Cohen draft

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the best deals on Black Friday



                The consumer market of postwar America changed the landscape of America in three ways, socially, politically, and physically.  Lizabeth Cohen examines what our society gained and loss in terms of mass consumption and the aftereffects in our current age.  According to Cohen, the movement of consumerism and its relationship to democracy occurred when this particular distinction took place: the purchaser as a citizen.  This new found confidence provided purchasing power to the people, a new culture was born, one that did not rely on goods for survival, but now political  agendas and attitudes gave the taxpayer direct link to the government through transactions at their neighborhood chain stores.  The link between democracy and consumption was the American way.  Cohen notes, “as more and more Americans had discretionary income and aimed to improve through their consumption of mass-produced goods the quality of their own lives and the vitality of America’s economy and democracy, they increasingly sought a “fair shake” as consumers. Through the compulsive habits of consumers, a new history is revealed; in her book Cohen reveals the dilemma of post war America in terms of needing to fulfill individual well-being, and happiness by the practice of mass consumption.  These needs have yet to be fulfilled in America, Cohen’s book brings insight into the hysteria of advertisements and mass consumption and highlights how socially depleted this turn of events has left this country, a consumer train headed for a collision.  Cohen’s book takes the reader on a systematic history of consumerism in terms of fulfilling obligations to our country as a democracy, and the driving force of the US consumer. She exposes our country for its weaknesses in terms of competition and ownership, her research reveals how democracy becomes an excuse to keep Americans purchasing all in the hope of raising our nation.

                Without democracy, consumerism would fail to exist. The two coexist as you cannot deny the relationship capitalism and democracy.  The effect of a successful capitalist society seem to allow our country’s democracy to suffer, the association of the two occurred when during the “golden age” of the 50’s and 60’s we as citizens touted proudly that our country was thriving  in terms of market success which was total opposite from the Soviet communism way of life.  Cohen explains how this time marked less inequality of income and wealth yet what was occurring in society during this time for example African American injustices, and the injustices of women in the workplace. Throughout Cohen’s book, especially noted after World War II, Cohen also distinguishes the fusing of social, economic and political strengths by reestablishing gender roles when men returned from the war, utilizing programs such as the GI Bill and VA loans to give power to the advantageous white nuclear family. Cohen mentions that while purchasers were citizens the outcome was not predicted correctly. “ while purchasers as citizens-the rank and file of the Consumers’ Republic-rather the power of property values dictated new kinds of risks and loyalties, in particular discouraging suburban homeowners from undertaking more class and racial integration of their communities.” (253)By recognizing the links between post war pursuits and the growth of the consumer market particularly in the 1950’s, Cohen reveals the devastating origins of our obsessive and compulsive consumption behavior that has proved to do more harm than good in terms of our economy and world market today. 

                As consumption takes on the marketplace, in terms of construction of social order, the shopping center represented a limiting of rights.  Cohen describes this progression as “mass consumption in postwar America created a new landscape, where public space was more commercialized, privatized and feminized within the regional shopping center that it had been in the traditional downtown center.”(286) As Cohen notes this change, the “free commercial market attached to a relatively free public sphere (for whites) underwent a transformation to a more regulated commercial marketplace (where mall management controlled access, favoring, for example, chains over local independence) and a more circumscribed public sphere of limited rights. (286) This segmenting as Cohen mentions the economic shift for these marketplaces were to be new models for segregation. Here again with the rise of consumerism and the demographic changes, African-Americans were left out of job opportunities, another negative aspect of the new suburban experience.

                Though there has been progress in terms of manufactured products, the fact still remains, the values of consumers as citizens in our democracy have been spiraling downward, as we have become less socially and environmentally responsible in terms of our buying power.  With the promise of good things for all, the citizens of this democracy created and took too much, our inability to self manage has left the market strained, our pocketbooks short, and most of all the social inequalities between the wealthy and poor gap grow divided each year. 



You say you want a revolution

As of today, Friday, the news is reporting that Mubarak is at last stepping down. With all the tension building in these past 18 days to end a 30 year ruling. I do give credit to world leaders who reasoned and made this possible. Power truly to the people.

Consumption parallel with Civil Rights

     Historian Lizabeth Cohen emphasizes the connection between consumption and the civil rights movement by documenting the power held by the African-Americans as they took their place in the “consumer’s republic”. The civil rights movement was a direct effect of the patterns of consumption which the African-American worker as a voice for equality.

     Cohen discusses the role of the African-Americans in terms of organization and activism, central to the civil rights agenda.  She highlights such groups such as the Sleeping Car Porters’ Ladies Auxiliaries (50), and the influence women held in spending for their households. These neighborhood leagues were a great influence on organized rallies and marches. This would be the beginning of the plight for equality of consumerism.

    Another influence during the 1950’s was the noted advantages which the black veterans held in terms of the GI Bill as “fuel for the civil rights movement(172)”, allowed families purchasing power for homes in neighborhoods not usually market for non-whites.  The victories the African-American population were gaining fueled the civil rights activists as white rights were being tested across the South.  Black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. fulfilled the role of   organizing  community awareness in the disparity of equality in terms of buying power and education. 

  The role of race and economics was exposed during the civil rights movement gave African-Americans the leverage needed to put up a stronghold on the economy by striking and boycotting. They had clearly figured out the system, a system which only recognized one color: green.

Welcome to the neighborhood!



The documentary “Crisis in Levittown” focuses on how an all-white neighborhood is forever changed by the addition of a black family.
In terms of lessons for historians, this documentary contains many. First of all, media’s influence on history, as this film was created and the civil rights movement on the heels of America, society (white in particular) relied on media coverage to document the ill-effects of integration in neighborhoods.  Historians will  note how fear transforms this neighborhood into a rumor mill of housewives.  As some citizens of this community felt it was their birth-given right to be separate from African-Americans, it was important to document both sides of the neighborhood, in terms of acceptance, as well as noting the alliances. Socioeconomic lessons are a huge part of this documentary as well. Once the families were no longer at elite status they were threatened and created a separation from themselves, even going as far as “protecting their children” from the conversations. (Note the boy who is obviously intrigued during the interview when this is stated.) Historians work to bring truth to historical events and experiences, they face a multitude of conflict much like the Myers family. As the town speculated on the Myers family and their motives for moving, they quickly forgot how this family had invested in the country through service and financial investments just as they had. Historians must seek answers through research and interpretation of primary documents as they investigate our nation’s history. They are the window into the strengths and weaknesses of us as humans.

American Dreams by: H.W. Brands

When Brands writes about America, he does so generally speaking which allows his book not to the historical admirer but the reader who wants to see what our American past reveals in a very vague fashion.  When Brands speaks of our American Dreams, he does so in a very happy state much like the interesting cover-the typical American family, admiring all that is good in what our flag represents.  The Dreams brands writes of seems to be just a validation that American History has actually not just been a nightmare, though some may disagree.  Brands leaves little for the reader to conspire about or develop judgements, his writing seems to be more of a summary than an account of a national celebration.  Brands may need to write another book in a few years and I’m expecting a chapter on Sarah Palin. I kid! Yet I was happy to see the mention of feminism (pg. 177). Brands’ book makes an excellent textbook for those who slept through history classes in the 1980’s and woke during CNN’s broadcasting of the current Egytptian political state.