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Daniel Akst and Naomi Klein provide an interesting take on the conditions that lead to materialism. Their texts provide insights and opinions into various aspects on materialism and its effects on the human race. Akst’s discussion is focused on the religious aspect of materialism and what people are doing with their identities when they decide to dress their lives up with possessions, and thus wear a mask. Klein’s piece, however, focuses more on the marketing aspect of materialism. By reading each of these texts, one will have learned two viewpoints on different ends of materialism: the seller and the buyer. The mentality of the buyer, as Akst points out, is for people to bury themselves in a mask. Klein, on the other hand, takes a look at the seller’s ideas about how to develop and market a cool product that people will want to buy. Ultimately, these two authors have laid the foundation for the reasons why society finds materialism so irresistible. People don’t have much of a choice, these authors would suggest, but to follow in line with what is deemed appropriate by society for a person to attempt to become their idea of perfection in a mask.
In Akst’s piece, it is interesting to note his attitude towards materialism. He clearly has the view that material wealth does not lead to happiness, but instead to misery. He opens his text by saying that the two things Americans are good at are closely related to materialism: “One is generating almost unimaginable material wealth, and the other is feeling bad about it,” (Akst, par. 1). Being materialist is tempting, he argues, and the vast majority of Americans are unable to resist the temptation. When they can’t resist buying things, they feel guilty about making the purchase, and this is a cycle that they find hard to refuse. He is investigating in his texts the idea that people are making these pointless purchases so that they can attempt to become someone else, someone different than who they are.
Akst says that people feel bad about making their purchase because they wonder about what God would have to say about what they are doing. The Bible teaches that the love of money is the root of all evil and that is something that many of these people could be worried about. God might be able to see behind the masks that the products that they are purchasing are hiding them behind. Akst suggests that God could even be of two minds about the merits of materialism. Some have the idea, as Akst points out, that God wants people to live in their “station.” This is what he refers to as a form of insubordination against the “concepts of copia.” But in America today, the vast majority is living in a condition that is the opposite of the type of world that God wanted people to live in. “Over the centuries the holiest among us, at least putatively, have been those who shunned the material possessions and kept their eyes on some higher prize,” (Akst, par. 7). In this passage Akst is saying that it is more in accordance with what God wants if people stopped being so materialistic.
This materialism that Akst speaks of flies somewhat in the face of religion because it gives off the impression that there is something more grand that God, and these material things also distract from God. Those who are the holiest, he argues, are the ones who have turned their backs on material possessions and have instead focused on serving God. After all, what point is there in collecting material possessions if you can’t take them with you in the afterlife, unless you’re a pharaoh? Those who do accumulate money during their time on Earth, should give it to the community, a Puritan would suggest. Money doesn’t belong to the people; it belongs to God, Akst writes.
Akst’s piece describes a scenario where many people are cloaked in materialism. In all of our jobs, we are wearing masks. People dress and accumulate possessions in such a way that they are falling into a pattern that they believe they have to fall into. These same people also feel like they need to act a certain way in order to be accepted by their peers. This culture of wearing masks starts from an early age, even when a child is given a blue toy if he is a boy and a pink toy if she is a girl. This begins the cycle of conditioning. As the child gets older, he or she starts to become influenced by the media they are exposed to. They begin emulating the type of person they want to be and, in doing so, often need to make purchases to look like the model that is wearing a specific brand of shirt, for example. They also purchase possessions that their peers have, in order to fit in with the crowd. The advertisements target specific demographics and convince many people that they need to have the product that is being marketed. Even if the person can’t afford the product that they feel they need, they can make a purchase on a Credit Card.
The limit is out there. Or isn’t it? Akst suggests that the mask that people put on is linked to human vanity. As long as we desire to keep up with our neighbors when it comes to possessions, we won’t stop at much. And it’s becoming more expensive to “Keep up with the Jones’,” as the cliché goes. It’s now about keeping up with the Johnson’s, a much richer party. As Naomi Klein points out in “Alt.Everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool,” the companies have specifically targeted people and advertised in a way that would appeal to them most, making the advertisements difficult to deny.
When it comes to youths, that means becoming less of a company that would be approved of on Wall Street, and more of a company that is underground. The companies are essentially adjusting themselves so that the teenage public will think that they are cool. This makes it very difficult for people to deny the fact that they want the product. And this desire leads them to make purchases that they might not be able to afford, or spend money that they could otherwise save. Teenagers are perhaps the most easily influenced demographic, so training them to desire items makes it hard for them to stop as they become adults. And it’s hard for these teenagers to shake the inevitable materialist mentality that they will develop. Because if they don’t develop this mentality and make purchases that will make their peers think they are cool, then they will be outcasts, and nobody wants that. Everyone wants to be accepted, so these companies follow the teenagers and use them as lab rats, as Klein points out. In fact, some companies have the specific goal of studying developments in culture and making them into a product. These businesses pitch the lifestyle to companies in order to encourage them to create products that they think would appeal to these demographics and which other people would want to adopt as well. “Of course all this has to be taken with a grain of salt. Cool hunters and their corporate clients are locked in a slightly S/M, symbiotic dance: the clients are desperate to believe in a just-beyond-their-reach well of untapped cool, and the hunters, in order to make their advice more valuable, exaggerate the crisis of credibility the brands face,” (Klein, p. 36).
In a person’s life, they are presented with an array of choices about how to act and look. Because people are so influenced by those around them, it becomes very difficult to ignore the seduction of companies that make promises of being cool. Products are gift wrapped and designed for specific demographics and it becomes difficult for people to refuse the link between the product and people’s emotions, a link that is subconscious to the majority. It isn’t products that people want to buy, it is the way that those products make people feel that has led to a society set on making endless, needless purchases.
Akst, Daniel. “Buyer’s Remorse”. The Wilson Quarterly. (2004): n. pag. Web. 23 Nov. 2012.