Consumerism. Its an odd word. According to wikipedia “Consumerism is the equating of personal happiness with the purchasing of material possessions and consumption.
The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not fan of Karl Marx, quite the opposite. At best he was a fierce idealist set in flawed theory, at worst…well I won’t go there. But he did have one thing right, but for the wrong reasons. Consumption. The problem with consumption is not consumption in and of itself, it is the effects of consumption.
If you live in the United States of America, one reason you may feel challenged to pull ahead financially is that America’s culture is heavily focused on the consumption of goods and services by individuals and families. While consumption may help grow America’s mammoth $13.1 trillion economy, it can also hurt the long-term wealth of the average American family. Why doesn’t America’s culture focus on more fiscally responsible behavior like saving and investing? Because America’s powerful media and entertainment industry keeps American culture centered on the consumption of products and services by offering and providing advertising and other marketing solutions to America’s best and brightest marketers. It is the combined power of the industry and the marketers that keeps you and your family focused on spending your money on goods and services in the here and now instead of doing what is best for you and your family in the long run – building wealth by saving and investing.
Every day of your life in the United States, companies attempt to attract and hold your attention for just a few seconds so that they can tell you about their product or service, or simply make your mind aware of their brands. Such attempts are known as marketing, the process of moving you closer – mentally and physically – to the purchase of a company’s products and services. Hundreds of thousands of companies throughout the country and from around the world spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year on marketing. Each of these companies is desperate to tell you about the products and services it has ready to sell to you. Unfortunately for them, you are yet another busy American whose attention span is scattered and unfocused as you go about your day dealing with all kinds of personal issues related to living your life. Even worse for them, hundreds of thousands of other companies are also marketing to you, further distracting and dividing your attention. No doubt, a fierce corporate battle rages every single day for a piece of your mind.
To whom do all these companies pay their billions of dollars to get your attention? America’s media and entertainment industry. Companies pay media and entertainment stalwarts such as ABC, AMC, CNN, CBS, Clear Channel, Conde Nast, Discovery, DoubleClick, Dow Jones, ESPN, Forbes, Fox, Gannett, Google, HARPO, Liberty Media, Live Nation, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Miramax, MTV, NASCAR, NBC Universal, The New York Times, Playboy, Six Flags, Time Warner, US News and World Report, Walt Disney, and Yahoo! for access to your attention. The media and entertainment companies control the access to your attention because you demonstrate an interest in what they have to say or show you by reading their magazine, watching their cable channel, seeing their movie, listening to their radio station, watching their TV show, reading their newspaper, or attending their concert or other live event.
Free content: no such thing
In the jargon of the industry, media and entertainment companies design, develop, and distribute “content” that they hope you will value or enjoy. Content can be almost anything: a sitcom like Friends, a local news segment, a medical drama like E.R., a game show like Wheel of Fortune, an article on a current event in Time magazine, an editorial piece in the Wall Street Journal, a pictorial of the Grand Canyon in National Geographic magazine, or whatever. The media and entertainment companies know you value or enjoy their content when you continue to watch it, read it, listen to it, and/or pay for it. The content attracts and holds your attention as long as you continue to value or enjoy it.
While media and entertainment companies produce their content for your interest or entertainment, they do not view you as their customer. Instead, media and entertainment companies view the marketer – the company that seeks to send a commercial message to your brain – as its customer. After all, it is the marketer, not you, who pays the big bucks to the media and entertainment companies. You generally get the benefit of the content for free. Alas, the content is free to you only because the content is a means to an end – access to your scarce time and attention. Such access is what a marketer is paying for when it buys advertising or other marketing solutions that integrate into the media and entertainment company’s content.
Ultimately, the business of the media and entertainment industry is to attract and capture marketing dollars from companies seeking to deliver a marketing message to you, the viewer, reader, or listener of the industry’s content. As you watch, read, or hear the industry’s content, you receive messages making you aware that the marketer’s product or service exists. These messages further encourage you to dig into your pocket, pull out your cash or credit card, and then exchange your money (or, in the case of a credit card, the bank’s money) for the marketer’s product or service. It is in this way that America’s media-drenched culture helps to separate you from your money, hurting you and your family’s ability to build wealth and financial freedom over the long term.
“Better, faster, more attractive, stronger, more manly, more feminine…”
The media and entertainment industry is not evil. The industry is a business just like any other. Chances are you know someone who works in the media and entertainment industry. Employees working in the industry are not evil either. They are just doing their jobs. What makes getting ahead in America so difficult is that, on the whole, the media and entertainment industry’s employees are damn good at their jobs. They know how to attract your attention, hold it, and then deliver a marketing message to your brain that compels you to believe that you need a certain product or service to make you feel more attractive, more confident, more smart, more happy, more safe, more successful, more popular, more relaxed, more productive, or more fulfilled.
Once you believe the product or service will do for you what the marketer says it will do, you are likely to go out and exchange your hard-earned money (or, the money you borrowed from a bank by means of a credit card or installment loan) for the marketer’s product or service. Clearly, the media and entertainment industry and the marketers it serves are very powerful and persuasive forces in America’s culture. Both know how to manipulate us by appealing to our weaknesses and insecurities as human beings. We are all at risk of falling susceptible to their skills and tactics. Nearly every day, many Americans fall for them hook, line, and sinker.
Life Is Always Great in the imaginary world of consumption…
A real problem with living in America is that the media and entertainment industry and the marketers it serves are able to use their collective power of communication and persuasion to set the standard of what is “normal” in the minds of most Americans. Unfortunately, the normal they portray does not represent reality – that day-to-day life experience of most Americans. Instead, the “normal” foisted upon Americans by way of mass media channels such TV, radio, and magazines is only normal in the land of make believe, that faraway imaginary place known as La-La Land.
For example, do you really believe that…
* …the characters on the sitcom Friends can really afford the huge apartments they share in New York City working at the jobs that they do?
* …buying and owning a new Ford truck – “Built Ford Tough.” – will make you more manly and more respected by your friends and family?
* …drinking Bud Light beer will make sexy, young women give you come-hither looks while they strut around you in teeny-weeny bikinis? (damnit!)
If you can honestly answer “Yes!” to any of these questions, check yourself – there is a harsh reality out there for you. Back here in reality, buying and owning a new Ford truck will not make you more manly or more respected by others. Most people will not even notice a) that you drive a truck, b) what brand it is, or c) whatever beguiling effect it may have on you. If they do notice, they probably do not really care. After all, your new Ford truck is just another truck out of millions on American roads today.
…But, Reality Is Where You Build or Destroy Your Wealth
In reality, buying and owning a new Ford truck will simply get you a truck to drive. Unfortunately, it also gives you many negatives:
* a large decline in resale value after you drive the truck off the dealer’s lot
* interest charges and other fees you must pay on the financing you used to buy the truck
* insurance premiums you must pay to cover liabilities and other risks you might incur while you drive the truck
* gasoline or diesel prices you must pay to power the truck’s engine
* maintenance and repair costs you must pay the Ford dealer or a service garage to keep the truck going down the road
So, according to your external influences you get more manly and more respect from others by buying and owning a new Ford truck. In reality, you get a new truck worth less than the price you paid, plus the opportunity to spend thousands of dollars more on interest, insurance, fuel, and maintenance services.
The media pumps you up and makes you feel good emotionally. Reality delivers you the “real deal” and transfers your hard-earned cash (or, the cash you borrowed from banks) into the bank accounts of those who sold you their products or services. Had you not bought and owned the truck in the first place, all the cash you spent on the truck would instead be increasing your wealth as your savings and investments grow over time. When it comes to building wealth for you and your family, you are much better off keeping your head focused on reality than allowing the media and entertainment industry and the marketers it serves to whisk you away to La-La Land where you – and your wallet – are far more vulnerable.
Fight consumption, get ahead in the world
Clearly, the media and entertainment industry and the marketers it serves are powerful, pervasive, and persuasive forces in America’s culture that can have a negative impact on your wealth. The question for you becomes, “How do I protect my wealth from these powerful forces?” The answer is clear: take the voluntary actions needed to prevent these forces from wielding their persuasive powers over you in the first place. After all, the industry and the marketers do not have power over you unless you give them that power. Believe it or not, you are 100% in control. The real challenge is your willingness and ability to control yourself.
Just because the media and entertainment industry exists does not mean that you must heed its siren call of “buy! buy! buy!”. Life in America provides innumerable opportunities to avoid the industry’s strident efforts to numb your critical thinking skills and influence your spending behaviors to the detriment of your long-term wealth. To uncover – or rediscover – these opportunities in America, you can freely choose to opt out of the “normal” American life built, portrayed, and sustained by the media and entertainment industry.
There are many simple ways to exert your control over the media and entertainment industry and the marketers it serves. For example:
* Go for a walk or a hike with your dog
* Spend time sharing personal aspirations and goals with your family
* Share a picnic lunch with your spouse or partner in a beautiful park in your city
* Take a cooking or painting class at a local community college
* Invite several friends over to your home for dinner and lively conversation about matters important to our world
(NOTE: the private – yet so desperately public – lives of Hollywood celebrities do not count as matters important to our world)
* Write and share your personal views on a special interest blog or forum online
* Read a book on how to wisely invest your savings
* Teach yourself a software program to improve your personal productivity
* Exchange long emails with a friend or family member living overseas
In other words, go out into America and do things that do not rely on the media and entertainment industry. Do things that tend to enhance your practical knowledge, your marketable skills, and your personal relationships and experiences. These concerted actions on your part can improve the quality of your life and, as you will soon discover, the lives of others. Where you can improve the lives of others is where you will establish and grow your wealth over time, right here in reality. After all, it is in America, not La-La Land, that you should be looking to get ahead in America.