Lifestyle in a Consumer Culture

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Introduction

Culture and the media today are of central importance to the maintenance and reproduction of contemporary societies. Societies like species need to reproduce to survive and the culture cultivates attitudes and behavior that predispose people to consent to the established ways of thought and conduct, thus integrating individuals into a specific socioeconomic system (Durham and Kellner, 2006, p.1).

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The narratives of media culture offer patterns of proper and improper behavior, moral messages and ideological conditioning, and social and political ideas with pleasurable and seductive forms of popular entertainment. Likewise, media and consumer culture, cyberculture, sports and other popular activities engage people in practices that integrate them into established society while offering pleasures, meanings and identities. Various individuals and audiences respond to these texts disparately, negotiating their meanings in complex and often paradoxical ways (Durham and Kellner, 2006, p.1).

Explaining self-identity and people’s actions

Self-identity can be developed in terms of an overall picture of the psychological make-up of the individual (Giddens, 1991, p. 35). To be a human being is to know, virtually all of the time, in terms of some description or another, both what one is doing and why one is doing it (Giddens, 1991, p. 35). The social convections produced and reproduced in our day-to-day activities are reflexively monitored by the agent as part of ‘going on’ in the variegated settings of our lives. Reflexive awareness in this sense is characteristic of all human action (Giddens, 1991, p. 35).

All human beings continuously monitor the circumstances of their activities as a feature of doing what they do, and such monitoring always has discursive features, in other words, agents are normally able, to provide discursive interpretations of the nature of, and the reasons for, the behavior in which they engage (Giddens, 1991, p. 35). Many of the elements of being able to ‘go on’ are carried at the level of practical consciousness incorporated within the continuity of everyday activities. Moreover, most forms of practical consciousness could not be ‘held in mind’ during the course of social activities, since their tacit or taken-for-granted qualities form the essential condition which allows actors to concentrate on tasks at hand(Giddens, 1991, p. 36).

Consumer Culture

Modernity has confronted individuals with a complex diversity of possibilities and choices. Consumer culture may refer to the sociological, experiential, symbolic and ideological aspects of consumption that largely reflect the consumer actions, the market place and the cultural meanings (Dittmar and Halliwell, 2008, p.6). Consumer culture in the modern world has continued to emphasize the aspect of the cultural dimension of the economy through the symbolization and use of material goods as ‘communicators’ and not just utilities.

Furthermore, this economy of cultural goods has continued to define the market principles of supply, demand, capital accumulation, competition and monopolization that operate within the sphere of lifestyles, cultural goods and the commodities whereby the material goods and their production, exchange and consumption has to be understood largely within the cultural matrix (Featherstone, 2007, p.83). Therefore, in the modern world culture continues to preconditions the economic life and goods are no longer regarded as utilities having just a use-value and an exchange-value. Consumption has to be understood not as the consumption of use-values and a material utility but primarily as the consumption of signs (Featherstone, 2007, p.83).

What is Lifestyle Media?

Lifestyle media has not just been in the production and reproduction of ideas about the significance of lifestyles but also have created the basis for making distinctive lifestyles legible (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.5). While all consumption is practices are not primarily about communication or distinction, lifestyle media do highlight the communicative potential of consumption practices. By creating recognizable lifestyle practices, lifestyle media play a part in creating visibility and legibility that might also offer grounds for legitimization. If lifestyle emphasizes the importance of choice but also the legibility of our choice to others, then lifestyle media offer a means of ‘writing status’ (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.5).

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Historically, lifestyle was a way of describing the ways of life of specific groups but in the recent time, the use of the term suggests that, lifestyles are no longer tied to ascribed social groupings and that putting together a lifestyle is now an active process that involves choice (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.5). The different elements that comprise contemporary lifestyle did not emerge overnight but rather have a history (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.5).

For example, what has been the role of fashion in producing new dispositions towards consumption and self, the role of emulation and imitation that indicates how ideas about what and how to consume ‘trickle down’ social hierarchies and eventually become diffused from elite groups to populations (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.6).

Emulation has some key problems, as it reduces the meaning of consumption to competitions over status, and ‘reduces social motivation almost too exclusively to a desire to “ape one’s betters”. Furthermore, by emphasizing how ideas ‘trickle down’ social hierarchies, it ignores the ways in which “class competition can involve the very opposite of lifestyle emulation” (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.6). Consumption has to be understood not as the consumption of use-values and a material utility but primarily as the consumption of signs (Featherstone, 2007, p.83). Lifestyle connotes individuality, self-expression and stylistic self-consciousness.

It is through the consumer culture that modern people’s lifestyle projects and displays the individuality sense of style in the particularity of the assemblage of goods, clothes, practices, experiences, appearances and bodily dispositions they design together into a lifestyle, thus the modern individual “is made conscious that he speaks not only with his clothes but with his home, furnishings, interior decoration, car and other activities which are to be read and classified in terms of the presence and absence of taste” (Featherstone, 2007, p.84).

History of class and lifestyle

Historically, the different classes have different opportunities to capitalize on their assets at particular historical moments. For example, during Bourdieu’s work of mapping the relationship between social class and consumption, in France, in 1960, teachers in higher education are shown to have relatively high overall capital volume, but much more cultural than economic capital, where, they may not be paid well, but have ‘excellent’ taste (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.10).

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Engineers, by contrast, have high overall amounts of capital, but more of this is economic than cultural. Farm laborers occupy the lowliest position, with low overall capital volume and more economic than cultural capital (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.10).

That, overlying these social positions are a whole set of commodities and ‘taste practices’ for example, it can be seen that higher education teachers like chess, like modern art and can speak foreign languages. Engineers prefer sailing, Scrabble and Knoll furniture while the Farm laborers like the Pernod, Petanque, accordion music, the Renault 4 and the Brigitte Bardot (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.10). Therefore, our class habitus not only shapes our preferences for certain goods, but it also shapes whether, for example, we are interested in the form of goods or their function (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.11).

In France in 1960, there was the rise of the new middle class, the new bourgeoisie and the new petite bourgeoisie (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.11). The product of expanding higher education and new types of middle-class jobs, for example, in marketing, the media and the caring profession, these new middle classes use the capital they have at their disposal in an attempt to the legitimate new disposition towards everyday life and present a challenge to ‘old’ bourgeois legitimacy (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.10). These new classes are characterized by an aesthetic that emphasizes hedonistic pleasure, in contrast to the emphasis on restraint and sobriety that characterizes the established middle classes (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.11).

It is the new bourgeoisie in their role as ‘cultural intermediaries’ or taste-makers that are best placed to legitimate their lifestyle, given their occupations. If the new bourgeoisie seeks to legitimate their lifestyle, presenting their taste as the taste, then the new petite bourgeoisie also invests heavily in the art of everyday life, playing ‘a vanguard role in the struggle over everything concerned with the art of living, in particular, domestic life and consumption, relations between the sexes and generations, the reproduction of the family and its values, while other class formations have lifestyles, therefore, these new middle classes invest in making lifestyle into an art form (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.11).

Bourdieu’s emphasis on transformations in the space of class relations does offer a way of historicizing struggles over lifestyles. The study has often produced an inflexible history of class and lifestyle (Bell and Hollows, 2006, p.10).

Media consumption and impacts

‘Everyone loves transformation’, claimed Anita Gates in her critical assessment of the recent explosion of popular home makeover shows that have overtaken American cable television (Heller, 2007, p. 1). It seems suddenly that, everyone and everything is in need of a makeover, or at least the experience of watching one performed on television (Heller, 2007, p. 1).

By then, the practice seemed to cut across all genres and time slots, insinuating itself into local news programs, serial dramas, talk shows, soap operas, sitcoms, game shows and thus into the daily viewing rituals of multiple niche markets and demographics. With the 2003 success of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the genre became an established network hit (Heller, 2007, p. 1).

On a second glance, it is not only American television that has been overtaken by makeover shows, and it isn’t only homes and gardens that audiences in the United Kingdom, Europe and around the world have set their sights on remaking. In fact, beyond the private space of the home, for example, Extreme Makeover, The Biggest Loser, The Swan and I Want a Famous Face, makeover television is transforming the body by means of cosmetic surgery or rigorous self-discipline (Heller, 2007, p. 2). “The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Supernanny, Wife Swap and Nanny 911”, are reconfiguring the dynamics of intimacy, heterosexual courtship and family life (Heller, 2007, p. 2).

American Idol, I Want to Be a Hilton, The Osbournes, Britney and Kevin, Simple Life, are remaking ordinary people into celebrities and well-known celebrities into ordinary people (Heller, 2007, p. 2). My Ride, Made, Camp Jim, Todd TV, all are performing a virtual overhaul of consumer principles, strategies and lifestyles while Faking It, The Apprentice, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy/Girl and the Black-White, are recasting critical elements of social identity, in particular gender, race and class (Heller, 2007, p. 4).

How we ‘consume’ media products

Modern media has undergone great evolution that has impacted the lives of people in many ways. Media has a great impact on how people, organizations, institutions and societies behave. We may ask questions like, what do mass media do to us. What effects do they have on how we act? In the spring of 2003, a group of overweight young people sued McDonald’s; the company was accused of making the plaintiffs obese.

A year later, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a report saying that the advertising and marketing of a variety of super-sized, heavily sugared and fat-laden products was contributing to an obesity ‘epidemic’ in the USA. Therefore, ‘do the media’ make us fat? When media affect behavior they do so through a web of other influencing factors, such as personality characteristics, social situations and the general climates of opinion and culture (Grossberg, 2006, p. 293).

The media effect on an individual might be that advertising makes consumption of junk foods desirable, while at the same time, TV messages rarely promote good nutrition. The effect on the individual, then, is a combination of both intended consequences, where the advertiser wants us to consume the products and the unintended consequences of, no one, in particular, wants us to get fat (Grossberg, 2006, p. 293).

The media has behavioral effects and the effects are of different sorts which are not necessarily behavioral (Grossberg, 2006, p. 293). For example, social psychologists studying persuasion usually divide attitudes into three components: the cognitive (the intellectual or knowledge) component, the affective (the emotional or evaluative) component and the conative (intentional or behavioral) component (Grossberg, 2006, p. 296). For an instant, a media message may have an impact on one of these components but not on others. For example, you might see a commercial for a deodorant that convinces you that it stops wetness (a cognitive effect), but you may not buy that deodorant.

The important thing in persuasion is that sometimes our behaviors are consistent with our existing cognitions and attitudes. Usually, the media messages may have intended and unintended consequences to media consumers (Grossberg, 2006, p. 296). Also, the media always act as a tool that facilitates change in the behaviors of people. Though other social forces act as the prime cause of change, the media messages make the changes easier or faster. For example, the media coverage of the civil rights movement in the south in the early 1960s caused the members of Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Grossberg, 2006, p. 300).

Conclusion

Media has been viewed to have effects across a broad range of contexts. In the modern world, individuals cannot claim to be independent of media influence. The lives of people have been shaped and directed in a particular way by the media. That our actions are largely a reflection of what we read, see, or are told by the media. Most of the intended media effects cut across a range of issues that include; the effects of advertising on purchasing, the effects of political campaigns on voting, the effects of public service announcements on personal behavior and social improvement, the effects of propaganda on ideology and the effect of media ritual on social control.

Also, there are some unintended media effects on individuals such as; the effects of media violence on aggressive behavior, the impact of media images on the social construction of reality, the effects of media bias on stereotyping, the effects of erotic and sexual material on attitudes and objectionable behaviors and also how the media forms affect cognitive activity and style.

More important the effects of the media can be put into the main streams of; knowledge gain and distribution throughout the society, the diffusion of innovations, socialization to social norms and institutional and cultural adaptations and changes. In general, the media effects can be described as cognitive, affective or behavioral. In summary, the media will continue to have numerous impacts on society. The impacts will cut across the socio, political and economic sphere and the resultant effects will continue to influence the lives of people.

References

Bell, D. and Hollows, J. (2006). Historicizing lifestyle: mediating taste, consumption and identity from the 1900s to 1970s. VT, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. Web.

Dittmar, H. and Halliwell, E. (2008). Consumer culture, identity and well-being: the search for the “good life” and the “body perfect“. European monographs in social psychology. NY, Routledge. Web.

Durham, G. M. and Kellner, D. (2006). Media and cultural studies: key works. MA, Wiley-Blackwell. Web.

Featherstone, M. (2007). Consumer culture and postmodernism. CA, SAGE. Web.

Featherstone, M. (2007). Consumer culture and postmodernism. CA, SAGE. Web.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity: self and society in the late modern age. CA, Stanford University Press. Web.

Grossberg, L. (2006). Media making: mass media in popular culture. CA, SAGE. Web.

Heller, D. A. (2007). Makeover television: realities remodeled. NY, I.B.Tauris. Web.

Rosengren, K. E. (1994). Media effects and beyond: culture, socialization and Lifestyles. NY, Rootledge. Web.

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Premium Papers. 2022. "Lifestyle in a Consumer Culture." January 19, 2022. https://premium-papers.com/lifestyle-in-a-consumer-culture/.

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