If You Buy It, They Will Come

It’s very easy these days to find laments about consumerism in books, blog posts, and sermons. American culture is saturated with the materialistic mentality which is rooted in a perceived need to acquire more stuff, and there are plenty of voices which are sounding the alarm. In fact, the anti-materialism message has been preached for much longer than I have been alive. Often, if comes from seasoned folks who have acquired wealth and things, and realize how those things do not satisfy.

With each new generation, the old guard recognizes that what they strived for their entire lives is not providing them with the kind of fulfillment they had hoped for, but the numerous attempts to communicate this message to youngsters are rarely successful.  Till now, I have avoided commenting on this topic for two reasons:

1. Americans are too far gone. We might convince a few here and there, but the general population is beyond hope in this area. “I need to buy X to be happy” is so much a part of our mindset that you’d find it easier to separate the Kool-Aid powder from the water it’s mixed in than to remove materialism from the minds of most people in 21st-Century America. It’s a lost cause.

2.We are bombarded with messages — hundreds, maybe thousands, of times a day. They will not be drowned out by the likes of me.

But then I watched this video clip and saw something I never noticed before (note that the audio is off by several seconds):

This perceived for more has shown another side. While we already know that “stuff” promises satisfaction which it will never deliver, we now see another line of reasoning that advertisers are using on the public: “If you buy X, you will look good to others”.

Our culture’s unhealthy fascination with the acquisition of X is rooted, not in the desire for the things themselves, but in impressing others. I know this from personal experience, as I have bought new “toys” and thought to myself how inevitable it would be that this new electronic gadget would make friends like me more. It’s a shameful thing to admit, and I don’t like saying it, but those thoughts have crossed my mind. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Assuming I’m not, then, what do we do? Is this mindset new? Did the Israelites of 3000 years ago, or even the Ingalls family of the 1870’s, care so much about looking good to others that they allowed this desire to dictate which purchases they made? One assumes not, but either way, it is a symptom of a larger problem which is as old as Adam and Eve: the desire to be accepted by others. While this desire is understandable and can be good, it often manifests itself in various ways, it is prone to end up with terrible results. The day that we as a culture can be free from having to look good to others is the day we become free indeed.