Mass – Part 02
See first part of study here.
The written matter below forms the second and last piece of the study on Consumer Culture in current society.
Based on my review of the work of various authors, a number of issues have been raised. These include the invasive power of mass communication, particularly advertising, and the manipulation, control and materialism that appears to be transparent in consumer culture. As a direct reaction to this, there are multiple designers who explore these issues in great depth. The works of counterculture designers address these elements as sociopolitical activists.
As a meme-based form of counter-propositions, Culture jamming is a subject that can offer transparency, in-depth meaning of its designated objective and at times be accompanied by a sense of humor.
Mediums such as detournement and subvertising, if executed well, offer and demonstrate the full potential of their purposes; bringing into consideration the reality that society does not revolve around, the message within the critical works is central to awakening consumers consciousness.
However, on another level the pieces should raise questions beyond what meets the eye and aim to address the bigger picture of how and why certain aspects of Western society are calling for change. The following will be my interpretations and findings of how designers Kalle Lasn & Peter Joseph explore the ideas covered by the various critical thinkers within the earlier part of this essay. Both these creatives know that there are solutions for the matters that they raise throughout their work and offer hope to the general public that there is an alternative to the current system.
The first designer to be discussed is the founder of Adbusters organisation, Kalle Lasn. His views on current Western society have sparked a global interest in consumerism and steered his observers to question the negative, ever-lasting effects of over-consumption. Lasn has initiated a variety of culture jamming activities that have been globally identified. He promoted the first annual ‘Buy Nothing Day’ through his organization Adbusters. This global event was founded by artist Ted Dave and it first took place during September 1992 in Canada, and since its launch it has lead onto millions (CNN interview, 2005) of people taking part in the protest against consumerism every year.
‘Buy Nothing Day’ is typically celebrated around the festive period, as this is when consumption is at its peak in a global scale. Even if the event results in a downfall of the profit for our economies, ‘Buy Nothing Day’ means that the dangers that come with mass consumption (global warming, deforestation, usage of fossil fuels, animal welfare, general waste and human inequality) are put on hold by the ones who fuel it, the consumers.
The potential for Buy Nothing Day to bring positive change is significant. If just for one day in a year there can be worldwide recognition of the effects of mass consumption and the reality of it, the problem of this one-off economic standstill becomes irrelevant. Raising awareness of a possible reconnection with nature and highlighting that materialism is not as important as many of us believe, this day has undoubtedly triggered a chain reaction in many people to think differently about their original preconceptions that should prove to be vastly beneficial as a whole.
Lasn creates a needed cause for concern amidst western civilization as he states in a speech for Typo Berlin:
“One billion, that’s 20% of the human population that consume 85% of all the goods in the global market place.” (The Future Of Design, [digital video] May 2006)
As a result of this statistic and many other problems within western society, he became one of the major figures behind the revolutionary Occupy movement that has gained global recognition since the first initiation took place on Wall Street, New York on September 17th 2011. There was no mainstream coverage in its early stages, so the people involved with the movement took it upon themselves to become their own form of mass media.
The main aim of the Occupy movement is to bring forward the importance of many relevant issues in today’s society by undergoing regular general assemblies (open to anybody) to compile a variety of problems that need to be confronted. This resulting in the public continuously striving to find solutions before its too late.
On November 5th I attended the general assembly of the Occupation at St Paul’s, London. As one of the guest speakers for the assembly, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party stated in her speech that:
“This is what real Democracy looks like.”
This very quote can sum up why the Occupy movement has gone global. Lasn said in an interview with CBC Radio (November 1st 2011) that this movement has taken place in over 1000 cities around the world. This is for entirely understandable reasons due to the repression and submissive attitude the governments have over their people.
Another designer that portrays consumerism and Western civilisation in a different light is Peter Joseph, creator of the Zeitgeist films and a key player in the formation of The Zeitgeist Movement. Through these films Joseph demonstrates that humanity would work better if it worked in harmony with nature and all of humanity. He considers the scientific equations that bind us to this planet and how it is possible to undergo this transition of reality.
Joseph states that once humanity starts working directly with science itself and re-establishing the human connection with the Earth is when this ideology will come into play. Joseph (2010) states that:
“Creating power structures of resources, certain tools were used to keep control over humanity, to keep those that were not deserving the right of life or deserving the fruits of life, to keep the stratification going they were given various tool to subdue them.”
Two prime examples of the ruling power structures in modern society are Mass Advertisers/Media. Consequently consumption appears to be a large part of how western civilisation has been subdued in forming its own critical analysis on important issues. By the way Advertising translates its messages dilutes meaning and brings a lack of colour to many areas in contemporary society. If Joseph’s solutions and methods of counter-proposing the current western establishments were to succeed, the life of the populace within western civilisation would go forward in becoming a part of a radical, beneficial change of our environment and to the well being of humanity.
After the analysis of authors and designers work it is evident that the issues raised by such critical thinkers are of the utmost importance to overcoming the dangers that lie ahead of the predictable road of consumer culture, for it will eventually become impossible to ‘grow’ as a part of a consumerist society. The resources we have on Earth are on the brink of exhaustion as it is, so if consumer culture as a whole does not stop to shift its very notions of how inefficient it actually is as a part of Western society, the dangerous impacts will become increasingly relevant to the human race. Larger systems are at work of setting the norms for consumers, some being: mass communication, politics and economics.
We, as consumers, are conditioned to expect to have our needs satisfied. Thankfully there is a growing ‘trend’ towards less emphasis on consumers’ short term wants and more of an emphasis on the long-term benefits of citizens. One example that is paving the way to a more harmonious form of consumption is called the societal marketing, a concept which means corporate social responsibility as more and more businesses are having to be seen as behaving in an ethical manner. Without the critical thinkers of this world there would potentially be no alternate viewpoints, nor transparency brought forth to the actions of Western society in its true form.
- Adbusters Media Foundation. (2011). Buy Nothing Day Poster & Occupy Wall St Poster. Available at http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/ (Accessed 28th November 2011) – Collection of authors, (2010-2011) Adbusters Magazine, Issues 90 – 95 & 98. Vancouver: Adbusters Media Foundation
- CNN interview. (2005) CNN news anchor interviews Kalle Lasn. CNN Television. March 2005.
- As It Happens. (2011) Carol Off interviews Kalle Lasn. CBC Radio. 1 November 2011.
- Debord, Guy (2005) The Society of the Spectacle, London: Rebel Press
- Featherstone, Mike (2007) Consumer Culture and Postmodernism (second edition), London: SAGE publications
- No Logo, 2003. [digital video] Canada: Sut Jhally. Quote taken from Naomi Kline.
- Sassatelli, Roberta (2007) Consumer Culture ~ History, Theory and Politics, London: SAGE publications
- Surplus: Terrorized Into Being Consumers, 2003 [digital video] Sweden: Erik Gandini.
- The Corporation, 2003 [digital video] Canada: Mark Achbar & Jennifer Abbott
- The Future of Design, 2006 [digital video] Berlin: Fontshop. Quote extracted from Kalle Lasn speech.
- The Zeitgeist Movement, (n.d.) Logo, Available at: http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com/ (Accessed 28th November 2011)
- Tielemen, Bill. (November 16th 2011). Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn worries about Occupy Wall Street movement but remains optimistic despie “loony left elements”; suggests winter break. http://billtieleman.blogspot.com/2011/11/adbusters-founder-kalle-lasn-worries.html (Accessed 29th November 2011) – “Who is Peter Joseph?” 2010 [digital video] USA: Charles Robinson.
- Zeitgeist, 2007 [digital video] USA: Peter Joseph. – Zeitgeist: Addendum, 2008 [digital video] USA: Peter Joseph.
- Zeitgeist : Moving Forward, 2011 [digital video] USA: Peter Joseph.
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