#BeTheBridge on Giving Tuesday, December 1st

We hope things get better soon, but in this year of The Pandemic there’s been so much wage and job loss that the homes of thousands of families threaten to go into foreclosure.

In the VIDEO BELOW, Rick Guzman—executive director of The Neighbor Project—announces TNP’s initiative #BeTheBridge.  Anything you give will go to helping families bridge over these extraordinary times of loss and stay in their homes.

AND everything you give will be matched dollar for dollar up to $50,000 by an anonymous donor.  Go to The Neighbor Project website, or mail your check made out to The Neighbor Project at 32 S. Broadway, Aurora, IL 60505.  Include #BeTheBridge on the “memo” line.

Lack of home ownership is the single greatest driver of this country’s unbelievable, dangerous, and growing wealth gap, and the racial wealth gap is even worse.  Anything you give on Giving Tuesday, and until the end of the year, gets doubled—a doubling we need now more than ever.

Click on the VIDEO below for more details, then watch Rick’s talk “Every Person’s God-Given Ability to Contribute.”  There’s no better place to learn more about The Neighbor Project’s work and its vision for all our communities.

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Frank London Brown Inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame

Earlier in this tumultuous year I missed an in-person meeting called by Don Evans, president of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, to pick this year’s inductees.  The final spot came down to two: Stanley Elkins and Frank London Brown.  I emailed my vote in and Don sent this note to the rest of the committee at the end of March:

Frank London Brown

“Hi All — I just heard back from Richard. He casted the deciding vote for Frank London Brown. He wrote, ‘I vote for Frank London Brown. His ties to Chicago are much stronger.  Trumbull Park is an important Chicago area story, and the short story “McDougal” a masterpiece touching on issues even more important today than when it was written.  The intensifying racial crisis of our time brings up many questions, including if whites can truly understand the impact of racism.  That’s a large part of what the story deals with…People might want to check [out my post on him] HERE…Stanley Elkins would be a good choice for another year.’”

Frank London Brown spent his tragically short life (1927-1962) both showing the horror of racism and holding out hope that whites could understand enough of that horror to help make the U.S. less racist someday.  In the HERE link above, I focus more on that hope because I included “McDougal” in my book Black Writing from Chicago. But I also spend some time with Trumbull Park, his important novel dealing with the horror.

The massive Encyclopedia of Chicago includes this entry on Trumbull Park:  “South Deering erupted in violence in 1953 over the issue of racial integration at the neighborhood’s lone public housing project, Trumbull Park Homes, located at 105th Street and Yates Avenue. Since 1937, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) had maintained an unstated policy to house only whites at projects that, like Trumbull Park, were located in entirely white neighborhoods. However, the project was ‘accidentally’ integrated on July 30, 1953, because the CHA assumed that Betty Howard, an exceptionally fair-skinned African American, was white. Beginning on August 5 and continuing nightly for weeks thereafter, crowds of whites directed fireworks, rocks, and racial epithets toward Betty and Donald Howard’s apartment. Police responded with a show of force but few arrests. South Deering leaders openly pressured Chicago politicians and the CHA to remove the Howards, while progressive forces argued for further integration. In October, after lengthy debate, the CHA’s commissioners reluctantly agreed to move in 10 additional black families, triggering a new round of white violence directed at blacks. A massive police presence prevented full-scale rioting, but chronic racial tension and sporadic violence continued through the 1950s. Not until 1963 could African Americans openly use a neighboring public park without police protection. The conflict claimed the career of the CHA’s progressive executive director, Elizabeth Wood, who had pushed the CHA’s commissioners to further integrate the project. White violence had succeeded in blocking any further racial integration beyond the token black population in the project.”

In fact, as Kathleen Rooney reports, “Black residents had to sign police logs to enter and exit their homes, and had to commute into and out of Trumbull Park in a paddy wagon, accompanied by armed officers. The police played up the indignity and humiliation by treating them like criminals.” How does one persevere under those conditions?  Can we truly feel enough of that pain from afar to keep us fiercely motivated to make our country less racist someday?

Frank London Brown's "Trumbull Park"Kathleen Rooney was part of that committee that met this past March to pick Chicago Literary Hall of Fame inductees, and recently published “How Trumbull Park Exposed the Brutal Legacy of Segregation,” for JSTOR Daily, an essential site for anyone interested in solid scholarly takes on a wide variety of issues illuminating today’s dilemmas.  Of the novel itself she writes: “Often, books from the past, even the ones with the best intentions regarding social justice, fall short of what contemporary readers might hope. Feminist texts may be shot through with subtle racism, and anti-racist texts might be marbled with misogyny. But Brown’s approach is refreshingly intersectional, emphasizing the centrality of the Black women of Trumbull Park. Buggy [Buggy Martin, the reluctant, every-man hero of the book] complains of the motley crew of fellow Black residents they have as allies, and how fractious even that group can be. Helen looks at him seriously and says, ‘It’s too bad we can’t pick the people to help us fight, Buggy. But it always seems that the most likely ones never come through, and the least likely ones always do. What’ll we do—refuse help because it’s not from the right people?’”

Trumbull Park sold 25,000 copies upon publication and was praised by many, some mentioning it in the company of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.  Yet Kathleen Rooney had trouble getting any copy except a hard-to-find University Press edition.  “Why aren’t more people reading this book?” she asks. “Even though it was effusively praised at the time of its 1959 publication by Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes, why does it not have the classic status it so richly deserves? Why, when it comes to the question of the great Chicago novel do we tend to hear the same set of names—Bellow, Algren, Sinclair—over and over with no mention of Brown?”  She unearths some important reasons, but none as crucial as from Frank London Brown himself.  Apparently, he felt he was writing more to a strictly black audience in a very specific way.  He did not focus on black victimization, nor was he interested in appealing to or threatening a white audience.  It all came down to the figure of Buggy Martin.  “If I could get the Negro reader to identify himself with this man,” Brown said, “then, at the end of the novel, the reader would be sworn to courage—if the trick I tried to pull on Negro readers worked—”

Sworn to courage.  Yes, Black Americans need this as they once again try to shoulder the burden of leading us into a better world.  It will be a decades-long haul, though, so it will be a necessary thing for all of us of good and hopeful will to swear ourselves to courage as well.

  Fair housing and especially home ownership are the greatest drivers of this nation’s growing and dangerous wealth gap.  See “The Racial Wealth Gap and Home Ownership,” and the work done to combat this by organizations like The Neighbor Project.  The best introduction to The Neighbor Project’s work and vision is HERE, a recent speech given by executive director Rick Guzman.

  Go to a list of Black Writers on this site, most of whom are in my book Black Writing from Chicago.  Most articles are much expanded versions of the introductions I wrote for the book.

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Every Person’s God-Given Ability to Contribute

Rick Guzman is The Neighbor Project’s Executive Director, and so important was his talk during The Neighbor Project’s 2020 virtual gala that I have posted a VIDEO of it below all by itself for anyone who did not watch the whole 45-minute gala (which you can still watch HERE), or even the 19-minute Gala Highlights I recently did for this site.

His talk highlighted The Neighbor Project’s impressive growth since early 2018, when Emmanuel House merged with The Joseph Corporation to create The Neighbor Project, and casted a vision for its expanding service to financially vulnerable families and individuals for the rest of 2020, then 2021 and beyond.

He casted this vision in the larger context of loving our neighbors enough to invest in them, saying, “We have to believe in our neighbors enough to invest in them, invest in others the way we would want to be invested in…[so] we can keep working to break down the barriers to home ownership, which are the single largest driver of this nation’s wealth gap.”  That wealth gap is unbelievably enormous (see my article “Graphic Inequality”) and even larger is the Racial Wealth Gap.

He set all this in the largest context of all by quoting from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King wrote.  “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

This talk is an example of what we need more of in this time of protest and soul-searching.  It ties practical action into a deep vision of our mutuality, and vice versa:  it ties that deep vision to practical steps that make that vision a reality in our everyday lives.  And more, it’s also a question of Who Leads?—a question playing out in the protests and other anti-racists actions across our nation today.   Writing in 1970, Robert Greenleaf, who started the field of Servant Leadership, said,  “…the next 30 years will be marked as the period when the dark skinned and…the alienated of the world assert their claims…” and were not “led by a privileged elite…It may be that the best that some of today’s privileged can do is to stand aside and serve by helping when asked and as instructed.”  Guzman expresses his belief that, “If we enlist and empower and engage financially vulnerable populations with opportunities…these otherwise vulnerable populations can quickly become contributing members and leaders for our communities.”  That’s an expanded version of a core belief he’s expressed many times: “Every person has a God-given ability to contribute.”

♦  Go to The Neighbor Project’s website to donate and get involved, and to “Emmanuel House Becomes The Neighbor Project” for a bit of history.

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Voter Suppression 21st Century Style

The VIDEO BELOW stitches together excerpts from four clips: first, on the infamous “Bloody Sunday” incident, then three on Voter Suppression from 2010 to 2020—a decade which has seen voting rights seriously rolled back from its high point in 1965’s Voting Rights Act, an Act inspired by the courage of Civil Rights Leaders like the late John Lewis, whom we lost on July 17, 2020.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis was one of the leaders of peaceful protestors who, as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, were viciously attacked by state troopers, county sheriffs, and a horse-mounted posse.  Many were injured, including Lewis, whose skull was fractured.  The incident became known as “Bloody Sunday,” and the shock and outrage of many of those watching TV coverage was one factor in the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year on August 6th.  About 19 months earlier, on August 28, 1963, John Lewis, then just 23, had been the youngest speaker at the famous March on Washington.

The Pettus Bridge was named for Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier general, leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan…and U.S. Senator.  This year, ten days after Lewis’ death a bill was introduced proposing to name the Voting Rights Advancement of 2019 (H.R.4) after John Lewis.  It passed the House, but though nearly every Republican in the Senate paid tribute to Lewis—known widely as “The Conscious of Congress”—only one GOP Senator voted for the bill, and it was defeated.

John Lewis speaking at the 1963 March on Washington. He was just 23.

H.R.4 sought in part to remedy the damage done by a 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder which struck down Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Details are in the VIDEO below, which also explains that within 24 hours of this decision three states began enacting suppressive voter ID laws.  The situation has gotten worse since then, though there have been legal victories attempting to counteract voter ID laws and other tactics meant to suppress voting, especially by people of color, the poor, and other marginalized groups.    

In April 2016, for example, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled that the state’s new voter ID laws did not place unconstitutional obstacles between the state’s residents and their voting rights.  However, three months later, on July 29th, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District overturned that ruling.  Here’s a paragraph of the decision, written by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.  It contains the now famous phrase which I’ve italicized, bolded, and underlined.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its action, the State offered only meager justifications. Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation. ‘In essence,’ as in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (LULAC), 548 U.S. 399, 440 (2006), ‘the State took away [minority voters’] opportunity because [they] were about to exercise it.’”

Those cures for problems that did not exist include voter fraud, which does exist, though in vanishingly small numbers—perhaps, according to one study, 31 in 1 billion votes: 0.000000031%!  Still, many Americans believe fraud is “rampant.”  “Dirty Tricks: 9 Falsehoods That Could Undermine the 2020 Election,” a piece from the Brennan Center for Justice, is a good summary of false notions about the integrity of elections.

Voter suppression tactics are often presented as rational, commonsense actions to “protect the integrity of elections,” but it becomes clearer each day that racism is at the root of them. The title of Grace Panetta’s article for Business Insider seems to say it all:  “Black Americans still face obstacles to voting at every step of the process.”  This piece is a good summary of those obstacles, obstacles that dishonor the legacy of John Lewis and everyone who has placed the Right to Vote at the center of their fight for Civil Rights for everyone.


Other Resources.  After watching the VIDEO below, dig deeper.  First, three pdf’s of longer reports on partisanship, voting and democracy:  1) From the Economist Intelligence Unit — “Democracy Index 2019,” which calls the U.S. a “Flawed Democracy,” ranking it just the 25th best democracy in the world.  Though the link to Voter Suppression is not as strongly made as it could be, given the evidence cited, there is a significant indictment of partisan politics. 2)  From the Bipartisan Policy Center — “The 2018 Voting Experience,” which definitively cites race as the major demographic factor in voter suppression.  And 3) From the Brennan Center for Justice — “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification,” giving exhaustive details on seemingly reasonable laws which actual target specific populations to take away their voting rights.  Finally, a Short Summary of the article above and the video below used for a Voter Registration Drive.

  Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY main page.

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Magic and Consumption at the End of History – Part 1

I gave the following talk in 2004 at a conference held at the Monash University Centre, Prato, Italy.  (Prato is Tuscany’s second largest city, less than 11 miles from Tuscany’s largest, Florence.)  I publish it now partly because it speaks about the “end of history” thesis, a thesis that its author, Francis Fukuyama, a “Neo-Con” star, has moved further away from. Neo-Con ideology promoted free-market capitalism and aggressively pushing American democracy across the globe because it believed liberal democracy and market capitalism had essentially vanquished every other ideology there was. But today, even after Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump in Election 2020, liberal democracy seems under very heavy siege, and the flight from globalization back into a more isolationist, rigid, xenophobic nationalism is far from over.  We cling to the latter as a populist political ploy, which doesn’t quite stand up against the reality of global economics.  Our businesses and manufacturing processes remain strongly  global, inextricably entwined no matter how we might want it otherwise.  And consumerism rages on.  It’s stronger than ever, and a growing danger to the liberal democracy that spawned it.  It feeds our environmental crisis, and possibly—as you’ll read below—causes the “boredom” that may be one of the root causes of today’s unrest.  I also mention, eerily, how it might take catastrophic events to curb our over-heated consumerist culture. Though some edges of the following argument aren’t as sharp as before, overall the ideas, I think, remain as crucial today as when I first spoke them over 16 years ago.

Years ago John Fischer wrote an article titled “Survival U: Prospects for a Really Relevant University,” proposing that every discipline in his dream school should focus on ecology.  Today Democrats could use it as a primer for their “Green New Deal.” But ecological problems stem in large part from the rate we’re consuming the world, and the afflictions of affluence may be signs of one of the truly central plagues of our time: the growing centrality of a consumerist vision of life and our inability—especially in the West, but increasingly everywhere—to control our rates of consumption.  We gobble up raw materials, finished goods, even images and ideas themselves at an ever increasing pace.  It’s a problem for our earth, for our pocket books, for our moral and ethical lives, but could we begin to curb it more effectively if we saw it first as a problem of imagination?

The analysis and critique of “The Afflictions of Affluence”—as Robert Samuelson titled one of his Newsweek articles—has become a growth industry, and popular books like John De Graaf’s Affluenza and rafts of scholarly work approach the issue from an impressive range of angles.  Here I’ll lean most on anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, who has called consumption the central imaginative activity of our time.  What I’d like to do is less grand than proposing a whole university curriculum.  I want to propose a revision to just one course—the Consumer Ed course many seniors have to take before they graduate high school—a revision that would place imagination at the center of Consumer Ed concerns. And I want to propose this for just one particular school district in one particular town.

Naperville, Illinois, is 29 miles due west of the “Loop” in Chicago, and in the middle of DuPage County, one of the richest in the United States.  It has often been identified as a “bell weather” town; for what happens in Naperville, so many have said, is a sign of what will be happening in suburbia across the nation.  Here, as throughout Illinois, every high school senior is required to take a course called Consumer Education.  As presently constituted, the course focuses mainly on being a savvy buyer, on understanding how to balance a check book, and on how interest rates work.  I have had much experience in Naperville public school policy, having helped to bring in a foreign language requirement and a diversity plan to Naperville’s schools, the fourth largest system in Illinois.

In re-visioning and broadening the goals of this course, it would be tempting to jump straight into an ecological, even a Puritanical, ethic which calls for a simpler lifestyle and the substantial curbing of consumerist practices.  Eventually this curbing must happen in some way.  But a jeremiad is less likely to succeed if the objects of it do not know that there is a deep problem to begin with.  That we label some consumptive practices as “conspicuous” does not mean we understand them in any conspicuous way whatever.  Much less do we understand that most of our consumption is already conspicuous, not just the province of the super wealthy.  Also, our economy presently depends on high levels of consumption, and globalization—which further heats up consumptiond—is such a juggernaut, that it would be naïve to assume that any calls to drastically cut our consumption would have any widespread effect.  It may be that some massive terrorist activity, some crash on the scale of the 1929 market crash, some environmental or health catastrophe (such as the ones projected in the films The Day After Tomorrow or Outbreak) will be the only things that can finally change us.  We hope, however, that scenes of such wide-spread destruction and misery can be avoided, and that the humanities can help avert them.  This is all the more important to the humanities because the humanities themselves have been deeply involved in raising the level of consumption to its present super-heated state.

In his review of Virginia Postrel’s recent book The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, Tom Carson writes:

“Nine tenths of the critical writing about commodity could be anthologized under the title Killjoy Was Here; whether the point of view is Marxist alienation or post-structuralist hauteur, it’s a given that the critic is monkishly immune to the gratifications involved.  Yet that’s just why, tested against everyday life as most people experience it, the bulk of all this intellectual hectoring is inhumane rubbish—contemptuous of desires that aren’t necessarily as unworthy or manipulated as charged.” (115)

I’ll attempt to situate myself somewhere between intellectual hectoring and consumer apologetics, the main charge Carson levels at Postrel. The program I outline here attempts to raise awareness of the role of consumption at a more basic level than economics and the vagaries of buying.  It takes as its starting point—its thesis—that consumption is now the major imaginative activity of our time.  As Arjun Appadurai writes, “…consumption has become the civilizing work of postindustrial society” (81).  We need to understand how it got this way and how the humanities can set new directions in our understanding of how our patterns of buying and consuming power the way we imagine not just an individual identity, but an entire world.  This initial attempt at constructing an alternative syllabus for the Consumer Education course marks out three areas of study: history, aesthetics, and time.  The confluence of these three can provide a context for understanding the rise of consumption as the major imaginative activity of our time.

1.  HISTORY:  What is the particular nature of history at this moment?  Half of the title for this paper comes from Hegel, through French philosopher Alexandre Kojeve, with an “end point” in Francis Fukuyama, who wrote The End of History and the Last Man.  We have arrived, says Fukuyama, at the historical moment when the contest between political and ideological systems has resulted in the triumph of liberal democracy.  Notwithstanding the competition represented by fundamentalist Islam, for example, or arguments as to the particular forms liberal democracy could or should take in specific situations, this triumph is such that no one now considers any other ideological system truly viable.  “This is not the place to rehearse Hegel’s gargantuan narrative,” writes Michael Valdez Moses.  “It is enough to suggest that the conclusion at which Hegel arrives, that history culminates in the universal recognition of human freedom, is implicit within the political ideology that has come to dominate the modern world” (8).  Freedom of the individual and freedom of the marketplace—which seem to have become inextricably entwined—are thus our highest socio-political goals, no matter how free individuals and markets may in reality be.  But the results of this are obviously not completely healthy.  Fukuyama ends his essay “The End of History?” (out of which the book grew) in a wonderfully ambiguous way:

“The end of history will be a very sad time.  The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.” (178)

He forecasts a “prospect of centuries of boredom” that may serve “to get history started once again” (178).  Though we may quibble with the big argument, it seems that Fukuyama’s “replacement” list is extraordinarily accurate.  He believes that this list is less “lofty” than what it replaced.  What he misses is that imagination—and possibly daring, courage, and idealism as well—now have new targets, that these targets are those things on his replacement list, and that the last thing on the list—“the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands”—dominates the whole list.  While there may be a growing cynicism with the crassness of economic calculation, a growing frustration with the complications of technology, and a continuing apathy towards the environment—consumerism remains often intolerably exciting.  Though we all know that money can’t buy happiness, we rarely act that way; for things that money can buy so often take on magical properties.  This is certainly true in stories involving the reaction of “Third World” societies encountering “First World” things.  In One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes that

“Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Maconda did not know where their amazement began.  They stayed up all night looking at the pale electric bulbs fed by the plant that Aureliano Triste had brought back when the train made its second trip…It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping Maconda in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay.”  (211-212)

But such a magical ethos is as certainly “First World” as it is “Third World,” not only when we marvel at the latest thin screen high definition TV, or the burgeoning power of our cell phones, but also when we partake in the growing appreciation of fine food and wine, or the growing sophistication of design which transforms more and more tract homes into Swedish spas or Italian villas.  The historical landscape we now inhabit is a landscape transformed by globalization into a marketplace of goods that has replaced the marketplace of ideologies because there are, so the theory goes, so few ideologies left to buy, or buy into.  It’s not necessary to “buy” every detail of the End of History view to use it as a hook to focus attention on the particular demands of liberal democracies—and liberal market places.   In our time, one could ask, where else is there for the imagination to turn but consumerism?  An increased awareness of the central imaginative role of consumption might hopefully, and ironically, lead to answers other than consumerism in the long run. As it turns out, that turn towards consumerism was prepared for long before globalization became a juggernaut and arose from a movement that had—again, ironically—an anti-materialist base, some of which might still be recaptured.

2. AESTHETICS:  Long before the supposed “end of history” one of the key changes that prepared the way for modern consumerism was the aestheticizing of hedonism which began with the Western Romantics.  “Neither the first Romantics, nor their successors…, ever intended to grant legitimacy to modern consumerism or to that spirit of self-interested hedonism upon which it is based,” writes Colin Campbell in The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (207).  In fact, says Campbell,

“…the first Romantics initiated that form of mass culture critique so characteristic of modern intellectuals, in which the unrestrained pursuit of profit and personal gain is seen as the primary factor which acts to prevent people from experiencing that spiritual enlightenment which is their birthright.”  (207)

However, what the Romantics did initiate, according to Campbell, is the “ideology” of art, and in particular “a new artist class” (208).  The Romantic visionary faith that impelled them to try to heal souls cursed by the over-rational and over-material turned to art as the major way of renewal; for the arts of music, painting, poetry, drama and the like offer a diversity of means and stimuli than other “entertainments” engaged in by traditional hedonists.  It shifts the emphasis from seeking sensation to seeking emotion because sensation leads more quickly to satiety.  The arts, in other words, are better at avoiding boredom.  They also shift individual attention inward towards aesthetic appreciation and taste, and away from the outward, more “worldly” concerns of ideology, religion, politics, and the like.  It sounds foolish to say one has a “taste” for communism, Catholicism, liberal democracy, but the appreciation of food, design, and, art, of course, is all about “taste.” In Romanticism, as Campbell says, there may have been “…a repudiation of utilitarianism, but not materialism, for luxury, in the form of exquisite, rare and beautiful objects…actually symbolizes the aesthetic attitude” (200).  All this sets the stage for a more inward, mental hedonism, and the growing importance of daydreaming as a form of self-making.  It moves actual consumption to another level.  “That the imaginative enjoyment of products and services is a crucial part of contemporary consumerism is revealed by the important place occupied in our culture by representations of products rather than the products themselves,” says Campbell (92).  This emphasis on the arts, and the fact that the seeds of modern consumerism germinated amid such things as the growing popularity of books (novels in particular), marks the humanities as a major contributor to the spirit of modern consumerist culture.

Grant McCracken describes how significance today flows basically from a “culturally constituted world” of meaning through systems of advertising and fashion into consumer goods, and from there via rituals of possession, exchange, grooming, and divestment into the individual consumer (71-72).  The new hedonists’ connections to the larger culture are thus interdicted by consumer goods, which literally shrink larger perspectives to the goals of advertising, leaving an individual freer to become, as Campbell says, “an artist of the imagination” (78).  The mystery of modern consumerism, remarks Campbell, is its “…endless pursuit of wants… its insatiability” (37).  This is surely because it is now as much, or even more, an imaginative as an actual activity.  The labor of modern consumerism, says Appadurai,

“…is not principally targeted at the production of commodities but is directed at producing the conditions of consciousness in which buying can occur…We are all housekeepers now, laboring daily to practice the disciplines of purchase in a landscape whose temporal structures have become radically polyrhythmic.  Learning these multiple rhythms (of bodies, products, fashions, interest rates, gifts, and styles) and how to integrate them is not just work—it is the hardest sort of work, the work of the imagination.” (83)


End of PART 1.  Discussion of the third element, Time, begins PART 2 of this essay (a link will go live when Part 2 becomes available), which also contains the Works Cited list.

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