An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America

By Gary Cross | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
A New Consumerism, 1960-1980

The 1960s and 1970s were decades of upheaval, challenging the apparent consensus of the 1950s on many fronts. In particular, Americans questioned the costs of unrestrained consumption: deceptive advertising and merchandising as well as growing pollution and waste. Some raised doubts about the contained and seemingly conformist model of consumption that prevailed in the postwar generation. Critics mocked the superficiality of the“populuxe” culture of the suburbs and its intolerance of individual freedom. Today conservatives like to think that these views were held by a small minority of pampered baby boomer youths and marginal intellectuals, but they were rooted in a far broader anxiety about the costs of consumerism. Without denying notable accomplishments of the consumer rights and environmental movements, it is difficult today to understand the thunder of those decades given the relatively meager results of these challenges to consumerism. The materialism of the 1950s was by no means turned back; rather, consumption became even more ubiquitous. By 1980 there were far more cars, ads, and credit cards and many more ways of expressing oneself through goods than there had been in 1960. Indeed, it would be fair to say that consumerism had become even more individualistic and socially fragmenting than it had been in the 1950s. While liberals often hold Ronald Reagan's presidency responsible for these disturbing trends, the roots of this extreme spending culture lay also in the 1960s critique of consumerism itself. Yet so overwhelming has been the defeat of this critique that it is hard not to see it as the last gasp of an elitist culture embodied briefly in the youthful excess of a pampered

-145-

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An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter 1 - The Irony of the Century 1
  • Chapter 2 - Setting the Course, 1900-1930 17
  • Chapter 3 - Promises of More, 1930-1960 67
  • Chapter 4 - Coping with Abundance 111
  • Chapter 5 - A New Consumerism, 1960-1980 145
  • Chapter 6 - Markets Triumphant, 1980-2000 193
  • Chapter 7 - An Ambiguous Legacy 233
  • Notes 253
  • Index 307
  • The Politics of the Asian Economic Crisis 323
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