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Consuming as a Sense of Control

posted by Debb Thorne

In 1989, Fiske wrote the following in his article "Shopping for Pleasure: Malls, Power, and Resistance": "Ownership is at present the only form of control legitimized in our culture." Could it be that Americans are consuming because, in large part, they feel that they otherwise have no control in their lives? As I ponder this, I look out my apartment window at the mall parking lot. (Living in an apartment overlooking a mall is not my idea of a great location, but....) Every day since November 24, that lot has been chuck-a-block full of the cars of shoppers. Mornings, evenings, weekdays and weekends---full to overflowing.

I guess it would not surprise me in the least if people are there because so much else in their worlds feels out of their control. Jobs are here today and gone tomorrow; an illness or injury leaves families on the brink of bankruptcy; their debts are often so massive that they will never repay them, indeed, they will die making the minimum payment--and it feels like our political system is so far out of the reach of the average American that there is little anyone can do to fix any of these things.

And while I perfectly understand the desperate search for a feeling of control, it is disheartening when millions of Americans seek it through consumption. The feeling of control that comes from the purchase is so shallow and short-lived--especially once the credit card bill comes in the mail. And my guess is that come about January 1, 2007, many of those folks who spents hundreds and thousands at the malls would agree. Too little, too late.


"I guess it would not surprise me in the least if people are there because so much else in their worlds feels out of their control." I agree with this analysis and add that loss of control might be a more daily or weekly issue: bad day at work; bad boss; dead end job, etc. Also our popular culture doesn't have much to say on this issue, that is, loss of control over our lives (if, indeed, we ever had control). There are no pervasive, positive messages out there that tell people "you basically have no control over your life . . . first, get used to it; second, there are better ways to deal with that loss of control than shopping."

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