Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society

By Michael Schudson | Go to book overview

5
Historical Roots of
Consumer Culture

IN AMERICAN SOCIETY, people often satisfy or believe they can satisfy their socially constituted needs and desires by buying mass produced, standardized, nationally advertised consumer products. This was not always the case nor is it today a universal phenomenon. Why should it be so prominent a characteristic of contemporary American culture?

One approach to that question is to seek out the historical roots of consumer culture, and that is the task for this chapter. A set of clues may be found in one of the most famous American novels, Theodore Dreiser Sister Carrie. In 1900, Dreiser published this book about Caroline Meeber, a small-town Mid- western girl who goes to the big city, Chicago, to seek her fortune and her future. The first few pages of the novel quickly identify the new social world Carrie walks into and Dreiser saw growing up around him, a social world that gave rise to consumer culture.

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