For a few months while the recession was in full swing, the ugly, debasing epithet "consumer" was not as prominent in the media....well at least not as prominent as it was several months before the stock market crash. Now, however, the word is coming back into the lexicon and used even in pieces that have nothing to do with consumption. You can almost see a 1:1 correlation as the DOW goes back up and that god-awful "consumer confidence index" edges higher, indicating more spending.
As an example, there is today's Wall Street Journal article "New Programs Put Crime stats on the Maps', (p. D1) which references web pages that track criminal activity in given cities by geographical location, zip code. Surely, this information constitutes what could be considered highly useful for responsible CITIZENS! You know, that archaic relic that dates from the era of Jefferson and Franklin and who made civic life and it quality his mission, as well as expanding his political acumen to effect change?
But in the article, referring to the crime tracking website, we see:
"While the web sites are free for consumers....."
WHAT do "consumers" have to do with tracking crime? Oh wait, I forgot, the WSJ weighs everything in terms of money, and hence the issue is that the websites that track crime are "free" and hence have zero consumption value.
But no one, least of all the author, seems to process the fact that by making the "consumer" more ubiquitous than the citizen, we are actually pandering to and reinforcing an already entrenched money culture. One wherein every single thing has to have some monetary value because....to be "free" is to be worthless!
The rise of the "consumer" in preference to "citizen" probably was validated as a conscious media choice sometime in the late 1970s. This was sufficiently long after the hippies and flower power had attempted to eviscerate Madison Avenue's hold on people by mocking it and the whole commodity zeitgeist.
The choice was also partly political. So long as one could regard the populace (or most of it) as "consumers" one didn't have to fret over their gnarly counterparts, the citizens. You know, who made noise when it was needed, marched in protests, and generally held their elected officials' feet to the fire.
Later, in the early 80s, the jig was up and the subtext for "consumer" was roundly exposed by Erik Larson in hnis landmark book 'The Naked Consumer' (Henry Holt & Co., 1992). This book revealed how people who invested their lives in consumption -going to Malls and just buying- were treated and assessed like cattle.
Why is this? Erik Larson offers a reason (p. 167):
"It isn't enough for companies to know precisely what we buy, what we watch, and how many advertisements we encounter. They want to know how we consume. How do we comport ourselves in the aisles of our grocery stores?"
Larson himself also notes how consumer monitors in stores regularly referred to consumers as "grazing like cattle"(ibid.). A recent article about brand names in The Wall Street Journal casually described "branding" consumers from their earliest ages. That is, insinuating deep into their brains the distinction between various brand names and products. And it is a well -known fact that once one has children, one has inadvertently created consumption monsters.....that pester mommy and daddy incessantly to buy, buy and buy. Especially to go to the burger store for the latest new Terminator doll or whatever.
Want to save money and actually have enough to retire? Don't have kids!
Are most people aware they are being relentlessly tracked and studied like prey- or better- "grazing cattle"? Hardly. Should they be aware? Probably. Why? Because by having awareness - and displaying it - people become more than the passive, stupid 'consuming cattle' they want us to be. Don't think so? Then consider this remark made to author Larson, by one of these 'tracker handlers' (op. cit., p. 181):
'No one ever notices. Ever. Consumers shop like in a trancelike state like 'idly grazing animals"
Not surprisingly then, the actual use and application of "consumers" to citizens means an attempt is underway to reduce the population to cattle (or sheep). Cattle and sheep just blink while they're stuffed and fattened for the kill. They are too dumb to know otherwise, or what ultimate fate awaits them.
Thomas Jefferson once observed in his 'Notes on Virginia':
"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. AND TO RENDER THEM SAFE, THEIR MINDS MUST BE IMPROVED"
This means converting people into CITIZENS. But the truth is that the powers-that-be are terrified of citizens, because they are not manipulable like consumers. The fact is that in the context of a market-driven (hell, market-worshipping) capitalist society, a citizen is something it cannot afford. Citzens, you see, contradict by definition the hegemony of the PR-spin axis and the market idiom. They perceive the interest of the commonweal over their own passing fancies, or hedonist pursuits. This necessarily will clash with market-capital values as well as the derivative political concepts that are sold as products to Americans- like the Iraq war was.
Thus, the citizen may see a clear need to reduce sprawl by imposing gasoline taxes - but the market will shudder. Or - to the same end - the citizen will seek to impose stringent zoning laws to inhibit development in his community, and again the market will quake.
The citizen will see a critical need for a national health service - given the millions that can't afford private insurance - and again the market will go ballistic. It wants profit, not the practice of genuine medicine.
The citizen will see the need for the prioritizing of public or civic space above encroaching commercial interests in many venues (most especially media - perhaps imposing a tax on E-M spectrum usage for the corporate megaliths)- for which capitalists and the markets will squeal like stuck pigs.
The citizen will also see the need for fairness in tax liability. So, he will pressure government to alter the existing tax burden - which is now 80% on wage earners as opposed to only twenty percent on corporations. To the same end, the citizen will pressure to abolish corporate tax havens - such as employed by Tyco Corp. in Bermuda. Merely hanging out a shingle to escape $400 million in tax liability, a scheme not available to the average Joe or Jane - who must also compensate for corporate tax escapes.
So, millions of citizens - all pursuing the common interest- is definitely something a capitalist society doesn't want, or need. Much better to satiate the people with umpteen distractions ("American Idol") and induce them to spend (using the psychological brainwashing state of the Gruen Transfer). Thereby, they'll gravitate forevermore toward rank consumption, while being forced to ply the work-spend treadmill. Ever increasing their work loads to pay down on the consumption debt accumulated. With no time to be aware of what's going on around them.
Apart from that, politicians prefer consumers to citizens - because the latter will tend to hold them to much to account. Reckoning in their actual performance, not merely their vacuous 4-yearly promises. Reckoning in their passing laws - purchased by corporate campaign money - over laws in the citizens' interest. The venal, exploitative, power-hungry politician, indeed, has reason to fear the citizen as opposed to his consumptive, brain-dead counterpart – the “consumer”. For the Real citizen is his worst nightmare come true. A thoroughly knowledgeable and critical individual who will not hesitate to cry 'foul', or use his or her First Amendment right to DISSENT – particularly when it isn’t welcomed or wanted by radical fascist ideologues.
In addition:1) The Real Citizen is prepared to question the decisions of his government- not give them a simple-minded, carte blanche rubber stamp because the government says so.
2)The Real Citizen holds his government to account – and is not prepared to passively and meekly overlook its less than savory deeds or policies. He too well recalls how the Nazi machine was enabled by too many passive sheep who did nothing to protest its advance
3) The Real Citizen doesn’t need a ‘pledge’ or song to remind him of his duties and obligations – he knows his Bill of Rights and more importantly exercises them. (Use them or lose them!)
4) The Real Citizen understands that the flag is the symbol for the principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights – and to that extent cannot be placed above those principles. Hence, he requires no ‘flag desecration’ amendments to bolster his patriotism or make him feel better if someone else chooses to use the flag as the focal point of protest.
5) The Real Citizen - above all - doesn’t confuse the nation he loves with the corporatocratic, toxic SYSTEM which confers disproportionate power on corporations in relation to the PEOPLE. Only flesh and blood PEOPLE can have rights – not legal artifacts. And the government is supposed to be FOR and about real flesh and blood PEOPLE (also known as CITIZENS) - not granting corporations carte blanche to ravage the country at will. (As payback for campaign contributions and other largesse).
The citizen - by the above account- is absolutely essential to the exercise of a genuine democracy. For as Thomas Jefferson noted in his 'Notes on Virginia', to the extent the people's minds are improved they will hold check on the worst excesses of government. (Which, he added, will always tend toward tyranny otherwise). If the people's minds are degraded (as they are by market values and egotistical satiation of personal desires) they will become mere pawns or tools for a despotic government to wield any way it wants. In the end, democracy demands conscious and fully aware as well as savvy CITIZENS. Not sheeple consumers who think en masse and lack any critical thought capacity or minds of their own. And have to be tricked by advertising and marketing to cast the "right" vote.
So, don't even think of calling me a "consumer". I am and shall remain a CITIZEN of these United States, NOT a statistical artifact to help measure GDP.