Black Friday: What Drives Our Consumer Habits Today?

It’s Black Friday—the annual shopping event in which consumers nation-wide brave the crowds to take advantage of exclusive sales designed to kick off the holiday shopping season. Often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year, it is the epitome of a capitalist society, and begs the question, “What drives our consumer habits?”  Whether you chose to spend the day digesting yesterday’s meal, or maneuvering through hordes of people to make that long-awaited purchase, these featured excerpts will lend some insight into today’s consumer behavior.

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Opening with the provocative question, “Can we psychoanalyze capitalism?” Todd McGowan rebukes Freud  in Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets, by arguing that we can (and should) and resits critiques that paint psychoanalysis inherently on the side of capitalism.

Through animating figures such as Adorno, Marx, Gross, and Lacan, McGowan contextualizes his focus on desire as a sort of third-wave of capitalism critique—following an initial focus on injustice and later on repression. By concentrating on what capitalism denies people, previous thinkers cannot account for its persistence. McGowan instead fixates on the “satisfaction capitalism provides.” In doing so, he is then able to grapple with the hope we pin on capitalism.” In the excerpt from chapter three, “Shielding Our Eyes from the Gaze,” McGowan examines the supposed neutrality of capitalism:

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Increasingly, to be a fan of something necessitates consuming various forms of that thing. For example, it is not enough to watch Marvel movies, to truly engage and broadcast one’s identity as a fan requires purchasing posters, t-shirts, and Funko Pop! As we churn through this “debris of modern manufacturing,” what does it mean when we turn to collect things from the past? 

Though “nostalgia” was coined originally to describe soldiers’ “longing to return home,” Gary Cross argues in Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism that the pace of modernity has thoroughly destabilized all of us. It has created both a craving for items with personal relevance to our past—from Disneyland trinkets to melamine dishware—and a new industry only happy to help. This is a much more individualized nostalgia that cannot be passed on through traditions or satisfied with national monuments. You can read more about Cross’s nuanced approach the book’s introduction. 

If these have piqued your interest, check out more titles in the Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism series, and save 30% when you use coupon code: CUP30.

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