Consumerism thesis/opening Tuesday, Feb 22 2011 

According to Lizabeth Cohen’s book A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, politics in the United States since the end of World War II has been driven by the idea that it is, not only the right, but also the duty of American citizens to acquire and consume as many goods as possible.  After World War II, Americans had unprecedented ability to purchase new homes, automobiles, household appliances, and a myriad of other items that were becoming available in the booming postwar economy.  The acquisition of these things came to be how Americans defined success in the second half of the 20th century.  American politics both encouraged this concept of consumerism and was itself reshaped by it.

            Consumerism after World War II had a profound impact on American society and American politics in several important ways.  First, the acquisition of material goods gave Americans a clear and easily measurable way to identify how successful they were and a barometer to compare their success to others.  Second, the marketing of particular items to the segment of society that those consumer goods were intended for created separate and distinct sub-groups in American society that could be identified by the goods they acquired.  Finally, the idea of consumerism became so ingrained in American society that Americans began to think of it as their right and as something the government needed to guarantee.  This new notion of consumption had both positive and negative effects on American society.  However, what cannot be argued is the dramatic role consumerism played in reshaping politics in the United States after World War II.

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Race & Consumption Wednesday, Feb 9 2011 

Consumption played a huge role in the Civil Rights movement. Blacks, just like all Americans, wanted to be able to purchase and consume the best stuff. However, many blacks were not given an equal opportunity to buy quality goods. This made life for blacks inherently unequal and worse than those enjoyed by whites. The Office of Price Administration was a government agency designed to ensure that the quality and prices of goods were fair for all Americans. Blacks were strongly in favor of actions like this because they hoped to “prevent ghetto retailers from palming off inferior merchandise at top ceiling prices.” (Cohen, 86) Without the OPA, blacks often had to pay more for substandard goods. This inequality in consumption was something that the OPA hoped to alleviate and was a major part of the early Civil Rights movement.

The choices that blacks made in their consumption also played a major part in the Civil Rights movement. When white business owners treated blacks unfairly, blacks often organized boycotts of those businesses. These boycotts had major consequences for those businesses. Whites soon realized that without blacks consuming their products, they lost money. This led to white business owners treating black costumers more fairly. The reason that consumption played such an important role in this is because whites didn’t begin to treat blacks any better because they suddenly believed them to be equal. They only treated them better because if they didn’t, they would suffer economically.

This reminds me of when the Brooklyn Dodgers integrated their team with the signing of Jackie Robinson. Soon afterwards, other Major League owners began integrating their teams. This wasn’t done because Jackie Robinson made them realize that blacks were equal to whites. It was done because Jackie Robinson proved that the Negro Leagues were a huge untapped resource of talented players. If they didn’t integrate, they would become uncompetitive with teams that did integrate. The Red Sox are the perfect example of this. They were the last team to put blacks on their roster and they didn’t win a World Series until 2004.

While I realize that the baseball part of my post wasn’t covered by Cohen, I think it connects to the idea that desire for money and success played a larger role in the Civil Rights movement than did whites’ changing views on morality.

Major Crisis! Wednesday, Feb 9 2011 

Can you believe that a black family is trying to move into a white community!? Things sure have changed in America. 50 years ago, this caused major reactions and discussions within a community. People had wide ranges of emotions about the subject. Many felt that blacks moving nearby would ruin their community. It could cause property values to plummet, gangs of blacks would become violent, schools would deteriorate, etc. Others, like the third woman to speak in the film, seemed to think that integration was just a natural process and one day people would not even think about it. I think she was right. I bought a house about a year ago. In that process, I never even thought about or felt compelled to ask about the color of my potential neighbors. I think that is how most people in America feel about race these days. People obviously still notice if a person is white or black. But, for most, it isn’t even something that they consider important when making decisions on where to live, work, or send your kids to school.

American Dreams Thursday, Feb 3 2011 

H. W. Brands entitled his book “American Dreams.” He deals with the time period from 1945 to the present. What he attempts to show is how the American Dream has changed over time. He writes, “The dreams of 1945 had been collectively ambitious but individually modest; those of 2010 were collectively modest but individually ambitious.” Americans use to focus on winning the Cold War or putting a man on the moon. Now, they focus on getting a big house or a luxury car. I thought Brands did a poor job of explaining how the events described in his book affected the change in focus of the American Dream. He didn’t seem to connect the facts to his thesis. It was an interesting book because it provided a broad, albeit shallow, look at 65 years of American history. But, I would have liked to have seen the thesis developed a little more.

Kennedy: 50 Years Later. Tuesday, Feb 1 2011 

The United States recently observed the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration as President. In his inaugural address, Kennedy instructed his fellow citizens to, “ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” JFK was telling Americans not only to be self reliant, but to also give back to their country. This came from a Democrat! My, how things have changed in 50 years. When I watched the State of the Union address last week, our current President bragged about the new government programs instituted under his watch and ticked off a laundry list of new programs that the federal government needs to create. When Republicans occupy the White House, the story isn’t any different. From Cash for Clunkers to Free and Reduced Lunch, Social Security to the new healthcare law, and from the First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit to earmarks for pet projects, the American people are constantly looking for and expecting government to do things for them. In order to win elections, politicians from both parties are more than willing to oblige. I am afraid that John F. Kennedy would be saddened with Americans’ selfishness and reliance on government.

First post Wednesday, Jan 26 2011 

I posted my first thing! Are you impressed?

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