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Baudrillard and Consumer Society

April 21, 2008

The Consumer Age[1]


Baudrillard seems to postulate that over abundance of consumer goods, connected with media and marketing processes have lead to less social interaction for the sake of interaction and discourse and created infatuation with “things” or “technologies” and innovations.  Interaction with objects, even virtual objects has replaced human interaction to satisfy the need for “being”.  In effect objects may arguably be a primary method to “signify” our being or status in much of the western world.  The question resonates, not do I have an I-pod, but rather “Do I have the latest I-pod released this month?”


Has western society come to be wagged by the tail of the object?  In large degree I seem to see this in many of the people I associate with.  I know it is not the case in many people and certainly not so in many parts of the world, however it is a spreading phenomenon to “have the latest”.  So to speak keeping up with and surpassing the Joneses.”  Or, structured in the sociological format “conformity and competition” or need to alleviate peer pressure (P. 36).   I suppose this is basic analysis to explain some need for communication.  Communication after all is more than oral it may be written (signs) or it may be physical (body language, dress, gestures, which also include signs).  As such signs certainly include objects and the status they are accompanied by. 


The psychology of marketing that is discussed by Baudrillard is interesting (P. 31), there he discusses the placing of objects for display in the market window and the logical flow of goods to the climax.  He refers to this scheme as the calculus of objects in the marketing realm.  In this way marketers may use signifiers and pathways to lead the unsuspecting potential purchaser through a network of objects into the clutches of a trap of which they are unable to trace themselves out of (P. 31).  This appears to lay the impetus for the “belief” that the object is a sign of being and therefore “need”.  As noted elsewhere “pursuit of happiness” for “maximum satisfaction” otherwise a smacking of hedonism (P. 35).


In discussing the drugstore I think of what a marvelous qualitative study it would be to travel to Dubai and spend a year roaming the new Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, the largest mall in the world, where you can shop, eat, hear concerts and enjoy leisure activities like “ski” the indoor slopes: .  How will this westernized mode of consumption be reflected in the culture in the UAE.  Granted about 50% of the population of Dubai is transitory foreign construction workers.  If consumption of things is driven by social dynamics of “keeping up with the Joneses” or according to social hierarchy and in relation to a system of values how will the society of the UAE be transformed, or even will it change.  In other words what is it that signifies the U.S. American?  What signifies the Arabian citizen of Dubai?  What will be the pressures to become deviant or remain “standardized” to normative ways and beliefs, (the Ideal of Conformity)?

[1] Baudrillard, Jean F. 1988. “The Consumer Society.”  Pp. 29-55 in Selected Writings.  Edited and with an introduction by Mark Poster.  Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

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