The traditional values of Western societies generate under the influence of politics and the commercialization of culture. In some cases, we are blinded by the power structure of mass production and manufacturing, altering our mindset to fall into the consumer culture of a capitalist system.

Consumer culture
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Travel to Europe, and you will mainly see a collectivist society. Americans are considered as “workaholics” specifically after data showed that Americans “work nine full weeks (350 hours) longer than West Europeans do and paid vacation days across Western Europe are well above the US threshold. The French still have the 35 hour working week, while the hourly productivity is one of the highest in the world.” This culture contributes to a happier and healthier well-being unlike what is often seen in the United States.

Additionally, the happiest cities tend to spend more quality time with family and friends. Laura Quick, a manager of a recruitment team in Amsterdam mentions how “the Dutch expect their employees to have a life outside work, even during the week…No one expects you to be at the office at 07:00 and sit there until 20:00; in fact, in many companies this behaviour would not be appreciated and in some it would definitely be frowned upon.” Compare this to the American thinking, and you get an opposite perspective. Americans, mainly individualistic, rely on consumer capitalism to “work hard” and “gain capital”; thus minimizing leisure time.

Not only is consumer culture a part of our social lives, but also with the materialistic goods we own. For instance, cars represent individualism and freedom. Turn on the television, and most of your commercials will lean heavily to car companies since we perceive it as the only mode of transportation. We are forced into this system while doing nothing to show activism or work to bring change within our societies. Bikes, public transportation, and walkable cities provide the same amount of mobility and freedom as a car would. Movement toward such social change contributes to a better quality of life, including a healthier lifestyle, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, more time, and more space in cities through effective urban planning. This lifestyle would benefit people of all ages and those with disabilities. If demands for change such as making public transportation robust, then social changes could be made possible.

Image Courtesy of Epicurean Destinations

Yet most individuals fail to understand the sociological aspects of society, making them fall into the category of consumer culture. Instead of thinking through the lens of individualism, Americans would live a much happier lifestyle if they would view the world collectively, taking everyone into consideration instead of just themselves.

As seen, consumer culture is what surrounds the system of capitalism. Everything is turned into a commodity, leading to overproduction of resources even when not needed. Our obsessions with materialistic goods has destroyed the quality of life, making us work only to be connected to products. Through the perspective of Marxism, this discourse would be known as “commodity fetishism”, in which the perception of social relationships is involved in the means of production. We tend to place some intrinsic value in the goods we possess. Therefore, we are a “workaholic” culture working for money which allows us to purchase commodities. Money itself has no value, but is an expression of value merely for the fact that society attaches a relation to it as producers and consumers. This then makes value a social relationship. Similarly, cars, bikes, public transportation, and walking are all modes of getting you from one point to the other. However, the social attachment and value placed on cars for “freedom of mobility” has given it value over the others without looking at the consequences of its usage.

Overall, people of the west have adapted to consumer culture, enclosing themselves into capitalist system with little or no will to change their lifestyle. Whether this lifestyle is beneficial or not depends on you, the reader. Although I find it would be better to move toward a socialist way of life, others may disagree, believing that the United States should stay the way it already is. The choice of showing political activism for change or keeping everything the same is yours.