I had to read this book for a class and found it to be one of the most valuable things I’ve read but also one of the most difficult. Anyway, there are many themes in this book including a “Democratic unfreedom” and the “welfare vs. warfare state” but I found the consumerism theme to be most relevant to my own opinions.

When I first arrived to college, the first thing I noticed in the elevators, in the hallways and around campus is the ridiculous amount of Louis Vuitton and Coach purses worn by females in their late teens or early 20s. My first thought was, “Why would someone so young buy a purse with so much value, we all have no money to carry around!” What I finally came to learn was that it wasn’t about the actual physical function the purse served but the social function it served. The purse said “I’m wealthy, trendy and am probably in a sorority!” Both Herbert Marcuse and James Twitchell explained this situation perfectly by describing how consumption has become more than just fulfilling practical, physical needs but defines ourselves and our relationships with each other.

“People recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced” – Herbert Marcuse


There is no doubt that we are a consumer society in the U.S. and as James Twitchell stated, “American culture is well on its way to becoming world culture”. Any opposition is bound to be defeated.

Marcuse explains consumerism by “true needs” and “false needs”. (Marcuse 5) “False needs” are needs that society tells us we need. In Marcuse’s words, we learn to love and hate what others love and hate. I think his argument is really relevant because of the amount of money put into advertising.

Advertising tells people what they should love and hate. For example, advertising tells consumers that they should buy flavored bottled water for their children because that’s what other caring, loving mothers buy for their children. Marcuse states that his optimal goal is the replacement of false needs with true ones. (Marcuse 7) I think that this is necessary because the complete opposite happens all of the time. Using my bottled water example again, I can say that water is a “true” need. We need water in order to survive. It gets turned into a “false” need when we are forced to believe that tap water is unhealthy and water needs to be enhanced with vitamins and consumed inside a bottle with a fancy label.

So….how do we change? We don’t. But we’ve made progress.

Recession

The recession has placed an interesting perspective that I’m sure Marcuse could argue was for the best. People have lost jobs and have had to live with less. Some people might find that it was a blessing in disguise as they were able to see how much they could live without. With a decreased expendable income, individuals are forced to find happiness in things that money can’t buy.

Recessions force us to do things differently. Unfortunately, recessions and a lack of progress are painted as a bad thing. The need to work harder and to work longer in order to get back on top are messages distributed to society.

Buying our Happiness

We are a society that lives to work instead of working to live. It is the never ending drive to define ourselves by our possesions that causes this, in my opinion. To reverse this pattern would be to entirely reverse the way that consumers think. Convincing individuals that we become more limited as individuals when we have more “choices” is a complex argument to make.

“One Dimensional Man” is a difficult piece to read and the arguments even more complex. Consumerism almost makes understanding this all even more difficult as advertising discourages people to think for themselves and apart from society. Marcuse’s “One Dimensional Man” paints a realistic picture of what consumerism does to society, even more than forty years after the book was published but I would agree with James Twitchell that the only changes in consumerism and capitalism are in expansion so reversing the effects of consumerism is very unlikely.

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