Saturday, 21 July 2007

An American Theology of Consumerism

I have just been reading Lawrence of Arabia's post about the rise of the cola wars in the Middle East.

Awhile ago, the Confessions of a Shopaholic blog had a piece on the rise in obesity in France. The New York Times reported on increases in cancer rates among Japanese and Chinese citizens who have adopted an American style of eating.

After I read LoA's post about the cola wars and watched the videos that blatently fuse American pop icons with Arabic themes, I realized that what we are witnessing is not just advertising, but a religion being spread with the same zeal as that of any missionary -- and the budget of a corporate giant.

The Free Dictionary online defines religion as:
a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

In this case, the American way of life is the supernatural power. After all, is it really much of step from repeatedly claiming ourselves to be a Super Power to being a Super-natural one? Our lifestyle, our vaues, our styles and tastes -- we claim to rule the (known) universe. Our way is best. Drink our sodas, wear our clothes, live/eat/drive/sing...and above all SHOP as we do.

Just as early Christian missionaries brought a whole new package of beliefs and behaviours to the "primitive peoples" of the world, Coca Cola and Pepsi are preaching a new focus to their Arabic audience. Look at us. We know the truth. Do as we do. This way lies happiness and freedom from your ignorant old ways. Cast off your old ways. We come in the name of the creator of prosperity. And we have been sent here to bring you into the fold.

This is more than just opening up a new market for a's creating the belief that this product AND the liftstyle it represents are the right way to live. How far is that from definition number 3 above? In truth, it's right on the money (pun intended.)

Sadly, our nation's campaign to spread its theology has been widely successful. Taco Bells and McDonald's dot the globe, and it's hard to be far from a Snicker's Bar or a can of Coke.

It's nothing new to recognize that the American way of life is being exported. But seeing it as a religion we are proslytizing is, to me, a far scarier thought.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, as consumerism spreads, it is the generations to come that pay the price, as we continue to destroy our planet.

Jan said...

That's the sad thing about US life--and we're living it. Brian Swimme in his book "The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story" says that consumerism is the "religion" of our culture today. He is a cosmologist and believes that the earth and all of its contents are integral to the universe--what we do affects everything else, so we need to become more aware of this fact! Aware and act!

Anonymous said...