Marx argued that the capitalist economy leads to the fetishization of goods and services, and the devaluing of the worth of a good or service, and instead focusing on its price in the market. In many critical contexts the term is used to describe the tendency of people to identify strongly with products or services they consume, especially those with commercial brand names and obvious status-enhancing appeal, e.g. an expensive automobile, rich jewellery. It is a pejorative term which most people deny, having some more specific excuse or rationalization for consumption other than the idea that they’re “compelled to consume”. A culture that has a high amount of consumerism is referred to as a consumer culture.
To those who accept the idea of consumerism, these products are not seen as valuable in themselves, but rather as social signals that allow them to identify like-minded people through consumption and display of similar products. Few would yet go so far, though, as to admit that their relationships with a product or brand name could be substitutes for the healthy human relationships lacking in dysfunctional modern societies.
The older term “conspicuous consumption” spread to describe this in the United States in the 1960s, but was soon linked to larger debates about media theory, culture jamming, and its corollary productivism.
The term and concept of “conspicuous consumption” originated at the turn of the 20th century in the writing of economist Thorstein Veblen. The term describes an apparently irrational and confounding form of economic behaviour. Veblen’s scathing proposal that this unnecessary consumption is a form of status display is made in darkly humorous observations like the following:
“It is true of dress in even a higher degree than of most other items of consumption, that people will undergo a very considerable degree of privation in the comforts or the necessaries of life in order to afford what is considered a decent amount of wasteful consumption; so that it is by no means an uncommon occurrence, in an inclement climate, for people to go ill clad in order to appear well dressed.”(The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899).
Viktor Frankl had suggested that in the U.S., the engine behind consumerism is an extension of the “bread-winner” desire, an argument originally made by Veblen in his 1899 book.
“Overcoming Consumerism” is a growing philosophy. It is a term that embodies the active resistance to consumerism. It is being used by many universities as a term for course material and as an introduction to the study of marketing from a non-traditional approach.
Bill Hicks and Pier Paolo Pasolini were strongly opposed to consumerism.