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?


  1. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Tucker’s quasi rehabilitation recently is odd. He is particularly visible on some of the middle level Talk Radio platforms.

  2. Anon says

    Joe Kernan on Tweety’s Sunday show is sort of a chucklehead – He catagorizes the loans to the auto industry as some sort of pathetic wasted subsidy for an industry that should go the way of the buggy whip. Then he contrasts this with the financial bailouts – necessary measures for serious business that have counter-party risk. In other words, if the car companies croak only the fat labor bosses will get hurt.

    If anything, it’s the opposite – the car companies are looking for loans, not for the gov to buy all their worthless properties (might be a good idea, locally) like the finance companies..

    CNBC, btw – is getting bailed out via GE capital tapping into TARP funds.

    Tweety does not disclose the conflicts.

  3. Comment says

    re RB-211 – The Cadillac CTS is an excellent car. Not quite a Rolls airplane, but pretty damm good The Escalade was cool too, if a bit lacking in “sustainability.”

    There are so many excellent near new cars for police auction in NYC now.

  4. Comment says

    re RB-211 – That reminds of that FA Cleveland boast we quoted a while back – He predicted Nuclear powered transcontinental aircraft with amazing levels of lift.

    Time to dust that off – We think Obama will very good for nuclear energy – Ironically, that was one of the reasons he voted for Bush’s energy bill – Because of nuclear funding for Illinois.

    But the media obsession with “narrative” had cast Obama as anti nuclear and McCain as pro nuclear. McCain had no idea what was in that Bush bill – He voted against it because he still hated Bush a year after 2000 election and he was still pandering to the Arianna set.

    Just a pet peeve – We have to give up hopeless joke policy like trying to get poor 3rd worlders to give up growing drugs in exchange for some Ag subsititue crop that will make them less money.

    In fact, we should try to get American farmers to cut down on soy and corn. We should make them an offer than can’t refuse. We should try to ween the next gen off of corn fructose. The medicaide and medicare costs of the current LOMAN diet is out of control.

  5. says

    All I will say about the car bailout is this: RB-211.

    If you think they have anything like that in development, go right ahead.

  6. A Random Quote says

    “Now, the UN is good at lots of things, like handing out food and giving kids shots. [Laughter] You know, I’m not one to denigrate those things. What–they eradicated what, yellow fever in Africa by giving kids shots, that’s great.”
    ~Peter Brooke
    Heritage Fnd.

  7. Comment says

    If Sanford has said something like, “look we have the poorest and fatest people in the land, with the highest levels of bad cholesterol and the lowest level of good cholesterol and we have mega pawn shops than you can imagine and our jails are overcowded with potsmokers and murderers and the mentally ill, so let me outline how we plan to lead the way to a future of prosperity …” He would have got laughs, but at least he wouldn’t
    insulted the rest of the country.

  8. Comment says

    Someone tell SC Gov Sanford and Ala. Sen. Shelby to STFU about the economics of industrial bailouts.

    Comment loves South Carolina food and countryside and towns, but it is still an effing basket case when it comes to econonomics and living standards for its population.

    We just caught Sanford on TV talking about how we are risking the loss of our free enterprise tradition with bailouts and we should just rely on BMW to build stuff in the south without unions yada yada yada.

    South Carolina has a tradition of chattle slavery and militarism and honor duels and Jim Crow. It does not have a deep tradition of free enterprise – Sure we can forsake Michigan’s high wage tradition, pioneered by Ford, and have a race to the bottom. But SC’s medium wage plants will soon be the next to die.

    Shelby of ALabama was mouthing off too – He should only talk about football and Georgetown gossip — All else is above his IQ grade.

    Perhaps the Chrysler bailout was wrong in 1980 – we think not. But it more than paid for itself ten times over in wages and taxes and payback of debt. Plus it kept alive and educated engineers and scientists who produced much.

    But there is Shelby on TV – from his very poor state with bad schools and lots of illiteracy – trying to say the current problems of car companies PROVES we should have let Chrysler shut down. Because it eventually shut down. As if the last year 25 years of economic contribution did not exist.

    Never listen to these southern pols when they start mouthing off about s*** they do not understand – whether it’s Graham and his unregulated derivative schemes or Newt and his regressive ideas about building civilization or Shelby about his ignorant economics or Palin (honoray southerner) or that nut Zell Miller or Sanford (the bright one) talking about S. Carolina leading the way to a future of low wage assembly work.

  9. Comment says

    re Retail Sales – On so-called “black friday” an employee of Wal-Mart was trampled to death by shopping savages out on LI.

    This was relayed by radio in a near jocular tone as part of holiday madness.

    But was so demented was that it was savage and mad and stupid because holiday shopping was slow, not mad. Someone was trampled to death in a rush of relatively light shopping.

    This was not quite as bad as those stories that come out of struggling nations and Saudi pilgrimages where hundreds die. But I hope it is not a trend.

    Btw – check out Alex’s take on Bush’s pardon of a Turkey – It never occured to this American how dumb it might be, but Bush really was smug and gross and his pardon speech was filled with bad jokes.

  10. Hunter says

    “Sociologists would note…”

    My girlfriend would note that it is exceedingly unlikely that any mere sociologist would have anything like this insightful analysis. Now, anthropologists, on the other hand… (I tend to view them both as equivalently squishy pseudo-sciences, but what do I know)

    If I had to guess, I would say that a likely candidate for a replacement ur-myth would be Family. It’s already one of our foundational myths, as even a casual perusing of what passes for dramatic television will attest. Also, the coming economic difficulties will make such social network capital all the more important. As for the rituals that will seek to reify this mythos, I’ve no clue. They will have to be a lot less commercial/gift based (materialistic) than they have been…

  11. Tbilisi says

    Obama has already redirected these rituals onto himself, or at least the project of ‘making change.’ Even people who voted against him, as they stare into an abyss they like most Americans can’t quite comprehend, are believing in hope (or maybe hoping to believe). But like the bubbles of the past, the memes are promoting grossly overvalued commodities – namely Obama’s desire and ability to make change – and allowing liars and the lucky to get temporarily ahead, without rewarding those that choose to abstain. The myth here is that Consumerus Americanus actually wants change. They don’t. They fear change most of all, because change means an end to the ritualistic consumption the Doctor describes above. The only people who want change are Marginalized Americans – the poor, the veterans, the blue collars, and the dark skinned, naturally, but also the non-Ivied ambitious and the truly imaginative – all groups that have not fared well in the last 30 years.

    Anyway, this bubble will collapse too, sooner (if we go into depression), or later (if he – literally – goes for broke with stimulus). I hope that after it does, we return to our founding myth – that individuals can live freely without interference within a community of citizens.

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