Citizens and Consumers

Today a friend of mine said, “I can’t believe how politically disengaged young people are today.”

I said, “That’s because we’re consumers instead of citizens.”

I don’t know where that came from, it just flew out of my mouth as soon as I opened it. I don’t know if it’s right, but it certainly felt right when I said it.

Also, I don’t think it’s necessarily just young people. But anyway. I’m sure there’s a way to be both consumer and citizen, but it seems the traits of capitalism define us more these days than the traits of democracy. I’m not sure why, but whenever I hear reporters talk about “us” as consumers instead of as, well, people, I just get really unnerved for a couple of moments, and then try to carry on.

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3 responses

  1. I was having a similar conversation with someone last week. I suspected that people aren’t politically engaged when their lives aren’t really affected by anything serious—unemployment etc., and that yeah, perhaps they seek cures for short term problems in the more material. If they have no money, there’s always credit cards and loans… A deceiving form of empowerment. Perhaps it’s more younger people because they’re the ones growing up in this new culture.

  2. I agree with your assessment, and I think that younger people are not necessarily more prone to consumerism than older folks, but rather younger folk have spent a larger portion of their lives exposed to the consumer culture itself. Everything is a commodity in this culture, unfortunately even politics and education. One of my personal pet peeves is the idea that students are consumers of education. This practice results in grade inflation, which in turn promotes mediocrity, and we all know where that path leads. However,I still find hope because I find more and more people becoming self aware of the role of consumer that they have have been thrust into and they are fighting back.

  3. It’s no surprise that you’ve just published, you’re good with the words, my friend, but more especially with the insight. I also resent being grouped with the consumer “us,” largely out of self-recognition and shame. Interestingly, it seems that the shift in to consumption-based rather than production-based culture happened at the same time (nationally) as suburban development. It makes me think of that great film (I can’t remember the title) with Spalding Gray and the guy from the Talking Heads–the one where the women wear their lawns in a fashion show at the mall.

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