Image Artifact & Analysis
Artifacts & Documents Writing Assignments Teaching Guide Essays
Writing Assignments

Back to Assignments Index

Assignment 1

Assignment 2

Assignment 3

Consumerism Essay Assignment 1

Write a well-developed essay that discusses the following issue and that is based upon three objects (BarbieŽ, the lunchboxes, and the blue jeans) together with documents A-D. Be sure to include evidence from the objects and documents:

Analyze the ways that mass consumption has shaped American society between the years 1955 and 1975. In your answer, be sure to discuss the social and technological developments that contributed to this change.

Document A

Where children's TV programs do succeed for advertisers, they succeed with glory. Television, for one thing, has made brand-name buyers of children. What boy of fifteen years ago had the slightest idea who manufactured his cap pisto1? Today he knows it's made "swell" by Mattel. What girl of ten years ago questioned the origin of her new doll9 Today it's got to be Remco, or take it back, Daddy.

Through the use of television advertising, Mattel, which is a firm launched in a garage workshop twenty years ago, pushed its sales from $4,000,000 in 1954 to $22,000,000 in 1960. Remco entered television in 1955, and by 1958, despite a major plant expansion, it was unable to fill 40 per cent of the orders received. Maypo even conquered the child's traditional opposition to his oatmeal through the use of TV commercials that insisted humorously that "cowboys like Maypo."

Television actually has revolutionized the toy business. Everything once was geared to Christmas, and the year tailed off into incidental sales after that. Today the toys are advertised all year round and consequently they are sold all year round.

From Stan Opotowsky, TV: The Big Picture, New York: E. P Dutton & Co., 1961, p. 166.

Document B

My favorite jeans will be three years old this spring. They are thin and worn; patched with remnants of clothes I've made. . .

I bought my jeans on sale at Steinbach's for $4.50 when I was a 7th grader at the Clayton Middle School. Although I wore them everywhere else I went, I was not allowed to wear them to school, due to an archaic dress code enforced by the school authorities, forbidding any kind of pants.

The next fall I wrote to the American Civil Liberties Union for legal aid in defending my right to free expression in wearing pants to school . . . . The important conflict was not related to sex discrimination; it was a matter of personal freedom for those whose taste in clothing does not conform with that of the administration . . .

I wore them when I went to see Janis Joplin in concert at the Garden State Arts Center . . . . The first time I ever went canoeing, I wore them.

They were especially comfortable with sandals and a poncho, but I often wore them with sneakers and a T-shirt. Of course they became very beat-up looking, but I couldn't bear to throw them away.

Excerpts of letters from the donor, Brigid McMenamin, to a museum curator, offering her jeans to the Smithsonian in 1973.

Document C

[The students were] dressed Revolutionary Street Fighter. After the strike at [San Francisco] State, middle-class students didn't show up on campus any more in letter sweaters or those back-to-school items like you see in the McGregor ads. They dressed righteous and "with the people." They would have on guerilla gear that was so righteous that Che Guevara would have had to turn in his beret and get bucked down to company chaplain if he'd come up against it. They would have on berets and hair down to their shoulders, 1958 Sierra Maestra style, and raggedy field jackets and combat boots and jeans, but not Levi's or Slim Jims or Farahs or Wranglers or any of those tailored hip-hugging jeans, but jeans of the people, the black Can't Bust `Em brand, hod-carrier jeans that have an emblem on the back of a hairy gorilla, real funky jeans and wooly green socks, the kind that you get at the Army surplus at two pair for 29 cents.

From Tom Wolfe, Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers in Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970, p. 126, describing students at San Francisco State University in 1969.

Document D

This is the year of the Barbie Look and the Barbie Look is the fashion look. That's right. Correct. The swinginest, liveliest, zinginest fashions of the Barbie Look. Come feast your eyes on Barbie and Midge and look at the Barbie Look. The hairdo's the big news. The fashions are smashin'. For night or day; for school or play, the look is the Barbie Look. Look what's happened to Ken and Allen, his friend with the new bendable legs. They're really the end. So like Midge and Barbie, they're better by far because they all have the look. The fashion look. The great new Barbie Look. There's one, and two, and three, and four, and that's only the begizming, there's a whole lot more. So get on down to see the Barbie Look in the fashions and the dolls as well. You're going to love `em, because after all, you can tell they're Mattel. They're swell.

Television Advertisement for BarbieŽ, c. 1960. From Cy Schneider, Children's Television: The Art, The Business, How It Works, Lincolnwood, Ill.: NTC Business Books, 1987, p. 27.

Printer Friendly Version  
Back Next

Home | Artifacts & Documents | Writing Assignments | Teaching Guide | Essays