Livin the American Dream

We spent last week examining the relationship between women and consumerism. The two articles we read explored the types of products that have an influence over the female psyche and why there are gendered spheres of influence in our consumer society.

The first article we discussed was Janice Radway’s “The Act of Reading the Romance: Escape and Instruction”. Radway explored the phenomenal popularity of romance novels among American women and the power dynamics this creates. Radway discovered that “the connection between romance reading and my informants’ understanding of their roles as wives and mothers” was integral to understanding how women consume products.

Women who read these books live vicariously through the characters whose lives are nothing like theirs.  They feel a sense of escapism when they read about women who have men lusting after them – a relief from their lives dedicated to serving others. Nancy Chodorow’s observations about social structure also come into play here. Women traditionally “reproduce” others, in both a biological and symbolic sense. Not only do they bear children, but they spend their lives supporting others, specifically, their husbands and families. As any mother knows, it is a job that is not as appreciated as it should be. This is why women seek emotional support from other sources, such as books. This, in turn, creates a complex paradox for women: they often feel guilty about reading romance novels in order to seek some sort of satisfaction. This could be why women rarely discuss books like this with eachother. Men seem to be threatened by their wives’ becoming absorbed in romance novels. It takes away from time husbands and wives could be spending together in the evening doing other activities, such as watching TV (or…other things, ehem). Men don’t understand the fulfillment women get out of reading romance novels because it is harder for them to become totally engrossed in books or television, although, if Radway saw my guy friends playing Halo 3, I’m sure she’d change her mind.

This whole concept of women “escaping” and becoming empowered through the act of reading romance novels sadly just reinforces gender stereotypes. Although women feel empowered by reading these books, they still aren’t questioning the status quo. This reminds me of Fiske’s article about shopping malls. Women feel empowered by shopping, yet they are still perpetuating stereoytpes about themselves. They are pumping money into an ultimately patriarchal system. Things that fall within the “women’s sphere” that women seek validation from are shopping and lusty romantic fantasies. Great. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think. Maybe women really do just read books such as these to relax from their hectic lives. I can’t expect a busy mother to kick back at the end of the day with a copy of War and Peace. It’s also nice to read about lust and love when it ends up happily, as it often does in these Harlequin novels.

On Friday we discussed Ann DuCille’s article, “Toy Theory: Black Barbie and the Deep Play of Difference”. There is a deep link between consumerism and multiculturalism. We buy products from other countries in order to feel like we are partaking in another culture. The article examined Barbie in terms on two levels: the feminine stereotype Barbie perpetuates as well as the racial undertones that Barbie’s multiculturally diverse friends convey.

On one hand, Barbie gives girls a great message that they can be whatever they want to be. Barbie has been an astronaut, a teacher, a lawyer, a soldier, a doctor, and countless other occupations. She is also a pretty empowered woman, with her own house, her own car, and a boyfriend that she can do with or without. On the other hand, Barbie dolls give girls a skewed image of what real “femininity” is.

Take a look at Beach Fun Barbie here. Crap, is that what I should look like when I go to the beach? Also, please note the heart “tattoo” on Barbie’s midriff. Actually, it’s impossible for me to look like that, because apparently, if Barbie was a real woman with the same proportions as the doll, she wouldn’t have enough body fat to menstruate regularly. Whew. Radway points out that Barbie originated as a sexy doll that was only sold to men. Creepy. What are little girls supposed to think being “feminine” means when their Barbies are sold with lacy lingerie sets? There have been feminists who take this view of the doll’s influence on young girls.

You can also examine Barbie through a racial lens. There has been a lot of tension with introducing African American and other “ethnic” Barbies to the market. At first, African American Barbie, Shani, looked exactly like white Barbie, except with darker plastic skin. In order to make her appear more “black”, Mattel plumped up Shani’s lips and curved her back to make her behind higher. This also was not received very well. It’s a little odd that we associate race with skin color, a few differences in facial features, and clothing. Black Barbie doesn’t even have authentic African American hair! Poor Barbie. What should Mattel be doing in order to remain racially sensitive? Well, not what they did in this article I read, that’s for sure. Now, I did find this on The Consumerist website, but the facts seem to be true. Mattel released two versions of their “Barbie Forever” doll, a Caucasian version and an African American version. Both dolls come with a pet dog. Weirdly enough, the African American Barbie’s dog is darker than the Caucasian Barbie’s dog. Also, the dog’s name is Tanner. Too far, Mattel, too far. I don’t know if this was intended to make a racist commentary, but it is rather strange to think about…

DuCille also referenced the Clark study conducted in the 1940s. The study concluded that when given a choice between a white and a black doll, 70% of the African American children studied chose the white doll. This gives us an idea about how racially acute children are and also how influential the toys they play with can be.

These two articles gave us a good look at how gender and race are manipulated in the consumer market. Different products are marketed towards certain demographic groups. What we buy says a lot about how we perceive ourselves in relation to the world around us.

I’d like to start this reflection with a scene I observed at the Spotsylvania Town Center Mall on Friday afternoon. A young father was walking through the mall with his four children: one little girl in a stroller, one older girl of about 7, and two older boys who were about 9. One of the older boys was pushing the stroller when this family caught my eye. The little girl stopped in her tracks when she became hypnotized by the explosion of pink and sequins in the Club Libby Lu window display. With her eyes as wide as dinner plates, she yelped “DADDY! Can we go in there?!” as she pointed to Libby Lu. The father hesitated, glanced at the store, sighed and said “Uh, okay”. The two brothers groaned a loud “UGH!” as they dragged their feet into the store, still pushing their younger sister in the stoller and rolling their eyes.

This was only one of the scenes I observed on my trip to the mall last Friday afternoon, October 10th, at about 2:15. It was a beautiful day outside, with a sunny high of 75 degrees. It made me a little sad that people chose to be inside the mall on a day as beautiful as Friday was. The environment inside the mall was very controlled, with a comfortable temperature and good lighting. Benches and couches provided abundant resting space, while potted plants and soft jazz music added to the relaxing ambiance of the mall.

The shoppers were an interesting collection of people. I observed mostly young mothers pushing strollers in groups. Women seemed to be in pairs, while men were either alone or with their wife or girlfriend. I also saw a handful of mothers and daughters. Shoppers were strolling the mall with Starbucks cups, sodas, or other snacks in their hands. It was also interesting to see how often people ran into other people they knew, such as neighbors or classmates. The mall is not only a center of shopping, but also a more central community gathering place where you can meet with people you know.

The stores of the Spotsylvania Town Center appeal to mostly middle-class shoppers. Clothing and shoe stores such as New York and Company, Footlocker, Hot Topic, Pac Sun, and American Eagle sell moderately priced goods that most middle-class families can afford. I also observed an abundance of jewelry stores, such as Shaw’s, Kay’s, Helzberg, and Zales. This may sound snobby, but even these jewelry stores sell jewelry that most people can afford on a “reasonable” splurge. Tiffany’s and Cartier have not set up shop in Spotsylvania. Specialty stores such as Teavana, Sunglass Hut, Guitar Center and Bath and Body Works provide shoppers with various gift ideas. Kiosks selling sunglasses, purses, and hair extensions are also scattered throughout the mall. Department stores such as JC Penny, Sears, Macy’s and Belk provide shoppers with dependable products from a name that they have been buying from for years. Also, there are various ways for shoppers to refuel during their afternoon of shopping. A food court, Starbucks, and other specialty stands selling cookies, pretzels, candy, cinnamon buns, and ice cream can be found in every direction.

I thought it was interesting to see how many of the gimmicks we discussed in class were used in the Spotsylvania Mall. A fashion show just like the one we saw in Hillsdale in 1957 was being set up for the holiday weekend. Also, a play park was situated in the middle of the mall, where tired parents can unleash their restless children and put up their feet for a few minutes. I also thought it was interesting to observe the democratic or exclusive feel a store was trying to portray, as discussed in Fiske’s article.  The more “democratic” stores such as JC Penny’s had wide entrances that invited everyone inside. The more “exclusive” stores such as American Eagle or Hollister had smaller doors that shoppers must have confidence to enter (and by confidence, I mean a fat wallet).

As a teenager, I used to go to the mall with my girlfriends all the time. Our parents would drop us off in their mini-vans and we’d hang out, spending our babysitting money, for the entire afternoon. When you are 14, you don’t have many options of where to spend your time or money, which is why the mall is so flooded with teenagers. The mall is a controlled, generally safe environment that people can feel safe in. Also, with so many options for food, clothing, and other activities, you can spend hours strolling around! As a broke college student, I don’t hang out at the mall too much these days. I’ve tried to cut back my spending as much as possible, and the purpose of going to the mall is to spend money. Also, shopping has become a more social event more me. If I really need something, I will run out and get it as quickly as possible. But if my friend calls me up and we have nothing better to do, we will stroll around Tyson’s or another outdoor town center just to pass the time. It is interesting to see how shopping doesn’t always have to do with getting what you truly need. After my Friday trip, I have concluded that the Spotsylvania Town Center is not only a center of consumption, but a community center as well. People come to pass the time, run into people they know, eat food, but above all, spend their money.

Last week, we focused on shopping malls and how they have transformed the American consumer society. We started off the week by watching a Hillsdale Shopping Mall promotional video from 1957 entitled: “Shopping Can Be Fun”. Although it seemed a little goofy, many of the gimmicks used to attract shoppers to the Hillsdale Mall are still used today, such as fashion shows, holiday displays, and car expos. Tyson’s Corner Mall, located ten minutes from my house, is always using some kind of sale or special exhibit to attract shoppers. Their holiday displays at Easter and Christmas attract more people than the stores do

The “Storm Over Manassas” article we read shed light on the controversial attempt to put up a shopping mall over the Manassas Battle Field. We discussed how problems such as these arise in “exburbs” like Manassas and even Fredericksburg. Exburbs are the areas located on the outer fringes of suburbia. Rapid development and lack of infrastructure are two problems that exburbs such as Manassas face. When the Hazel Peterson Company proposed buying the Manassas Battle Field to put up an amusement park, preservationists were outraged. Arguments about what should be considered “sacred ground” became so intense that the Federal Government eventually bought the land. This article reminded me of the controversy over “building up” the historical district in Fredericksburg. It is hard to decide when a community should be promoting commercial growth versus protecting their history.

On Wednesday, we discussed Fiske’s article “Shopping for Pleasure: Malls, Power, and Resistance”. Fiske’s article, because he is part of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies, is a critique of Marx’s views on capitalism. He shifts the idea of value as use value and exchange value. Fiske argues that Marx’s religious allegory of Marx’s fetish does not work – consumerism is more like geurilla warfare than a religious experience! Shoppers can manipulate the system on its own terms, which perpetuates the cycle of buying and selling. Consumers posses power when they buy a certain product, especially in making choices to reject or accept an item. Fiske points out that 90% of new products fail because consumers’ power to accept or reject a product is so important to the success of a product. Youth and women are especially empowered by this power in buying, returning, comparing, rejecting, ownership, and self-display. Fiske points out that this is not real power! Shopping may be a liberating experience, but it is anything but radical. Shopping doesn’t change the system – it feeds into the system. This contributes to the separate spheres of gender that consumerism creates. Women are good at shopping, yet men make money off of it! This is how the male-dominated system of consumerism perpetuates itself based on the false empowerment of women. I was so upset when I read Fiske’s analysis – because it is true! Women are told that they are good at shopping; it is a cultural norm. The only female-dominated sphere of influence is one that is shallow and ultimately, benefits the men who own companies that sell things to women! Women are tricked into believing that buying certain clothes or products will make them happy. It is so upsetting that women think they can be fulfilled by accumulating material goods as a result of our consumer society.

The safe, controlled, female-dominated environment that Fiske writes about came alive on our trip to the Spotsylvania Town Center on Friday, which will be discussed in the following post…

Last week in class we finished our discussion of Isenberg’s Downtown America. We started off the week discussing urban renewal. The goal of this movement was to update downtown in order to attract the white, middle-class housewife to do her shopping there. The Housing Act of 1954’s objective was to tear down housing in the city in order to expand commercial areas. Residents were rezoned into public housing projects. In this way, centers of shopping were concentrated downtown, which made it easier and more convenient for visiting shoppers from the suburbs. With the urban renewal movement, store fronts were remodeled to look clean and modern to customers. Downtown shopping centers were competing with suburban shopping malls to attract customers. Another threat to downtown store owners was the Second-Wave Feminist movement. A new idea of “true womanhood” was becoming popular. The true woman did not have time to shop all day! Women were now working more, and were not fulfilled by just shopping. Betty Friedman’s The Feminine Mystique urged women not to believe the stereotypes that were being forced on women.

Chapter 6 focused on desegregation in the 1950s and 60s and the uproar that was caused by it. Riots broke out all over the country. The commercial retail section was the heart of the protesting. Black protestors wanted merchants to treat them equally. They wanted opportunities to set up their own businesses and more equal hiring processes. White protestors, on the other hand, wanted to remain segregated. They used violent measures such as tear gas, bombs, dogs, and other forms of protest as a symbolic form of intimidation to shop owners and black protestors.

Both sides used boycotts to get their message across. Some groups of black protestors like SNCC (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the Southern Christian Coalition used peaceful methods such as marches and lunch counter sit-in’s to get their voices heard.

Cities were destroyed by the violence of the riots. The term “The Riot Renaissance” refers to the rebuilding of downtown areas after the riots of the 1960s. With the expansion of urban renewal policies, opportunities for black business owners to open businesses surfaced.

By the 1970s, many whites had fled from the downtown centers to the suburbs. Chapter 7 and the epilogue deals with historic preservation and attracting customers back to downtown areas. The goal of historic preservation efforts is to create the nostalgic feel of “old downtown” to shopping areas. These kind of efforts can be seen in our own backyard! Downtown Fredericksburg is a pretty well-preserved town, that has taken many measures to retain the historical appeal of the city. Storefronts have been preserved, street-lights look like old gas lamps, and even trashcans look like wooden barrels.

Speaking of Fredericksburg… on Friday we read a few articles pertaining to battles between commercial developers and historic preservationists in the Spotsylvania/Northern Virginia area. There are debates regarding the future of our very own Fredericksburg. Many developers want to expand Fredericksburg, with projects such as a high-rise Marriot Hotel and a parking deck. Preservationists insist that we must respect the history of our town and protect it against expansion. This issue has played a big role in local politics, such as mayoral elections. Personally, I think that there are ways to continue to expand the city without taking away it’s history. A parking deck could be situated behind the main streets of downtown (like Caroline Street) closer to the river to alleviate parking issues. A parking deck could hardly be less of an eye-sore than “Wings on the Water” already is. I am interested in seeing how downtown shopping centers differ from suburban malls in terms of products sold, shopping environment, and clientele.

Two weeks ago, the New York Yankees played their last game in the House that Ruth Built – the original Yankee Stadium on 161 Street in the Bronx. On that Sunday night, the fans didn’t care so much that the Yanks beat the Baltimore Orioles, or that a postseason in New York was virtually impossible. All we could think about was that this was the last time the lights would shine over the original home of the greatest team in baseball. There really isn’t a place full of more baseball history than Yankee Stadium. It was opened on April 18th, 1923. It used to house the New York Giants football team, has been the site of over twenty famous boxing matches, served as a venue for three Papal masses, and above all, has been the home of the only team in baseball history to win 26 World Series Titles. While the new stadium will open in the spring, Yankee fans are dying to keep the original Yankee Stadium alive. On October 18th, 2008, Madison Square Garden will host “The Stadium: A Remarkable Baseball Auction Featuring Artifacts Relating to Yankee Stadium and the Many Great Teams That Played There”. Everything, and yes, I mean everything, will be up for sale. Ticket booths, bleachers, turnstyles, outfield walls, cinder blocks, trashcans, signs, urinals, even DIRT will be auctioned off between prices of $20 for a chunk of dirt, and over $50,000 for the facade lettering from the outside of the stadium. Urinals will be auctioned off for a starting price of $200. The bidding on the dugout phone will start at $2,000. Alright. A phone can be purchased at Target for $31.49. But can you really put a price on owning the actual phone so many crucial calls to the Yankees bullpen were made from? Evidently, you can. The allure behind these items and other similar kinds of memorabillia isn’t the use value of these specific products (do you really need a urinal in your home?). The allure is one of the magic combination of nostalgia, history, and fanaticism that will have Yankee fans (mostly Billy Crystal) paying thousands and thousands of dollars to take Yankee Stadium home with them.

The above quote was overheard while browsing around the “Made in Virginia Store” during my trip to downtown Fredericksburg on Friday afternoon. I’ve been hanging out downtown for four years now, but I’ve never seen the town through a more anthropological view as I did on Friday. The date was Friday, September 26th, and the time was 2:00 pm. The weather was less-than-optimal: gray skies, a light drizzle, and cooler temperatures. Because of the bad weather and awkward afternoon time, there were not too many shoppers out. Most of the people I observed strolling down the street were older people, couples holding hands, and tourists. Most of these people were window shopping for little trinkets and souvenirs – no one really comes to downtown Fredericksburg to run their errands.

Even though UMW students complain about how “boring” Fredericksburg is, downtown offers a variety of things to do. Restaurants such as the Bangcock Cafe, Castiglia’s, Spirits, La Petit Auberge, Bistro Bethem, The Burbon Room, and Sammy T’s offer diners a variety of diverse and surprisingly ethnic food. Students, families, tourists, and other shoppers can be seen strolling down Caroline Street, peering into the windows of various coffee shops, antique stores, salons, art galleries, specialty stores, and gift shops. Fredericksburg has a quaint, historic feel to it. Civil war museums and historical placards remind you that you are in a town with lots of history. The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought here in 1862, and slaves were bought and sold from an auction block on the corner of Williams and Charles Streets. Trash cans are disguised as barrels to add to the historic feel of the town. At night, when the old-fashioned street lights illuminate the brick buildings and sidewalks, the town looks almost like a movie set. The originators of the City Beautiful movement in the beginning of the 20th century would be pleased with the aesthetic appeal of the town.

I browsed in and out of a few stores during my afternoon’s trip. First, I ventured into the Made in Virginia Store, as mentioned above. For a Yankee girl raised in New York, this was a terrifying reminder that I now lived REALLY south of the Mason-Dixon line. The store sells, obviously, only goods that were made in Virginia. The store has a rustic, general store kind of feel to it, and is a testament to Southern pride. The shelves are adorned with various goods that would appeal to any Virginia local or tourist, such as boiled peanuts, homemade jams, Confederate flag pins, Civil War figurines, and Virginia is For Lovers t-shirts. I even found some hand-painted models of various Fredericksburg sites. “Downtown” the sign above the display said. “Collect the friendly places of Fredericksburg!” Little figurines such as these would be perfect for tourists to bring home, place on their mantle, and provoke houseguests to ask about their trip to Fredericksburg. While I was in the store, two older women and one younger woman were perusing throughout the aisles. As I was testing out a “Johnny Reb” cap gun, these three women found the Virginia ham and bacon display. “Ted would LOVE some Virginia bacon, don’t you think?” asked one woman to the others. “Oh I’m sure he would, this stuff is just to DIE for. But do we really want the car to smell like bacon the whole ride home?” I couldn’t help but giggle to myself, but this comment made me realized that people actually do come to Fredericksburg on vacations and day-trips. In the end, the women settled for a “Virginia is For Lovers” t-shirt, which was apparently for the younger woman’s fiancee’. I still think Ted would have liked some bacon better.

I also walked into Riverby Books, a small book store that appeals to older readers and young hipster readers alike. The shop is cozy, with books lining two floors of book shelves. The upstairs level has a quaint loft feel to it, where shoppers can get cozy on a comfy chair and read the first few pages of a unique book they are about to buy.

One of my favorite places to people watch in Fredericksburg is Hyperion Coffee. I’ll sit outside with my friend Sam as we sip lattes and observe the people walking by. People of all kinds stop into Hyperion for a cup of coffee, attracted by their warm lighting and artsy interior design. Business men, jogging moms, students, and retirees sit and sip as they watch the world go by. Hyperion also sells overpriced, trademarked merchandise such as coffee mugs, thermoses, and t-shirts.

I feel as if Fredericksburg is not living up to its full potential as a downtown destination. When I visit my friends at UVA and we visit the downtown areas where students hang out in Charlottesville, it is teeming with life. Even after midnight, people are walking around, sitting on benches, playing music, or eating a late-night snack. It seems like the lights go out in Fredericksburg after 5 pm. I think if there was a more accessible “town square” area, like the piazzas I found in Europe, people would be more likely to convene and hang out there. For some reason, maybe because of it’s semi-hidden location, Market Square does not fulfill this purpose. Also, the shops close at 5 pm! There is no point in hanging around if you can’t go anywhere. Businesses should take advantage that they are located in a college town by appealing to students. If, for example, I could use my meal plan downtown, my friends and I would hang out there every night! Because of these characteristics, downtown Fredericksburg really only attracts older customers doing leisurely shopping during the day.

All-in-all, it was a good afternoon. I walked into Castiglia’s on my way back to make reservations for dinner that evening. I was surprised to find that the waiter could speak better to me in Italian than in English! How this guy made it to Fredericksburg from Naples, I have no idea, but I think it’s neat that this little town attracts so many different types of people. Even though it is on a much smaller scale than New York, Boston, or Washington, D.C., Fredericksburg is a good example of what life is like in downtown America.

Goolrick’s Drug Store is complete with an authentic lunch counter that makes one feel like they are back in the 1950s.

My friends and I at Lee’s Ice Cream downtown. We really had nothing better to do freshman year.

When Professor Moon began this week’s discussion by singing Petula Clark’s “Downtown”, I knew it was going to be a good week. According to author Alison Isenberg, Downtown America is a “history of the place the the people who made it”. The book begins with a section on the City Beautiful movement that caused the clean up of many American cities at the turn of the 20th century. The idea behind City Beautiful was to make downtown a destination for consumers and tourists. Because most of the consumers at this time period were women, downtown should appeal to female customers. Women were very involved with the City Beautiful movement; women’s organizations representing the General Federation of Women’s Clubs played an active role in cleaning up America’s downtowns. This was seen as an extension of women’s household duties into the sphere of public influence. City Practical was a more masculine reaction to City Beautiful. There was distinct gendering in public life at this time. John Nolen and Charles Mulford Robinson were two famous city planners of this time period. The general male population saw these men as feminine for wanting to clean up the city – “women’s work” of the public sphere. Men were following President Theodore Roosevelt’s rough, violent, primal model of masculinity. Men couldn’t be concerned with sweeping up the sidewalk! This is why women spearheaded the City Beautiful movement. Women acted as a police force, enforcing regulations and downtown clean-ups.

In order to make downtown more appealing to consumers, clean-up forces paid particular attention to unsightly wires, poles, curbs, and sidewalks. Streets were being paved (or dirt roads were being oiled), yards were cleaned, restrictions were placed on billboards, signs were regulated, and food displays were being inspected. This attention to detail made downtown a place where women would feel comfortable shopping.

Chapter 2 focused on how postcards were being used as advertising techniques. Lithographs were painted with appealing colors and were almost always painted from a corridor perspective. These postcards were framed, and cropped certain things out in order to show a more cleaned up city that tourists would want to visit. Here is one of downtown Grove City, Pennsylvania from the early 1900s.

The next chapter focused on the identity of the American shopper. The rational economic man was a housewife. There were two contrasting views of female consumers: women as a “flapper” or a “family shopper”. The 100% location of a downtown area was the space where the most customers passed by, but especially women. Businesses needed to be able to predict what women buy and how they buy it. Women’s traditionally irrational shopping habits would now be perceived as rational. This image completely ignored the black economic woman of the time – caretakers and cooks were buying things for white families! This brings us to the point of defacto segregation occurring in the economic centers of downtown America. African American shoppers consumed in completely different areas of commerce, which weren’t the most prominent of places (such as attics or basements). Black business owners organized their own federations such as the NNBL and the CMA to protect their business interests. Black customers also benefited from the birth of chain stores, which made quality, nationally regulated goods accessible to everyone for a low cost.

The chapter also focused on why women were doing so much shopping. Because women now had more free time with the birth of convenience products, they could spend more time shopping. The increase of fashion magazines, women driving cars, and an increased standard of living all added to the shopping craze. Riley’s Law of Retail Gravitation stated that people travel to the most easily accessible, biggest shopping location. This helped business owners realize that shopping centers would attract women customers. Shopping centers were part of zoning plans that separated shopping districts from residential areas in order to reduce the congestion of downtown life.

Lastly, we discussed how consumerism changed in the 1930s with the Great Depression. Buildings were being demolished in order to make room for parking lots. Renovations were under way – business owners used the same space they had and embraced a modernist perspective. Concrete, colored glass, prefabricated materials, and steel helped make old buildings new. Below is the city hall building in Lakeland, Florida that was remodeled in a new, modern style during the 1930s:

Market research was being revamped at this time. Frederick Babcock wrote about property value and real estate. He realized that the definition of “value” needed to be clear. Specific market research and statistical analysis needed to be done in order to determine what property has value. The chapter closes with a short reflection on the effects of WWII on downtown America. Goods such as rubber and gas were rationed at this time. More people were working and living downtown, causing a resurgence after the Great Depression. Babcock warned of the “decaying core” of cities that was masked by the war.

These chapters were interesting because the effects of city clean-ups in the first half of the 20th century can still be seen downtown today. There are still laws about littering and keeping the streets clean, in order to make downtown a more appealing place to live and shop. A few weeks ago I was in Virginia Beach, where there are signs placed throughout the city discouraging swearing. Signs like this remind people that they are in a public setting, and that it is our responsibility to make public spaces comfortable for everyone. I still receive postcards in the mail from far-away cities that make me yearn to visit there. Also, the effects of racial zoning and defacto segregation can still be seen in downtown America today. In New York City, there are separate African American, Asian, Latino, and other immigrant centers of commerce to this day. It is pretty much impossible to buy tortillas or soy sauce in my Aunt Rosa’s neighborhood on 187th street in the Bronx, the heart of Little Italy. It was also interesting to read about how city planners attempted to make their cities beautiful. The lasting effects of these efforts can be seen even today, in places like downtown Fredericksburg, which I learned on Friday…

We spent last week finishing up Susan Strasser’s book, Satisfaction Guaranteed. We discussed how companies used promotions and sales to push the sale of a product. Gimmicks like coupons, redeemable points, display cases, and new “helps” were new ways of displaying products and selling modernism to consumers. A new era of retailing evolved with the development of department stores, mail-order firms, and chain stores. Department stores such as Macy’s in New York City were known as extravagant “palaces of consumption”, complete with beauty parlors, restaurants, tea rooms, public phones, child care, music, and soda fountains. Department stores not only offered shoppers the latest fashions at affordable prices, but a whole new shopping experience as well.

Macy’s was even the first department store to feature Santa Claus at Christmas time!

Department stores were the first to set prices on new price tags. There were high turn-over rates and new products arriving all the time!

Mail-order catalogues like Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward were popular in the west and other rural areas where it was more difficult to reach the nearest Macy’s store.

Chain stores such as A & P and Woolworth’s made big profits because they hired unskilled laborers, cut prices, and did not do deliveries or credit buying. Chain stores used modern accounting techniques and bought in bulk in order to distribute it to multiple stores.

The last chapter of the book discussed how the Progressive movement attempted to move onward and upward by reforming American society through the government. Progressives thought the relationship between the government representing the needs of the people should be done through industry reform.  The Food and Drug Act of 1906 stopped the practices of using fillers, labels that lied, mysterious chemicals, and harmful packaging products such as lead cans. This era also saw the standardization of measurements – Americans now were paying for what they were buying! Americans were becoming educated on the less than honest practices of the food and packing industry through muckraking journalists like Upton Sinclair and also the introduction of home economics courses in public schools. The Housewives League (although they turned out to be corrupt and sided with national brands) organized boycotts and fought for pure food and drug laws.  Also, Strasser discussed how the issue of price maintenance was debated in the courts up until 1972!

Strasser concludes her book with a look at how consumption looks in America today. How we consume represents our social status (I guess Marx and Baudrillard weren’t just making that stuff up!) The present-day American consumer society is based on fundamental decisions that echo a one-dollar-one-vote basis. Poor people are disenfranchised because they don’t have as much purchasing power. This is how consumerism adds to a socially stratified society. Today we are dealing with issues of pollution, road congestion, and buyers who are trying to find fulfillment through the purchase of more and more material goods. You can tell a lot about a society by examining their consumption behaviors! I already think it is interesting to learn more about my classmates through the shopping blogs they post. It should be fun to observe shoppers in their “natural habitat” as we begin to explore the concept of a “downtown” next week!

I spent last weekend at Virginia Beach getting horribly sunburned. When I returned to campus, my poor pink back felt like it was on fire, and I desperately needed something to cool it down. I rushed to CVS and purchased a 16 oz. bottle of Banana Boat Aloe Vera Gel. Aloe Vera, also known as Medicinal Aloe, is a plant that is marketed as having rejuvenating, hydrating, and soothing purposes. Aloe Vera is also antibacterial and heals burns because of aloectin B, which stimulates the immune system. Banana Boat, a company popular for their extensive line of sun-care products, claims this product “cools and replenishes dry skin and helps prevent peeling.” It also promises that  “your skin will radiate health”. Banana Boat stresses the importance of skin care when enjoying the sun. Their website promotes countless sun care products, after sun products, sun safety tips, new product promotions, and even a media center! Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor are even fans of Banana Boat- they are featured in their new advertising campaign! All of these features give Banana Boat goodwill among customers – it is a recognizable national brand that cares about health and that people feel like they can trust. It’s why I went straight for that green and yellow bottle at CVS! Banana Boat products can be bought at almost any health-product store or pharmacy, such as CVS, Walgreens, and even Wal-Mart and Target.  A 16 oz. bottle of Aloe Vera gel like the one I bought costs $8.30, but can be bought for as low as $5.30 on websites that sell discount beauty products. I would have probably paid $20 in order to obtain that soothing green goo on Sunday afternoon. The next time your sunblock fails you, Aloe Vera gel is the way to go.

Last week of class was a little more digestible than the previous week of Marx and Baudrillard. By discussing Susan Strasser’s book, “Satisfaction Guaranteed”, we explored the 19th and 20th century process that took American customers and turned them into consumers. In the beginning of the 19th century, artisans produced goods. Customers bought local goods from “Mom and Pop” stores and often used bartering and their personal relationships with merchants to purchase goods at a fair price for home consumption. By the end of the 19th century, an explosion of national brands, new packaging, new modes of transportation and communication, and advertising campaigns began the movement towards a centralized, American consumer society. Consumerism went hand-in-hand with the genesis of industrialization. The United States was expanding west and becoming more urban than the agrarian societies of the past. Instead of having to trek to the nearest corner store, Americans were living in the heart of the marketplace.

We studied the birth of a few national brands, some of which are still around today, including Nabisco, Ivory, Libby, Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, Aunt Jemima, Heinz, Kodak, and Carnation. Strasser also provided an in-depth look at how Crisco became a household name by the early 20th century. Crisco, which was developed in 1905 and became a patentable product by 1910, was an innovative and unique product. Advertisements contributed to the success of the product. Lots of visual images in ads convinced people of their “need” for Crisco. “Crisco teas”, involving retailers in the sale of the product, recipie books, contests, cooking classes, and sending samples to restaurants and railroads all taught people to truly need this product. Because Crisco was kosher, it even was able to bridge cultural gaps by being usable to the new Jewish community. Americans everywhere wanted Crisco!

Trademarks, slogans, labels and stamps all helped sell branded products on a national level. Some products became so popular that other corporations attempted to copy the original, such as Coca-Cola. This lead to issues with legal precedent and protecting brands legally. Some brands were so popular that private labels (generic brands), flanker brands (upgrading or downgrading a product) and line extensions pushed the sale of the product even further. Companies were working hard at creating goodwill, or the favorable consideration of their customers. With the birth of wholesaling, the lines between the manufacturers and retailers were blurred. Instead of having a jobber or drummer act as the middleman, corporations began to supply retailers themselves. This saved money, as a middleman didn’t have to be paid. Strasser also explores the phenomenon of repositioning, or taking a product that is used for only a small portion of the market and expanded their consumer base in order to appeal to more people, such as olive oil.

It was also fun to analyze some advertisements from the mid 20th century in class on Friday. It was interesting to see the different techniques companies used to sell their products. Lots of the ads appealed to women, as the “economic man” of the 20th century was the middle class, white, female consumer. Ads for lightbulbs, washing machines, fruit juice, kitchen appliances, and cigarettes all attempted to make their products look desirable, stressing convenience, affordable prices and high quality. All of these techniques helped promote new products and make them staples of American living.

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