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White Noise The Invasion Of Consumerism In

White Noise: The Invasion Of Consumerism In A Post-Modern Family Essay, Research Paper The Invasion of Consumerism into the lives of a Post-Modern Family

White Noise: The Invasion Of Consumerism In A Post-Modern Family Essay, Research Paper

The Invasion of Consumerism into the lives of a Post-Modern Family

Consumerism is taking place everywhere. Whether we like it or not, it has come

to invade our everyday modern lives. Steven Miles, a lecturer in sociology at the

University of Plymouth says “How we consume, why we consume, and the parameters

laid down for us within which we consume have become increasingly significant

influences on how we construct our everyday lives” (1). Consumerism has even gotten to

the point of affecting the way we go about living and controlling our personal and social

lives (Miles 5). Wherever we go and whatever we do, consumerism is praised as the

answer to all of our problems, an escape from some of the harsh realities of our lives.

Don DeLillo’s White Noise depicts the different aspects of consumerism and the

effects it has post-modern family that it invades. That specific family is the Gladney’s

from Blacksmith. For the Gladney family, Jack, Babette, Heinrich, Steffie, Denise, and

Wilder, consumerism is a way of life. It is something they are always taking part in, even

if it is unconsciously. Consumerism is incorporated in with virtually every activity the

family takes part in, whether it be eating out, spending a day together at the shopping

mall, or making a quick stop at the supermarket.

Jack Gladney is a patron of supermarkets and shopping malls (McInerney 36).

Jack alone, but more frequently with the company of one or more family members,

makes trips to the supermarket. The supermarket has come to be a major point of

intersection in today’s culture (Conroy 97). Among the busy and bustling crowds of

people, Jack often runs into acquaintances, most commonly a colleague from The

College on The Hill, Murray Jay Siskind:

The two girls and Babette, Wilder and I went to the

supermarket. Minutes after we entered, we ran into

Murray. This was the fourth or fifth time I’d seen him

in the supermarket, which was roughly the number of

times I’d seen him on campus. (35)

Even Jack’s daughter, Denise, runs into a group of friends during one shopping trip.

They all gather together to look at books and talk. Jack also has many significant

conversations with Murray while casually strolling up and down the aisles of the

supermarket. On one such occasion, Murray tells Jack how happy he is to be “in

Blacksmith, in the supermarket, in the rooming house, on the Hill” (36). He continues to

say “I feel I am learning important things every day. Death, disease, afterlife, outerspace.

It’s all much clearer here. I can think and see” (36). With Murray expressing his feelings

to Jack, it is almost as if these encounters at the supermarket are replacing customary

social time.

Aside from being a meeting grounds, the supermarket is filled with many

consumer goods conveniently in bulk. Jack describes this in one of his many trips to the

supermarket:

There were six kinds of apples, there were exotic melons in

several pastels. Everything seemed to be in season,

sprayed, burnished, bright. (36)

This kind of abundance of goods is seen in just about everywhere. Ten years ago, most

supermarkets stocked about nine thousand items and now today’s stores carry over 24

thousand (Wolkormir). Most of these items come from a can or box and can be cooked

in the microwave or require no cooking at all. This explains why the number of hours

parents spend cooking is going down at an increasingly rapid rate and why McDonald’s

so proudly displays outside their restaurants, “Over 1 Billion Served.”

Fast food restaurants play a big role in today’s growing consumerism. Americans

enjoy more restaurant prepared food than ever before. Carrie Reynolds, a fast food

restaurant consultant says, “we eat out today more because it fits our high-speed,

consumer-mad lifestyles”(qtd. in Silver 42). Almost half of every dollar spent in 1999

was spent eating out, and that figure is expected to up 53% by 2010 (Silver 40). The

Gladney’s are seen eating restaurant prepared food frequently, whether it be Chinese

take-out night or dinner in a car outside of a commercial strip of fast food restaurants.

This is common for families, especially because it is convenient for the parents busy

schedules. Fast food may be convenient and seems great at the time, but in the long run,

can eventually kill. One in five children between the ages of six and seventeen is

overweight and if current trends continue, nearly half of today’s children will eventually

die of heart disease (Austin). Yet parents continue to encourage their children to take part

in the consumption of fast food. On one night, when no one wanted to cook, the Gladney

family went to a place that “specialized in chicken parts and brownies” (220). They

didn’t even bother to go inside and eat at a table:

We decided to eat in the car. The car was sufficient for our

needs. We wanted to eat, not look around at other people.

We wanted to fill our stomachs and get it over with. We

didn’t need light and space. We certainly didn’t need to

face each other across a table as we ate, building a subtle

and complex cross-network of signals and codes. We were

content to eat facing in the same direction, looking only

inches past our hands. (220-221)

This incident shows how the Gladney family has gotten caught up in the act of

consumption. Dinner, at one time, was a sacred time for families. It was a time when they

could get together and have conversations and enjoy each others company. Now, for a

post-modern family such as the Gladney’s, the main focus is just to quickly fill their

stomachs and then continue on with their busy schedules.

Shopping malls also play an active participant in consumerism. The mall

depicted in White Noise, the Mid-Village Mall is described as being “a ten-story

building arranged around a center court of waterfalls, promenades, and gardens” (83). It

is common to see such things in shopping malls; making them almost fantasy like. The

shopping malls are deliberately planned out to create an image of “elsewherness” (Miles

61). The mall lavishes consumerism with almost “religious like qualities” by hiding the

flaws that underlie it (Miles 59). Shopping malls are given an illusion of being a different

place with the plants, palm trees, waterfalls, and fountains when really the mall is a

palace of mass consumerism. As Miles states, “the shopping mall seems to provide all

the immediate gratification’s of consumerism but at the same time shelters the consumer

from the social and prescription that this entails” (Miles 59) The shopping mall can have

immense impacts on the consumer, both good and bad. In White Noise, Gladys

Treadwell dies and the doctors say this is because of “lingering dread, a result of the four

days and nights she and her brother had spent in the Mid-Village Mall, lost and

confused” (98). It is only in a post-modern society that the thought of a mall causing a

death can actually be believed.

Jack thought that, “everything was fine, would continue to be fine, would

eventually even get better as long as the supermarkets did not slip” (162). This shows the

security that Jack feels just from a supermarket. Mike Featherstone, a writer on

consumerism, believes that consumerism provides everybody with a sense of some kind

of control (qtd. in Miles 24). “The essence of consumerism lies in the feeling that as

consumers we are all gaining some semblance of authority over the everyday

construction of our lives through consumption” (Featherstone qtd. in Miles 24). The

sense of security and control is gained for many by consumption, especially in a

postmodern world.

Along with the sense of security and well being, consumerism is a quick fix

against anxiety and pressures that life brings (Long). “Not only can people escape from

their everyday problems through the physical and mental stimulation of shopping, but by

becoming part of a consumer culture, they begin to feel part of something real, when

arguably that experience is not real at all” (Miles 61). The act of consumerism and the

goods that are consumed seem to fulfill any human desire wanted at that time, but it can

never actually do so. (Baudrillard qtd. in Miles 26).

While browsing around at the huge hardware store near the mall, Jack runs into

Eric Massingale who is on the teaching staff at the computer center at the College on the

Hill. Jack is not in his glasses and gown that he wears at the college. Massingale tells

Jack how differently he looks with his glasses and gown. He tells Jack, “You look so

harmless Jack. A big harmless, aging, indistinct sort of guy” (83). Jack was hurt by these

comments because they seemed to threaten his ego: “The encounter put me in the mood

to shop” (83). From then on, Jack and his family begin to shop at the Mid-Village Mall.

Throughout White Noise, shopping is seen as being a family activity. The family

structure is established in the act of consumption (Ferraro 22). The Gladney family goes

to the supermarket and the mall together and consume restaurant prepared food together.

This shows how consumerism is becoming a family activity that brings closeness to

children and their parents in a post-modern society. The family structure is firmly

established in the act of consuming (Ferraro 22). Steven Shepard wrote that “going to the

mall is a part of a long and many-pronged courtship, part of the relentless and powerful

seduction of our children by that portion of our culture that accords human beings no

more value than the contents of their wallets.” This shows how much influence the

children have their parents, as well as the parents influence on their children, in the act of

consumption. The children depend on their parents for the funds to purchase items and

the parents make this possible, but “more crucially, approval of their children’s desire to

consume” (Ferraro 23). Children are quick to follow in their parents foot steps when it

comes to consuming. This is shown by DeLillo when Jack and his family are at the mall:

Babette and the kids followed me into the elevator, into the

shops set along the tiers, through the emporiums and

department stores, puzzled but excited by my desire to buy.

When I could not decide between two shirts, they

encouraged me to buy both. When I said I was hungry,

they fed me pretzels, beer, souvlaki. The two girls scouted

ahead, spotting things they thought I might want or need,

running back to get me, to clutch my arms, plead with me

to follow. They were my guides to endless well-being. (83)

Shopping with his family makes Jack feel like he belongs again. When with his family

shopping he feels like he plays an important role in the family and he feels like he is one

of them. “I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new

aspects of myself, located a person I’d forgotten existed” (84). “The shopping spree is

less a matter of personal aggrandizement or ego massage than it is a ritual of concerted

image. By shopping with his family, he becomes ‘one’ with his family, which in turn

achieves its ‘oneness’ through the activity of shopping” (Ferraro 22). Shopping

constructs the sense of family by acting as an activity that the family can do together

when really the family is more caught up in what they’re purchasing than appreciating

the time that they’re spending together. This again shows how consumerism gives a false

sense to the consumer, in this case, the sense of family.

With that sense of security and family, Jack continues to spend money without

much consideration of what he is buying. “I shopped for it’s own sake, looking and

touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it….I traded

money for goods. The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger

than these sums. These sums poured off my skin like so much rain. These sums in fact

came back to me in the form of existential credit” (84). The consumer obtains more

fulfillment from the act of spending money, not from what they are actually purchasing

(Ferraro 21). Not paying attention to what is being spent is very common of the

consumer. Americans live with a lot of denial about their spending patterns and when

questioned, 65% of Americans agreed that “in looking back on my spending, I often

wonder where the money goes.” (Schor 82). Juliet Schor, a writer on consumerism and

overspending states, “we spend more than we realize, hold more in debt than we admit

to, and ignore many of the moral conflicts surrounding our acquisitions” (Schor 83).

This gives some reasoning to when Jack says, “I shopped with reckless abandon. I

shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies” (83).

White Noise clearly illustrates how consumerism is constantly invading the lives

of a post-modern family living in a post-modern society. From when we wake up in the

morning to when we lie our heads down to go to sleep, we are bombarded with

consumerism. Consumerism is in the supermarkets we buy our food in, in the food we

eat, and in the shopping malls we walk through. While it may be argued that life would

be rather dull and monotonous without consumerism, the fact that it is literally

everywhere in today’s society and is so hard to avoid is a bit overwhelming. Because it is

so hard to avoid, it is up to the family and the individual to use consumerism to benefit

them instead of let it hurt them before it destroys the family structure.

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