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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Consumerism: Friend or Foe?

The London riots or what is now known as the UK riots has come and gone but it has left behind more questions than answers for commentators, politicians, pundits and society in general to ponder. A lot has been said and written on the aftermath of the four days of madness that lit up the streets of London with flames of violence.

The focus of this piece is not to repeat what has already been blogged or commented about in various media. However, I want to take a look more deeply into the issue of a consumer culture that was a constant recurrence in most of the debate I watched and listened to. A culture that over time has led to a consciousness to demand and foster an undying desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater quantities. This in turn has created a society where people are increasingly being judged by what they can consume and own. I watched one particular debate where a pundit raised what I consider a valid point; he asked, why wasn't a bookshop raided? Well we now live in a society where what you know is not so important as to whether you own an iPad or the latest 3D large flat screen TV.

In Nigeria, this consumer culture which we often describe as materialistic culture has been around for a while now. There's now the blackberry craze, whereby owning a 'bb' today in Nigeria has now become some sort of status symbol. In fact there was a Nollywood movie made this year I think to reflect this blackberry culture and in stereotypical fashion, women where cast as the villains. Despite my self-imposed protest about what I consider a movie industry that has refused to grow up, I managed to watch this film and couldn't stop laughing. But seriously, I haven't got an issue with new technology, fashion, cars and all the goods and services that are driving this push in a way perhaps we have never seen before, at least in my lifetime.

I have an issue with society's response to the behaviour of people in the way they embrace the sorts of lifestyle that are fanning the embers of consumerism. Like always, I'm more concerned about what we teach our young people and the moral values we set them. I find it hard to understand why some parents are buying very expensive gadgets for children as young as 11, something I see around me all the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to be judgemental or educate people on what they should or should not buy for their children. The point I'm trying to make is that if we keep giving young people the wrong idea that they can be given whatever they want, what happens when mum or dad are no longer able to do so? Your guess is as good as mine.

We could use these life's luxuries to motivate our young people, making them understand that if they work hard they could stand a chance to own those goods they crave for. I remember sometime last term some of my students saw me using an iPhone and they were like 'sir, how come you own an iPhone?' and I was like, 'I own one because I work hard to able to save up and buy one'. I understand young people are now born into a generation where more than ever before they are constantly bombarded with consumer goods but I think society has a responsibility to make them understand they cannot get something for nothing.

Whilst there is nothing wrong in my view for people to look forward to enjoy these luxuries of life, we should never fail to let the values of hardwork and contentment to get lost in the scramble for what modern day consumer culture seems to be throwing at us all the time.

Consumerism, no matter what side of the fence we sit, is here to stay. It can be our friend but at the same time could be our foe depending on what we make of it.

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  1. In my opinion, consumerism has always existed. The only difference (btw the past and now) is that:
    - More parents use material things as compensation for their parental inadequacies;
    - Celebrities have now become role models for most young people. In the past, it was authors, activists, inventors etc
    - As society strives to become egalitarian, we all feel we deserve the best

    Like you said ' can be our friend or foe' To be honest, I think it's more a foe.

  2. @NIL, good insights especially regarding the use of celebs to act as role models to kids. Personally I want my children to see them for what they do and not some sort of role model which clearly most of them aren't.

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  4. Your post definitely has a lot of truth. Honestly, children should be taught the value of hardwork but unfortunately, most young people want to have the finer things of life without necessarily working for it. There's also the lack of contentment with what we have especially with all the products that are churned out all the time. Churning out the products in itself is not bad but people have to learn that if you want it, you work for it. I'll agree with N.I.L too especially with respect to parents and celebrities.



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