Material Girl. World.

An Essay by Brittany Danielson

ma·te·ri·al

n.

To have body.

Synonyms; substance, body, matter, real, physical.

pos·ses·sion

n.

a.)The act or fact of possessing.

Consumption is, in the end, the stimulant behind every essential aspect of the worldwide economy; there is no denying it. The question to ask, however, is how much of North America's spending is necessary?

Across both the United States and Canada, activists everywhere have been addressing the issues behind consumerism. They are taking on corporate power with tactics such as boycotting companies, forming college campus protesting clubs (or "Jammer Groups"), and creating awareness with ideas like "T.V. Turnoff Week", subvertising, and uncommercials.

A recent article written by New York magazine's The Buzz featured Breathing Planet, a new group of activists who have created a new way to protest and help shoppers reconsider their embrace of materialism. On the first Sunday of every month, Breathing Planet practices "Whirl-Mart", pushing empty shopping carts in single-file along aisles of a new Wal-Mart each month, across the United States. The New York Times in the summer of 2004, posted an ad by AdBusters & similar in context to the Breathing Planet's message. The New York Times promoted AdBuster's "Brand-Spangled Banner", an American Flag spoof (sold online), with fifty brand logos replacing the usual fifty stars, along with the following passage:

This July 4th,

Because my country has sold its soul to corporate power.

Because consumerism has become our new religion.

Because a small group of neocons has hijacked our national agenda.

And Because we've forgotten about freedom.

I pledge to do my duty to take my country back!

Neocons: Neo-conservatives.

Not only is spending affecting individual citizens and consumers, but it is also worrying economists. Robert J. Samuelson, NEWSWEEK's Economics Columnist and Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, wrote a column, Bottom Dollar, which highlighted the dangers of a collapse in the U.S. Economy. One of the wealthiest countries on Earth is spending billions of dollars a year more than they earn, overspending much like the majority of North Americans.

Children are also inheriting North America's spending addiction. The advertising industry profits twelve billion dollars gross annually from commercials and ads targeting children, whom before the age of eight, lack the ability to comprehend the persuasive intent of advertising. For every five hours spent watching television, an hour of that time is used watching commercials in between T.V. programs. Children, aged two to seventeen, watch an average of fifteen to eighteen thousand commercials per year, a much higher average of hours when compared to the time the same youngsters spent sleeping, which is only twelve thousand hours.

Corporations are targeting children because they are aware of the indirect purchasing power young people have through parents, guardians, and family. Parents with children ages two to fourteen-years-old tend to spend more on parental purchases than on older teenagers, children in the age group are usually unemployed. During the 1960's, about $5 billion per year was spent on parental purchases in the United States; through decades it continued to increase rising to $50 billion in the eighties, and peaking in 1997 at an incredible $188 billion dollars.

Children learn and develop under influence. This means in layman's terms, monkey see- monkey do. So in addition to all of the advertising already absorbed in your six-year-old's head, advertisers have you to set an example. Young people are perceptive; they see mommy and daddy buying things, and they also see how consumerism brings happiness. In developing minds this translates to:

Money can get me to buy things, and buying things can make me and other people happy.
Commercial Alert, an organization to battle issues concerning culture, education, government and health, has proposed a "Parents' Bill of Rights" to give parents assistance in fighting back at commercial influence on children.

Are we going to let consumerism program our future? I hope not.

Unfortunately, North America's practice of materialism is contributing to the dissipation of our cultural history and practices, and perhaps even our happiness. By buying into corporate power, commercialism, capitalism, and consumerism, citizens of North America are losing their right of freedom. Advertising, in a sense, is outwitting consumers into materialism, and giving major companies unjust corporate power. Knowledge of these facts is the single defense against individuals becoming members of an organized social victimhood.