Worldwide Homogenization of Young Adult Consumerism

Converging consumer values in China and the U.S. are creating millennials without borders

Credit: Tech Crunch; July 10, 2017

I just read this weekend a telling article in Tech Crunch of the “homogenization” [my term] of modern fashion, gadgets, and consumerism in the modern, present world. I thought it was worth commenting which I will proceed to in my combined semi-historical personal way and lead up to some telling observations if not conclusions. The article is entitled, “Converging consumer values in China and the U.S. are creating millennials without borders.” by Hans Tung.

Consumerism and its ever present ‘sidekick’ marketing/advertising has fascinated me even from my earliest childhood. I grew up with stories of my father “painting his way across Texas” when he drove to El Paso from Huntsville to El Paso in a beat up old car in 1937 or so along with three equally poor friends to enroll at and attend Texas School of Mines as it was known then. They all had the idea that they wanted to be “engineers.” My father had gotten enamored of mining engineering by reading a pulp paper published penny dreadful adventure comic about a mining engineer that he kept a copy of and showed to me when I was about five or six. He had worked in high school as a billboard sign painter to earn money and help his family get by during the Great Depression. Billboards in those days were not printed and glued on in sections or electronically programmed LED light affairs as they are now. they were hand painted. My father was proud of his work and without biased exaggeration, he was very good at it. He painted billboards for just about every business in the Huntsville, New Waverly, Conroe Texas area. Once he misspelled a word and initially did not realize it and his buddies teased him mercilessly about it. He quietly and quickly set about to repaint the word hoping his customer had not noticed it but he had. The purchaser of his services thought it was hilarious and were gratified as locals told him of the mistake and it had the unique small town effect of bringing in more customers who laughingly told the proprietor of the said business of the mistake and of course bought more goods. The proprietor almost stopped my father from correcting it. So I had an early family based to local, small town advertising. By the time our family bought a television set in the 1950’s were avalanched by the big time national Madison Avenue advertising for cigarettes [back when it was legal and routine for tobacco products to be so advertised on tv, for the young reader who may not know that actually occurred once upon a time]. Detergents, washers, car tires, gasoline and motor oil brands, and my favorite Falstaff beer pitched by the famous Dizzy Dean on Saturday afternoon baseball was my favorite since Dizzy Dean almost always comically ad-libbed some hilarious backwoods homily or addition to the advertising script. His most famous that got him in temporary hot water was “But we ain’t got no gallons.”

Then a little later I happened to run across Vance Packard’s books on advertising, its power, and sort of subliminal evil influences. That caught my eye and reading mind. I mulled those concepts over endlessly. It helped me among really many,, many other concepts that economics were a very powerful influence throughout history and especially modern life.

 

Decades ago I somehow realized, likely through my travels with my family growing up all over the world, that elements of American culture were permeating [sometimes I felt it was a process almost akin to the inadvertent introduction/invasion of kudzu into the South] the rest of the world starting with the more affluent countries, McDonalds, Coke and Pepsi led the way. As the years rolled on and I became inducted into the world of medicine, I began to realize we were infecting the world with harmful American products. The American diet exemplified by Mickey D’s, soft sugary drinks, candies and more. And tobacco was the worst though I think it sprang up into parts of the world autonomous in regions where tobacco was also native and grown such as Turkey etc. But in recent decades as tobacco has become more and more unwelcome in the US, the companies are migrating in an organized and hurried manner to the Far East expanding into markets with far more customers in India, China, and the Far East. And very little regulations like we have had in the US since the initial warnings of packs of cigarettes decades ago. And the rates of breathing and lung disorders, and especially LUNG CANCER have increased in those countries like a reverse ski slope in predictably horrendously rapid rates.

The other side of the coin of American invasion, leaving out American music from rock and roll to jazz, the most American and more popular of American genres [sorry, I have not forgotten such other genres such as American Bluegrass and four or five person American Christian Gospel “Quartet” music which even as a Jew I do love, but those genres are not as popular overseas], is the dreadful American Diet.. And I must echo Oprah’s correct indictment of fat laden American steak and beef as bad or at least not good for us. fatty french fries and all the rest of it, even my wife’s Cherokee fry bread which is good if an acquired taste but full of grease and fat and not good for anyone but a traditional food nonetheless. So America’s obesity epidemic has grown overseas and the evidence of it is there for all to see when we view television scenes of other countries overseas where America’s “foodie” exports have taken hold in a big way. This is not to say the American diet is not the only culprit. The German diet from personal experience is full of fattening favorites, large amounts of beer per capita, and all those fatty meaty wursts of all flavors that I cannot keep straight and other fatty but oh so tasty goodies. And even my other main cultural heritage of Latino food has its unwise but centuries old emphasis on fatty beans, greasy carbohydrates foods that I restrict myself painfully to on a once a month basis or so…

Now we have a new phenomenon in this world of mega companies exporting their not so good products to the rest of the world. Worldwide advertising through television American style has invaded the rest of the world like the “fungus among-us” that can’t be stopped. It is visual, it gets you hyped up and craving-desiring whatever product is being hawked from cereals to iPods. It is a truly essential tool of business large and small and will never go away. But American television somehow apparently got a head start on local programming in other countries and set the tone and paradigms for shows in other countries. I remember once when I turned on the tv in a Latino country where we were living at the time during one of my father’s international consulting mining engineering contracts, re-opening a mine that had an explosion and closed, or sinking a deep shaft through dangerous formations and saw American like programs in Spanish, complete with Let’s Make A Deal like shows, breaks for the usual advertising commercials, all modelled after “Amerikanski” tv as my father used to call it. And the soap operas were just as bad as American ones with every other minute bouts of scripted hysterical crises in all the relationships of actors. I was aghast and fascinated.

In the last two decades, the American invasion has increased. Everybody races their Honda two-door Civics modified to dangerous levels in streets or parking garages in Japan like American teens did with their souped up pre-dragster jalopies in the 1950’s. Clothes are American like. We had the Japanese invasion of little transistor radios briefly in the 1960’s but then American boomboxes [though made in Japan] took over and held sway especially when the hippest of all American teens, the black teens, and gangstas came to the cultural foreground. What capped it off for me has been the recent appearance of Apple’s advertisement for a pair of teens obviously in love and the male is taking adoring pictures of his girlfriend in breathtaking big city settings with the coming iPhone which is supposedly now even better for portraits. And then you realize that it is some Chinese big city and the two Millenials, the young couple are indeed Chinese. It is a good commercial and romantic on a soft, pleasant plane that is nice to watch.

And there we have it. I think it is a culmination of all this American cultural spread/plague/internationally bourne cross-pollination homogenizing many cultures. These cultures were incredibly insular and very very proudly different just decades ago. And now look at them; at times you have to look closely to see their unique differences. No wonder some countries, even with their science and modernization phobias are trying to shut out the Internet. Once you enter into the world of the Internet, you change.

 

Left Wing Radicalism Again, Though Different, Still All Bad

I will make my apologies at the outset for this post, as it may be controversial to some readers but I feel it is well indicated given our growing trend of extremism on all sides of the political spectra.

I have kept this kind of controversy out of my posts but I feel the need to comment from my own in the middle, moderate perspective, that at times, seems endangered nowadays.

The controversy is about facing up to the evils and poisonous dangers of extremism on both ends of the ‘political’ landscape. Left-wing extremism has long been known since the 1960’s Memories of the Weathermen, SNCC,  SDS and other groups come easily to mind for students of contemporary American history. I can remember doing the student thing of attending meetings and learning somewhat from the inside, and hearing such figures speak and hold forth such as Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden latter of Jane Fonda and California state assembly renown when he ‘grew up’ and changed. Also, I heard Stokely Carmichael and lesser known figures such as Eric Chester expound their views of radical change that went nowhere and were clearly misguided but borne out of the frustration in the years of Nixon and the Vietnam War divisiveness in this country. I recall talking all this over with my conservative WWII viewpoint’ed father, reassuring him that I was not being “radicalized,” and hearing his stabilizing observations that helped me maintain an independent perspective. Radicalization of course nowadays is a political phenomenon that is once again puzzling and alarming everyone but is not at all new in this country as some more alarmist commentators would have us believe.

A difference is that one check and balance working against the radicals movements of the sixties and seventies is that they were disorganized and very naive–fortunately. Only a few heinous acts of violence came out of those years and movements, notably the  bombing of the  physics lab at the University of Wisconsin at Madison by the Harrises, a radical husband and wife team who were on the run and living under false identities for over three decades until they surfaced and were discovered several years ago. Also the left wing radicalism never really caught on in much of an organized way.

Radicalism nowadays, whether of Muslim extremism or right wing militias, are more organized than the ‘student radicals’ ever were. Additionally, as Michael Douglas’ prophetic movie, Falling Down of 1993, foretold over two decades ago, we have moved into the era of the lone wolf extremist. The Shoe Bomber and Timothy McVeigh, although from diametrically different world views, were essentially more alike than different. They were loners, disaffected, politically warped individuals, who fell prey over a period of time to equally disaffected political extremist philosophies. This long wolf path is far more dangerous to detect and prevent or reach ideationally in order to help them out of the traps of extremist philosophies.

One mantra that I have never forgotten says ominously, “Violence is the last refuge of the hopeless.” This has become and will continue to be an important motivator for the disenfranchised and for those who feel cast aside by large social forces such as decline of past bedrock industries such as manufacturing, coal mining and other economic sectors that have been eroded to a shadow of their former power and reliable vast sources of employment in this country.

It appears that the baseball park shooter in Arlington Virginia who shot and targeted Republican Congressional members was likely such a disaffected loner person. The very recent report late this week (June 15th week, 2017) that he may have had a list of Republican targets is unfortunately not surprising. Those who feel totally disenfranchised will blame and direct their frustrations that evolve into a rage that robs them of the ability to see their adopting murderous extremism as terribly wrong by any moral or ethical yardstick.

It seems to have been lost the awareness that ‘words do matter,’ and set the tone for public discourse in the social and political arenas.Caution in this regard has been lost by all quarters. This has very great import when we forget that the less mature, less controlled, less reasoned, and more vulnerable members of us, can be greatly motivated in bizarre and disturbing ways by acrimonious climates of discourse.

The current social trends cause me to appreciate how important Dr. Martin Luther King’s and Gandhi’s emphasis on nonviolence in their protest movements for equality and enfranchisement in all the important political and social realms. I continue to be amazed there was not more rageful violence on the part of blacks in this country. Nelson Mandela as has been recognized for decades and again recently by honest commentators led his peoples to not wage race war as many whites feared when apartheid was abolished and the black majority finally assumed political power in South Africa. He forgave and instituted the national truth and reconciliation commission that identified political atrocities and crimes against humanity without permitting descent into the kinds of horrific, senseless butchering of the French Revolution and its emblematic guillotine slaughter.

The disenfranchised tend to target the party in power. They see them as the architects of their misery and target them accordingly. I have worried for months, given my long term interest and understanding of radical movements derived from my witnessing them in my student days in one of the radical centers, Ann Arbor, in this country in the late sixties and early seventies, that we might witness the development of such disturbed actions as the vitriol of the past 20 years, has reached recently in the national political campaign of 2016 and the rhetoric of all parties but perhaps more noticeably to the disturbed of the Republicans. I hope I am wrong but I fear we shall see perhaps more loner acts from the disenfranchised toward the party in power. This will not help any of us at all and may be a social phenomenon we have to weather and learn to correct the level of our political discourse. But I take heart that if the IRA and the Northern Ireland establishment could move to deal with each other reasonably and more and more without mindless radical violence, then we can also.

 

Economics Still Divide America

A recent AP article, “Divided America: Rosy Economic Averages Bypass Many in US,: by Christopher S. Rugaber on June 9, 2016, utilized the typical economic stagnation found in Memphis TN to illustrate the lingering economic malaise that has dogged America’s slowest economic “recovery” in many generations. The recovery supposedly has been in effect for a couple of years now according to the economists’ indicators. But more and more these measures do not mean “squat” for the vast numbers of struggling Americans who are not wealthy, college educated and employed in professions favored by the emerging new information and technological age. Only a few weeks ago, the head of the Bank of England made a somewhat chilling speech in which he actually outlined and named broad categories of jobs that he predicted would be ELIMINATED almost entirely by robotic replacements, and automation of all sorts in the next 25 years or so. Although it was daunting to read, the kinds of jobs he enumerated were not surprised, those of the unskilled, undereducated, line production workers in all sorts of industries, customer services jobs etc. Much as this next industrial revolution might hurt the developed world, it could be truly catastrophic for the Third World economies so dependent on such modes of work and earning a living in the hundreds of millions, a demographic that dwarfs our own.

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Are Mass Shootings Increasing?

In this post I am not going to string out the answer to the above question, tease the reader, or toy around with the question in some manipulative literary device to hold the readers’ attentions.

The answer is YES, the number of mass shootings have dramatically increased in at least my lifetime and my memory since childhood stretches back to the 50’s some dimly but certainly to the sixties when i was a precocious kid in college very young and taking in what was going on in those turbulent times. I attended a wonderful university which was, to give the setting for the reader, one of the centers for student radicals in those times through the Nixon administrations.

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