Communication and Culture | Advertizing and Consumer Culture
C315 | 1062 | Chris Anderson

We like to tell ourselves that we purchase consumer goods simply
because they’re useful; they fill certain needs in our lives.  Clothes
keep us warm and appropriately attired.  Cars transport us to work or
to classes.  Computers allow us to write papers and conduct research.
But at some level we also realize that we live in a world in which the
consumer goods that we purchase speak volumes about who we are, what
groups we belong to, and what we aspire to become.  Do you shop for
clothes at Abercrombie & Fitch or at Wal-Mart?  Do you actually drive
your SUV over rugged terrain or, like most of us, use it simply to get
around town?  Are you a Windows person or a Mac person?  The answers
to these questions are meaningful: our choices help us to craft a
social identity, one that is recognizable -- shared by people “like
us,” but not by those who are different.

The consumption of goods and services plays a crucial role in the
American economy, but consumer culture is more than the sum of the
things that we own.  Whether we’re in public or in the privacy of our
homes, strolling across campus or watching television, we’re enveloped
by advertising.   It’s just the world we inhabit today – one where it
seems normal to be addressed as a potential consumer in virtually
every waking moment of our lives, where we happily turn ourselves into
living advertisements by wearing clothes that announce the brands that
we buy.

The goal of this course is to make us more aware of how advertising
operates in society and how we live within consumer culture.  What are
the goals of the advertising industry?  What information, ideas, and
values are communicated in advertising?   What role does advertising
play in television, movies, and magazines?   How do manufacturers and
retailers create “brand-name” products, and why do we care about these
brands?  What do advertisers know about consumers?  Are we, as
consumers, manipulated by advertising or do we make independent
decisions about what to purchase?  Is it possible to live in the
modern world without adopting the values of consumer culture?  Is it
possible to resist the constant messages that tell us: “You are what
you buy?”  Should we maintain certain spaces in society that are free
of advertising and commercial messages?

Final grades will be based on exams and written assignments.


Gary Cross, An All-Consuming Century:  Why Commercialism Won in
America (2002)

Robert Goldman & Stephen Papson, Nike Culture:  The Sign of the Swoosh

Naomi Klein, No Logo (2002)

Juliet B. Schor & Douglas B. Holt, eds., The Consumer Society Reader