cover image Shop 'Til You Drop: Consumer Behavior and American Culture

Shop 'Til You Drop: Consumer Behavior and American Culture

Arthur Asa Berger. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., $26.95 (152pp) ISBN 978-0-7425-3691-3

The number of malls in America has nearly doubled in the last 17 years, as has the amount of credit card debt. In this slim volume, Berger ponders this correlation and attempts to explain in great detail why the citizens of the most prosperous nation on Earth derive such joy from the mere act of consumption. Berger quotes French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, who explains that ""in the consumption of surplus... the individualand societyfeel not merely that they exist, but that they are alive."" Alternately dry and glib (his crudely drawn stickman cartoons with their thoughtful captions dot various chapters in the book), Berger explores the origins of ""consumer culture"" in an academic fashion and relies upon the work of social anthropologists to help unravel the mystery and motivation behind the urge to splurge. Whereas God once determined our actions, as stated by 18thcentury Puritan writer Jonathan Edwards, it seems that ad agencies have now taken the place of the divine. While an analysis of shopping malls and their need to adapt to changing buying behaviors shows the resilience and creativity borne from capitalism, and the discussion of semiotics and cultural myths in advertising reveals how predictable the results of marketing manipulation can be on the buyer, the prevailing theme seems to be the effect of postmodernism on the American pursuit of happiness. The need to consume, Berger offers, once again citing Baudrillard, stems from the fear of missing something and an entitlement mindset that says one has the right to try everything. Though some of Berger's observations may interest the general reader, this dense analysis is largely for those who are serious about the study of consumerism.