Consumerism Essay Assignment 2
The following question requires you to write a well-developed essay after you have examined the following objects: the Furnace Salesman's Kit, the Fiestaware, and BarbieŽ. In addressing the question listed below, you should interpret these objects and documents A-D.
How did America's emphasis on consumption affect the experience of race,
class, gender; and age between 1920 and 1970?
Our eighteenth-century forebears lived the simple and uncomplicated existence of a community predominantly agricultural. They were close to the things they required to sustain and to enrich life . . . But our modern scientific and industrial civilization, while showering upon us gifts hitherto beyond the reach of even the wealthiest, has complicated every phase of living. While the housewife of 1777 knew practically everything about the materials and workmanship of her dress or sideboard, the housewife of 1937 cannot be expected to have more than a passing acquaintance with even a few of the 500,000 items which a modern department store may stock. To shop wisely, she must rely on her own experience, upon the integrity of the stores where she shops, and upon that of companies whose nationally advertised products have deservedly established a reputation of consistent high quality . . . .
The intelligent shopper will want to supplement the knowledge she has gained by experience; she will want to know more about the products she contemplates purchasing .... Here, within the covers of one volume, she may fmd the specific, the incisive information which can guide her to better shoppingto more economical shoppingto more satisfying shoppingwhether the object of her quest be a handkerchief or a handbag, floor covering or furniture.
From the foreword to E. B. Weiss and Maurice Mermey, ed., The Shopping Guide, New York: McGraw Hill, 1937.
Every woman is a lover of china and glassware .... [W]hether viewed from the collector's standpoint or that of the housewife, each new piece, added by careful selection for its individual quality or beauty, is a joy to the enthusiast. Price does not necessarily play a part. What pleasure for a hostess, when she makes final survey of the table before the party, to behold it perfect, with china in harmony with the color scheme of the room and brilliant glassware breaking up the candlelight into myriad, gay reflections .... China is a satisfying possession. One's pleasure need not be dependent upon high money investment. Gay color and attractive appearance are possible for little money and you may still have the joy of the collector. The range is infinite and the fun of selecting unlimited.
From W A. Ricker, Divisional Merchandise Manager, Home Furnishings, The Boston Store, Milwaukee, writing on "China and Glassware" in The Shopping Guide, New York: McGraw Hill, 1937.
Parents thank us for the educational value in the world of Barbie . . . . They say they could never get their daughters well groomed beforeget them out of slacks or blue jeans and wash their hair well, that's where Barbie comes in. The doll has clean hair and a clean face, and she dresses fashionably, and she wears gloves and shoes that match.
Ruth Handler, the founder of Mattel and originator of BarbieŽ, issued this statement in 1964.
From Marilyn Motz, "I Want to Be a Barbie Doll When I Grow Up: The Cultural Significance of Barbie Doll," in E.C.D. Geist and J. Nachbar, eds., The Popular Culture Reader, 3d ed., Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Press, 1983, pp. 122 ff.
I had only one desire: to dismember it. 'lb see of what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me. Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signsall the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl treasured. "Here," they said, "this is beautiful, and if you are on this day `worthy' you may have it." I fingered the face, wondering at the single-stroke eyebrows, picked at the pearly teeth stuck like two piano keys between red bowline lips. Traced the turnedup nose, poked the glassy blue eyeballs, twisted the yellow hair. I could not love it. But I could examine it to see what it was that all the world said was lovable. Break off the tiny fingers, bend the flat feet, loosen the hair, twist the head around . . .
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, New York: 1973, pp. 2022.