I want to do something, but all I know how to do is consume.
(American) People, (Corporation’s) Revenue, and (What’s Left of the) Planet
Here we are, supposedly having full access to “the American Dream”, some of us existing as examples of the ‘American Way’ while some of us only get to see this way of life while we’re watching TV; and we’re told if we work hard enough, our country will make sure we too can buy steak, buy furs, and buy more guns. This isn’t a message sold only to American’s either, historically the chance at a ‘better’ life has been globally marketed so well that every city in America is made up mostly of the immigrant communities who arrived seeking their own chance at success. This all intersects and leads to the question: how did the American Dream go from being about ‘unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ to unalienable rights to consume, consume, consume?
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” —Constitution of the United States
The Constitution of United States of America is probably the most underrated ghost that is haunting America’s citizens with the first concept of a corporation. By this I mean, that as a ‘historical document’ that still influences government decisions today, the Constitution gave the language needed to develop what we know today as corporations.
We all know that this country was established by a bunch of old white men, so the first problem with this document is that despite the use of the phrase “We the People,” this document was meant to be applied only to the type of bodies that match the people drafting it. This problematic way of prioritzing the rights of one group of people over another is something that is also prevalent with the running of corporations, where a CEO is also almost always white, male, and the holder of a huge ego while the employees that make up the company have little to no say in how much of the ‘perfect union’ they have access to.
Our consitution also vows to “insure domestic tranquility” a concept that on the surface level just translate as a way to ally to with the national borders that protect you, but instead this language has prioritized a comfortable American life that isn’t even accessible to all Americans today. So the “blessings of Libety” that are to be “secured for ourselves and our prosperity” could be the way to understand how American citizens went from being neglected as part of ‘the people’ to being manipulated by corporations.
(What’s Left of the) Planet:
It’s not always easy to see how this shift from We the People to We the Corporations happened, but that isn’t to say it’s not part of American daily routine.
More and more citizens are prioritizing their impact on the environment and incorporating environmental consciousness into their consumer lifestyle, yet still we have no way to help the causes we care about because this is a right the government has reserved for corportations. So now the responibilty we feel as major consumers in the market has become manipulated by Corporate Personhood and they inform us (via Super Bowl commercials for a car) that there is something we can do. Buy More Things. These two different ways of deciphering this message from something like the commercial above, is what cultural theorist Stuart Hall has dubbed as encoding and decoding, and highlights the way the producer of the message and the audience that receives the message both have access to the same knowledge about society.
It’s obvious that the global market has placed the United States on a pedestal as a good example of a consumer centered culture, but maybe it’s time we start considering the power behind consuming… It’s obvious corporations are desperately listening for new advertisement schemes, we’ve just got to get our message out right.