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How Do Our Kids Get So Caught Up in Consumerism? (page 3)

By — Center for a New American Dream
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

Perhaps the more recalcitrant children will require upward of a hundred thousand ads before they cave in and accept consumerism's basic world-view. But eventually we all get the message. It's a simple cosmology, told with great effect and delivered a billion times each day not only to Americans of course but to nearly everyone in the planetary reach of the ad: humans exist to work at jobs, to earn money, to get stuff. The image of the ideal human is also deeply set in our minds by the unending preachments of the ad. The ideal is not Jesus or Socrates. Forget all about Rachel Carson or Confucius or Martin Luther King, Jr., and all their suffering and love and wisdom. In the propaganda of the ad the ideal people, the fully human humans, are relaxed and carefree -- drinking Pepsis around a pool -- unencumbered by powerful ideas concerning the nature of goodness, undisturbed by visions of suffering that could be alleviated if humans were committed to justice. None of that ever appears. In the religion of the ad the task of civilizations is much simpler. The ultimate meaning for human existence is getting all this stuff. That's paradise. And the meaning of the Earth? Premanufactured consumer stuff.

I have mentioned only television here, but of course that is simply one part of the program. To wade into a fuller awareness we need bring to mind our roadside billboards, the backs of cereal boxes, the fifty thousand magazines crammed with glossy pitches, the lunch boxes wrapped with toy advertisements, the trillion radio commercials, the come-ons piped into video programs, the seductions pouring into the telephone receiver when we're put on hold, the corporate logos stitched into our clothes and paraded everywhere and so on and so on. Literally everywhere on Earth, the advertising continues its goal of becoming omnipresent, even entering into space on the surfaces of our capsules. None of what I have said here concerning ads and their effects on children will be news to those educators who for decades have been lamenting this oppressive situation in America. But I bring up the issue for two reasons.

The fact that consumerism has become the dominant world faith is largely invisible to us, so it is helpful to understand clearly that to hand our children over to the consumer culture is to place them in the care of the planet's most sophisticated preachers. If those bizarre cults we read about in the papers used even one-tenth of 1 percent of the dazzling deceit of our advertisers, they would be hounded by the federal justice department and thrown into jail straight-away. But in American and European and Japanese society, and increasingly everywhere else, we are so blinded by the all-encompassing propaganda we never think to confront the advertisers and demand they cease. On the contrary, as if cult members ourselves, we pay them lucrative salaries and hand over our children in the bargain.

The second reason for bringing up the advertisement's hold on us has to do with my fundamental aim in presenting the new cosmology. If we come to an awareness of the way in which the materialism of the advertisement is our culture's primary way for shaping our children, and if we find this unacceptable, we are left with the task of inventing new ways of introducing our children and our teenagers and our young adults and our middle-aged adults and our older adults to the universe. These notes on the new cosmology are grounded in our contemporary understanding of the universe and nourished by our more ancient spiritual convictions concerning its meaning. These notes then are a first step out of the religion of consumerism and into a way of life based upon the conviction that we live within a sacred universe.

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