The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979

The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979

The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979

The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979

Synopsis

A wide--ranging exploration of conflicting American attitudes toward affluence.

Excerpt

Why does afluence cause so much anxiety? This book examines how American writers worried about afluence from the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s through the late 1970s, from a time when prosperity seemed uncertain to one when it expanded into a mass expectation and then to the point where millions of people took it for granted. It begins as wartime conditions were forcing the nation to consider the relationship between consumer spending, democracy, and the struggle against fascism. It ends with the energy crisis that sparked a discussion about an era of diminished expectations. Focusing on major books, as well as on the contexts in which they appeared, this study illuminates how key twentieth-century thinkers came to terms with consumer culture. The emphasis is on the persistent but shifting tension between a commitment to self-restraint and the achievement of satisfaction through commercial goods and experiences. Afluence raised troubling issues of individual authenticity and social equality even as it promised the achievement of personal satisfaction in ways that strengthened the link between democracy and capitalism. It prompted questions about the political implications of defining American superiority in the language of consumer acquisition.

Challenges posed by the growth of consumer culture after the late 1930s compelled the attention of many of America's most influential writers. They struggled with problems that connected afluence with a series of larger issues: the spread of mass culture; the meaning of the cold war; the implications for politics of a world that seemed increasingly privatized and controlled. They also pondered the challenges that the spread of wealth posed to national . . .

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