Rituals For Post Consumer America

Do you adhere to the notion that need for ritual is bio-genetically inherent in us all? And that culture adapts and gives meaning to that biological imperative?

Americana 2008

What then to make of the coming collapse and demise of Consumerus Americanus? Sociologists would note the elaborate trappings of ritual embedded in the consumptive ethos. Group solidarity and identity are maintained by participation both on the meta-societal level and within one’s individual peer group. The overall activity and media’s daily reinforcement of false ‘community’ expresses our culture’s norms, values and sanctions. All of that in turn? Bowing to a myth, in this instance ‘the American Dream’, ‘upward mobility’, etc.

The economic crisis upon us is all of our making. It is a mistake to isolate Wall Street, the VRWC favorites Freddie and Fannie, or even so-called ‘Main Street’ when finger pointing. Americans everywhere long embraced the ritual and its Ur Myth. The housing bubble, true, ‘turned it up to 11.’ But the ritual was there before. The roles were learned before. The social sanction was bestowed before.

If the Stiftung is correct that Americans’ standard of living by necessity will see significant reduction in the years ahead, the consumptive ritual will no longer function. Let’s take ‘Black Friday’. (Any similar commercial tent pole holiday will do). Already we see the key actors in the consumptive ritual lose their way or meaning. Consumers fail to perform their understood duties. Other participants seeking to re-enact their roles (retail chains and their suppliers) stutter. Media, normally cheerleaders to the whole endeavor, awkwardly teeter between their familiar boosterism and ‘reporting’. When a ritual no longer offers meaning it no longer be a socially binding force.

If one takes but a moment to deconstruct contemporary American society, the consumption ritual is all pervasive. Another facet, for example, is the manic drive to brand everything and everyone. Branding has value in the end for pecuniary purposes. From sports to the endless stream of vapid ‘books’ peddled by the blur of talking heads it is all of a piece.

One might be tempted to hope that our current crisis will be short lived – 18 months or so. In that case, with enough Keynesian crystal meth the above becomes moot. But we believe the crisis and its aftermath will be protracted with long lasting repercussions.

What is the ritual for a post consumer America? How will the memes be disseminated? Reinforced? Who plays what roles? And what is the larger myth it seeks to reify?