themselves or imagine themselves as possessing the value or aspects projected by the advertisement. In other words, selling consumers false promises and fantasies.

Consumerism inevitably disappoints everyone, as they are purchasing something that cannot truly be bought. People essentially trade off their time and human values for superficial objects that promise fulfillment. For instance, the "iPad baby" stereotype or parents buying toys for their children. The money spent on these objects requires time away from the family. Moreover, replacing genuine human interaction with superficial possessions. Thus, deteriorating mental health, as their true needs are not being met. 

Consequently, many individuals feel "overstimulated" or alienated by consumerism, which resonates with my own experience. I find it often hard to connect with people, as people constantly worship money like a God.  It is important to note that money is necessary for some happiness, as it covers essential psychological needs like food, water, and shelter. However, once those needs are met, happiness does not necessarily increase. In fact, excessive wealth can potentially worsen happiness.

However, overconsumption does have its benefits, as it translates into increased corporate profitability. Greater profitability leads to higher incomes and increased production. Therefore, more income leads to more spending, thus more demand and the cycle repeats.

While advertisements can sometimes be overwhelming, it is necessary to sustain our current economic system. If the effectiveness of advertisements were to decline, it would likely result in reduced wages and production due to a decrease in demand. However, this comes at the expense of society's mental health and promotes a culture of superficiality.

Having a balance between economic growth and well-being is crucial for a sustainable and fulfilling society.