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. 



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