The Invasion of Consumerism into the lives of a Post-Modern Family Consumerism is taking place everywhere. Whether we like it or not, it has come to invade our everyday modern lives. Steven Miles, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Plymouth says "How we consume, why we consume, and the parameters laid down for us within which we consume have become increasingly significant influences on how we construct our everyday lives" (1). Consumerism has even gotten to the point of affecting the way we go about living and controlling our personal and social lives (Miles 5). Wherever we go and whatever we do, consumerism is praised as the answer to all of our problems, an escape from some of the harsh realities of our lives. Don DeLillo's White Noise depicts the different aspects of consumerism and the effects it has post-modern family that it invades.
That specific family is the Gladney's from Blacksmith. For the Gladney family, Jack, Babette, Heinrich, Steffi e, Denise, and Wilder, consumerism is a way of life. It is something they are always taking part in, even if it is unconsciously. Consumerism is incorporated in with virtually every activity the family takes part in, whether it be eating out, spending a day together at the shopping mall, or making a quick stop at the supermarket. Jack Gladney is a patron of supermarkets and shopping malls (McInerney 36). Jack alone, but more frequently with the company of one or more family members, makes trips to the supermarket.
The supermarket has come to be a major point of intersection in today's culture (Conroy 97). Among the busy and bustling crowds of people, Jack often runs into acquaintances, most commonly a colleague from The College on The Hill, Murray Jay Siskind: Th two girls and Babette, Wilder and I went to the supermarket. Minutes after we entered, we ran into Murray. This was the fourth or fifth time I'd seen him in the supermarket, which was roughly the number of times I'd seen him on campus.
(35) Even Jack's daughter, Denise, runs into a group of friends during one shopping trip. They all gather together to look at books and talk. Jack also has many significant conversations with Murray while casually strolling up and down the aisles of the supermarket. On one such occasion, Murray tells Jack how happy he is to be "in Blacksmith, in the supermarket, in the rooming house, on the Hill" (36). He continues to say "I feel I am learning important things every day.
Death, disease, afterlife, outer space. It's all much clearer here. I can think and see" (36). With Murray expressing his feelings to Jack, it is almost as if these encounters at the supermarket are replacing customary social time. Aside from being a meeting grounds, the supermarket is filled with many consumer goods conveniently in bulk. Jack describes this in one of his many trips to the supermarket: There were six kinds of apples, there were exotic melons in several pastels.
Everything seemed to be in season, sprayed, burnished, bright. (36) This kind of abundance of goods is seen in just about everywhere. Ten years ago, most supermarkets stocked about nine thousand items and now today's stores carry over 24 thousand (Wolkormir). Most of these items come from a can or box and can be cooked in the microwave or require no cooking at all. This explains why the number of hours parents spend cooking is going down at an increasingly rapid rate and why McDonald's so proudly displays outside their restaurants, "Over 1 Billion Served." Fast food restaurants play a big role in today's growing consumerism. Americans enjoy more restaurant prepared food than ever before.
Carrie Reynolds, a fast food restaurant consultant says, "we eat out today more because it fits our high-speed, consumer-mad lifestyles" (qtd. in Silver 42). Almost half of every dollar spent in 1999 was spent eating out, and that figure is expected to up 53% by 2010 (Silver 40). The Gladney's are seen eating restaurant prepared food frequently, whether it be Chinese take-out night or dinner in a car outside of a commercial strip of fast food restaurants.
This is common for families, especially because it is convenient for the parents busy schedules. Fast food may be convenient and seems great at the time, but in the long run, can eventually kill. One in five children between the ages of six and seventeen is overweight and if current trends continue, nearly half of today's children will eventually die of heart disease (Austin). Yet parents continue to encourage their children to take part in the consumption of fast food. On one night, when no one wanted to cook, the Gladney family went to a place that "specialized in chicken parts and brownies" (220).
They didn't even bother to go inside and eat at a table: We decided to eat in the car. The car was sufficient for our needs. We wanted to eat, not look around at other people. We wanted to fill our stomachs and get it over with. We didn't need light and space. We certainly didn't need to face each other across a table as we ate, building a subtle and complex cross-network of signals and codes.
We were content to eat facing in the same direction, looking only inches past our hands. (220-221) This incident shows how the Gladney family has gotten caught up in the act of consumption. Dinner, at one time, was a sacred time for families. It was a time when they could get together and have conversations and enjoy each others company.
Now, for a post-modern family such as the Gladney's, the main focus is just to quickly fill their stomachs and then continue on with their busy schedules. Shopping malls also play an active participant in consumerism. The mall depicted in White Noise, the Mid-Village Mall is described as being "a ten-story building arranged around a center court of waterfalls, promenades, and gardens" (83). It is common to see such things in shopping malls; making them almost fantasy like. The shopping malls are deliberately planned out to create an image of "elsewherness" (Miles 61). The mall lavishes consumerism with almost "religious like qualities" by hiding the flaws that underlie it (Miles 59).
Shopping malls are given an illusion of being a different place with the plants, palm trees, waterfalls, and fountains when really the mall is a palace of mass consumerism. As Miles states, "the shopping mall seems to provide all the immediate gratification's of consumerism but at the same time shelters the consumer from the social and prescription that this entails" (Miles 59) The shopping mall can have immense impacts on the consumer, both good and bad. In White Noise, Gladys Treadwell dies and the doctors say this is because of "lingering dread, a result of the four days and nights she and her brother had spent in the Mid-Village Mall, lost and confused" (98). It is only in a post-modern society that the thought of a mall causing a death can actually be believed. Jack thought that, "everything was fine, would continue to be fine, would eventually even get better as long as the supermarkets did not slip" (162).
This shows the security that Jack feels just from a supermarket. Mike Featherstone, a writer on consumerism, believes that consumerism provides everybody with a sense of some kind of control (qtd. in Miles 24). "The essence of consumerism lies in the feeling that as consumers we are all gaining some semblance of authority over the everyday construction of our lives through consumption" (Featherstone qtd. in Miles 24). The sense of security and control is gained for many by consumption, especially in a postmodern world.
Along with the sense of security and well being, consumerism is a quick fix against anxiety and pressures that life brings (Long). "Not only can people escape from their everyday problems through the physical and mental stimulation of shopping, but by becoming part of a consumer culture, they begin to feel part of something real, when arguably that experience is not real at all" (Miles 61). The act of consumerism and the goods that are consumed seem to fulfill any human desire wanted at that time, but it can never actually do so. (Baudrillard qtd. in Miles 26). While browsing around at the huge hardware store near the mall, Jack runs into Eric Massingale who is on the teaching staff at the computer center at the College on the Hill.
Jack is not in his glasses and gown that he wears at the college. Massingale tells Jack how differently he looks with his glasses and gown. He tells Jack, "You look so harmless Jack. A big harmless, aging, indistinct sort of guy" (83).
Jack was hurt by these comments because they seemed to threaten his ego: "The encounter put me in the mood to shop" (83). From then on, Jack and his family begin to shop at the Mid-Village Mall. Throughout White Noise, shopping is seen as being a family activity. The family structure is established in the act of consumption (Ferraro 22). The Gladney family goes to the supermarket and the mall together and consume restaurant prepared food together. This shows how consumerism is becoming a family activity that brings closeness to children and their parents in a post-modern society.
The family structure is firmly established in the act of consuming (Ferraro 22). Steven Shepard wrote that "going to the mall is a part of a long and many-pronged courtship, part of the relentless and powerful seduction of our children by that portion of our culture that accords human beings no more value than the contents of their wallets." This shows how much influence the children have their parents, as well as the parents influence on their children, in the act of consumption. The children depend on their parents for the funds to purchase items and the parents make this possible, but "more crucially, approval of their children's desire to consume" (Ferraro 23). Children are quick to follow in their parents foot steps when it comes to consuming.
This is shown by DeLillo when Jack and his family are at the mall: Babette and the kids followed me into the elevator, into the shops set along the tiers, through the emporiums and department stores, puzzled but excited by my desire to buy. When I could not decide between two shirts, they encouraged me to buy both. When I said I was hungry, they fed me pretzels, beer, souvlaki. The two girls scouted ahead, spotting things they thought I might want or need, running back to get me, to clutch my arms, plead with me to follow. They were my guides to endless well-being.
(83) Shopping with his family makes Jack feel like he belongs again. When with his family shopping he feels like he plays an important role in the family and he feels like he is one of them. "I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person I'd forgotten existed" (84).
"The shopping spree is less a matter of personal aggrandizement or ego massage than it is a ritual of concerted image. By shopping with his family, he becomes 'one' with his family, which in turn achieves its 'oneness' through the activity of shopping" (Ferraro 22). Shopping constructs the sense of family by acting as an activity that the family can do together when really the family is more caught up in what they " re purchasing than appreciating the time that they " re spending together. This again shows how consumerism gives a false sense to the consumer, in this case, the sense of family.
With that sense of security and family, Jack continues to spend money without much consideration of what he is buying. "I shopped for it's own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it... I traded money for goods. The more money I spent, the less important it seemed.
I was bigger than these sums. These sums poured off my skin like so much rain. These sums in fact came back to me in the form of existential credit" (84). The consumer obtains more fulfillment from the act of spending money, not from what they are actually purchasing (Ferraro 21). Not paying attention to what is being spent is very common of the consumer. Americans live with a lot of denial about their spending patterns and when questioned, 65% of Americans agreed that "in looking back on my spending, I often wonder where the money goes." (Schor 82).
Juliet Schor, a writer on consumerism and overspending states, "we spend more than we realize, hold more in debt than we admit to, and ignore many of the moral conflicts surrounding our acquisitions" (Schor 83). This gives some reasoning to when Jack says, "I shopped with reckless abandon. I shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies" (83). White Noise clearly illustrates how consumerism is constantly invading the lives of a post-modern family living in a post-modern society. From when we wake up in the morning to when we lie our heads down to go to sleep, we are bombarded with consumerism. Consumerism is in the supermarkets we buy our food in, in the food we eat, and in the shopping malls we walk through.
While it may be argued that life would be rather dull and monotonous without consumerism, the fact that it is literally everywhere in today's society and is so hard to avoid is a bit overwhelming. Because it is so hard to avoid, it is up to the family and the individual to use consumerism to benefit them instead of let it hurt them before it destroys the family structure.