Academic journal article Gender Forum

Consumerism and Madness in Mary Harron's American Psycho

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Consumerism and Madness in Mary Harron's American Psycho

Article excerpt

1 Every day in our lives we are surrounded by objects that we have acquired. These objects can represent a memory, a tie to one's identity, or a symbol of someone's social status. But what happens in a culture where the surplus of goods leads to excessive consumption and commodification not only of objects, but of people as well? Consumerism has become a point of concern for many in the last two decades of the twentieth century (Miles 9). And at the beginning of the new millennium, its effects are more present than ever.

2 The media are overflowed with images of the next 'it'-thing: be it a new bag, a new gadget, or a new hip location. The medial portrayal of modern consumerism ranges from light and comedic, such as The Shopaholic novels by Sophie Kinsella or the HBO series Sex and the City (1998-2004) to the rather dystopian view of Western consumerism that one can find in the films Fight Club (1999) or American Psycho (2000).

3 Mary Harron's film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's novel, which was written in the context of a growing concern about the 1980s consumer culture, depicts this darker side of consumerism and the inner emptiness and isolation to which it leads its characters. For many people consumerism has been the only societal practice that they have ever experienced, hence, it is difficult to separate oneself from it without looking into its origins and examining the phenomenon in its entirety.

4 The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to examine the evolution and the establishment of the present-day consumer culture. I would like to give a critical analysis of the impact of the media in creating and promoting consumer culture and the influence it exercises on consumers through the medium of advertising, particularly, on male consumers since the protagonist of Harron's film is male and a member of a men-only clique. Specifically, I would like to focus on media's negative impact on the consumer psyche because Easton's novel was created during the heyday of the Wall Street yuppie culture and the rise of a new kind of narcissist.

The Evolution of Consumer Culture: from town fairs to globalized dream consumption

5 In order to proceed with the topic, it is necessary to point out that there are different approaches to the term 'consumption' among theorists. According to Douglas J. Goodman and Mireille Cohen, it is "the set of practices through which commodities become a part of a particular individual" (Goodman & Cohen 2). These theorists, therefore, emphasize the connections between people and the goods they consume which means that even mass-produced commodities, once acquired, become instantly individualized. This, certainly, corresponds with the model of 'traditional consumption'.

6 'Traditional consumption' refers to the period when consumed goods were either produced within a family or, at least, locally. Hence, there was a personal connection to the consumed goods. The closest equivalent to modern-day shopping were weekly markets or bigger seasonal fairs which were "virtually international markets" (5), however, with several great differences: most goods were not displayed and the main practice was bargaining, not browsing (5).

7 In contrast to the above-mentioned definition, Mark Swiencicki defines "'consumption,' 'consume' and 'consuming' as the mere use of manufactured goods or services, whereas a 'consumer' is one who acquires such goods or services by exchanging money" (Swiencicki 774). He does not stress any connection that is established between a consumer and the acquired goods, focusing more on the monetary exchange and the utility of such goods: a definition that corresponds to the modern state of consumerism.

The origins of modern consumption and its establishment

8 The exact transition period from traditional consumption to consumer culture is difficult to pinpoint. Most theorists and historians agree that the change occurred after the Industrial Revolution (Stearns 44). …

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