Memo - Week of Oct. 18 - The United States of Consumption

In different ways our first two readings this week are about the relationship between consumers and political power. In the first reading, an essay by Charles McGovern, a professor at the College of William and Mary, McGovern argues that in the twentieth century consumer society was increasingly conceptualied and promoted in political terms. As a defense against claims of self-serving manipulation of consumers, merchants and marketers developed a language that recast the world of goods as a "democracy," which consumers shaped by voted for the goods they liked the best. One effect of this was the increasing overlap of commercial and political interests.

The second reading is an excerpt from a book by the late Roland Marchand, who was a professor at the University of California-Davis, Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in American Big Business. This book is about the ways that big business responded to the Great Depression in the 1930s, when more and more Americans blamed large corporations for the nation's economic problems and questioned whether an economy in which big business was so dominant was really good for average, flesh-and-blood American citizens. The largest corporations responded not by changing their business practices but by trying to alter how the public perceived their business practices.

I would also like you to begin reading Richard Peterson's Creating Country Music, chaps. 1-3. We'll read more of it for next week, and will discuss it then, but please get started on this reading now. Peterson is a sociologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashvill. This book is very different from our other readings, but as you go through, I want you to think about how something -- a style of music, for example -- become a commodity.