Student confronts the material girl image

I am an American citizen, therefore I am a mass consumer. United States citizens are preoccupied with material possessions and wealth. Even though our country makes up only 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume one-third of the planet’s natural resources. The problem is that many people do not contemplate or even care that they have been brainwashed into simply accepting mass consumerism. I, however, cannot accept this role. Being an American consumer is a part of my identity that makes me feel frustrated, and sometimes very guilty.
The main reason so many of us are not aware of our weakness and gullibility to the industries is because they brainwash us to the point where we actually believe that we need everything they manufacture. In reality, we do not need most of it, but this is hard to remember when we are being bombarded with advertisements portraying society’s messages of the “right” way to dress, behave and live.
We live in a hypocritical society that preaches that beauty is only skin deep, and then turns around and tells us that we need material objects like cosmetics to be accepted in society.
Because my parents are not very religious, the meaning of Christmas for me was mostly about acquiring new material objects. When I was a kid, Christmas was probably my favorite day of the year for all the wrong reasons.
I recently noticed a change in my attitude toward Christmas. I was starting to get depressed every year around Christmastime. As I was purchasing gifts for people, Christmas became less dazzling because I started to see a side of the holiday that I never had before. I began to realize how commercialized Christmas is and how it assimilates children into a culture centered around money.
I am not sure what frustrated me more this year: the fact that I could not afford to buy nice presents for all of my friends, or the fact that I felt obligated to do so. I like giving gifts to people I care about, but I do not like feeling pressured to do so.
I am resentful of Christmas and of the identity that was thrust upon me when I moved to this country. Even though I did not spend a great amount of time overseas, I believe that spending my first seven years in India and Russia made a significant impact on my personality. Having a chance to spend a large part of my developmental years away from mass consumerism made me capable of looking at it more objectively as I grew older. Although my family and I celebrated Christmas when we were overseas, it is not significant to the cultures of India and Russia. I was not surrounded with quite as much hype and advertising as I would have been growing up here.
In many ways, I feel helpless. It is hard to combat consumerism when I am constantly attacked with advertisements that probably influence me even though I think I know better.
I have, however, made efforts to resist being a slave to the big industries. Last Christmas, for example, I made most of the presents that I gave. Although I originally did this because I was broke, in the end I realized that it truly made me feel better to not be dependent on store-bought presents. Not only did my friends and family love the gifts, but I enjoyed giving objects that I had created and that were meaningful to me. I was still annoyed and frustrated by the ridiculous amount of holiday propaganda, but I finally felt a sense of control for the first Christmas since I became a consumer.
My irritation with my identity as a consumer has been a part of who I am for as long as I have been aware of my conscience. Living this identity has contributed greatly to my strong values and beliefs, which are often cynical. I live in the system I reject, so my opinions are based mostly upon first-hand experiences rather than what I have read or heard.
I know there are others who feel the same way as I do, but it seems as if many people my age do not really spend much time thinking about it. Often I hear people say America is about the best country there is to live in. It may not be perfect, but I would not want to be anywhere else. I agree that there are great aspects to this country, such as the fact that I have a constitutional right to focus an entire college paper on criticizing it. What bothers me is that many people seem to ignore the fact that the presence of good qualities does not imply an absence of negative ones.
If we can acknowledge that we are controlled to a certain extent by big companies, then we have made the first step toward finding an alternative. It seems unlikely that anything will change in a country so overpowered by capitalism, but there is hope. We don’t have to buy everything big companies try to shove down our throats, and we can learn to question the necessity of products. As individual consumers we are fairly powerless, but collectively we control what survives on the market and what does not. We have the power to force change, but only when we see materialism for what it is.
Jessica Thompson is a freshman in the College of Liberal Arts