Effect of Consumer Capitalism on Urban Life

The purpose of this article is to analyse the effect of consumer capitalism on urban life. It presents several contemporary and historic examples to show how current urban life is the by-product of consumer capitalism. Shopping malls, parks, feminism and the concept of sales have been used to explain and discuss the outcome of consumer capitalism on urban life.

Zukin (1998) argued that since the early 90s, the concept and characteristics of urban life have changed to a great deal. cs have transformed from being a set of fair social order into an aggressive cultural capital where consumption is the first priority. Zukin (1998) also explains that due to the higher rates of consumption, the cities are viewed as lands of consumption rather than lands of production. These consumption lands prioritise economics, total income, and availability of leisure items, culture and travel. The emphasis on such factors helps increase consumer rate and income. Furthermore, Zukin (1998) claims that urban lifestyles are both the result and raw material of the symbolic economic growth.

One explanation of the changes in the urban life style can be explained by the liberation movements of the sixties and seventies, which resulted in demolishing the rich and poor class barriers. The marketing society took control before any self-actualization or realisation could take place. The quest for finding true identity and asking the famous question, ‘How should I live’ that had started the liberation movement, was led by the marketing society (Hamilton, 2004). Capitalist marketers took initiative and used the identity search to sell more cars, shoes, watches, mobile phones, clothes and several sorts of accessories. Furthermore, celebrity culture was used to brand products (Hamilton, 2004). Popularity of celebrities was capitalised to inspire their followers to physically look like the new celebrity icon. People wanted to wear same clothes and accessories as worn by their celebrity idols, which gave rise to increased demand and eventually, increased production (Hamilton 2004). This helped the marketing society to take control of the economy.

Another example which lends evidence to the marked the effect of consumer capitalism on urban life is standard setting. As a result of excessive selling, standards have been set in the societies which force people to buy more products as a means to show power and financial stability. One example of this can be taken from the Asian culture where the amount of money spent on a daughter’s marriage is seen as an index of financial health of her family, as elaborated by Lindberg (2014). Dowry is also considered as a social indicator of parents’ love for their daughter (White, 2017). Capitalist marketers grab this opportunity and glamorize dowry by showcasing it as a token of affection between parents and daughters (White, 2017). As a result, parents are compelled to give luxurious dowry to their daughters, notwithstanding their financial muscle. This tradition of giving expensive products in dowry for face-saving, speaks volume about the influence of consumer capitalism on urban life.

The effect of consumer capitalism on urban life has also changed the way social stratification worked.  What seemed to be the places reserved only for elite classes have now turned to be the amusement places for the middle and lower classes as well; the reason being consumer capitalism. One such example is of central park of New York. Central park was once an all upper class place but when capitalism hit New York in the mid nineteens, the fee for entrance was so minimal that even the lower middle class could afford it (Zukin, 1998). Major reasons behind this shift are the rise in universal basic income and empowerment of women (Zukin, 1998). There were specific meeting points for women and men which also increased the visiting population at the central park. Altogether these reasons benefited the consumer capitalism as more people were paying to visit public areas.

Another effect of consumer capitalism on urban life is the replacement of ‘one breadwinner per family’ model with both heads of the family acting as the breadwinners (Diepen and Musterd, 2009). Moreover, single people can easily live in separate or joint flats and independence for women has become easier all because of consumer capitalism (Diepen and Musterd, 2009). Consumer capitalism provides different residence structures and possibilities which encourage people to take steps and do things they could not have done before. For example, because consumer capitalism has provided people with more opportunities and a vast variety of options in living styles, it is easier for a girl to rent a single bedroom flat for herself. Modernism is a concept that also plays a role in this change in urbanization. Due to the different developing beliefs and mottos like feminism, the mind-sets of people have changed. Capitalist marketers have taken a great advantage of this paradigm shift by providing different schemes and plans for previously marginalized communities (Diepen and Musterd 2009). Development of pro- feminist policies, specifically, is a case in point. When consumer capitalists produce products and services that particularly cater to the women, the latter feel more liberated and empowered. Capitalism has now given women the right to choose from what they want to wear; jeans, tops or dresses, and the way they want to dress (Cole and Crossley 2009). On the other hand, capitalism has also exploited women empowerment by emotionally harming them. For example, makeup is used as a means to increase production and income rate as almost all ads of makeup products describe women with the lighter skin tones as beautiful and attractive. This makes young girls extra conscious about their looks, which facilittaes the production of more makeup products, to meet the beauty standards (Grosskpof, 2017).

It is important to note that enhancing consumers demand to meet capitalists’ goals goes back to the previous century (Jeacle 2004). At the beginning of twentieth century, because of high demands of goods from consumers, big departmental stores were set up. Gradually, these stores increased in internal departments, workforce, and a hierarchical structure that consisted of the owner, departmental heads, cashiers and then the buyers (Jeacle, 2004). This shopping centre phenomenon that attracts more customers for shopping or even window shopping can be explained by Marx observation. The sociologist explained that the reason of increased production rate is that the exchange value of an object is increased. The exchange value in return becomes the direct object of production (Olivier, 2014). Similarly, Gruen, in his book-Shopping Towns USA: The Planning of Shopping Centres (in King 2016), exclaimed that industrial revolution was making life in cities intolerable, fuelling a desire to move to the suburbs of cities. To avoid this, shopping centres were built as a distraction (King 2016). This underscores why shopping centres nowadays have large architectural sites with huge banners and popping colours to attract customers to the brands. The products displayed mostly have a high exchange value as compared to the use value (King, 2016). Hence, this motivates customers to overlook the use value and focus on the exchange value which results in the customers buying the product.  Another tactic used by consumer capitalists for increased shopping rates is the sale tactic. The products with high exchange value are highlighted and made prominent to attract buyers. (Olivier 2014)

Nonetheless, the popping culture of shopping malls has many downsides. Olivier (2014) argued that shopping malls provide an atmosphere of time waste and gathering to roam around to pass time. Moreover, racism in clothing, gender and name calling have become very common (Olivier, 2014).

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All the above-mentioned examples reflect the effect of consumer capitalism on urban life. The increased consumer capitalism had brought quiet a lot of changes in the urban lifestyle. Before the wave of liberalization hit the planet, there were several boundaries whose crossing was unacceptable. All thanks to the liberals, capitalism acted as a means to demolish all the tight standards. The very first standard to break loose was the class standard where the rich were allowed all sort of luxury. The second change that capitalism boosted is feminism. Till now, consumer capitalism leverages feminism to make changes in societies, in housing, at departmental stores and in fashion. On the other hand, capitalism has enslaved women in the beauty conscious where women buy more products to look like the latest beauty standards. The increased demand of products has resulted in the spur of supermarkets, which although beneficial, yet also present many challenges like increased racism and taunting. Hence, it can be concluded that though consumer capitalism provides many benefits, yet it had brought complexity in the urban lifestyle. Urban lifestyle has become a means to show off power, fame and money through all means possible.


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