Ideas on Consumerism Versus Ideas of Robert Crocker’s in ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’

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Consumerism is a term we shy away from. When someone mentions consumerism, we start the infamous blame game. It now, however, has become an alarming issue that must be dealt with.

Robert Crocker’s book, ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’, confronts the key issues that fuel consumerism in modern society. Crocker’s ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’ will be directly compared to key ideas on consumerism from a variety of other commentators, including the following comparisons…which will include issues related to sustainability, waste-making, consumption, and deception.

Consumerism weaved its way into Britain at the begging of the eighteenth century at the time of the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution resulted in an inflation of products available due to the increasing use of machinery and equipment (Abu Baker, 2016). As time went on the purchasing of products became commonplace in the everyday lives of people in Britain. However, the consumerist culture now consists of buying clothes, cars, and technology. It has become increasingly evident that consumers are obtaining products to keep on top of the current trends and are always seeking new and better alternatives (Abu Baker, 2016). So what is consumerism? Consumerism is the idea that in order to continue increasing the consumption of goods one must infiltrate people's emotions and well-being to subconsciously engage them into buying goods or services, to make themselves feel adequate (Chappelow, 2019). Consumerism further relates to a life of materialism, waste-making and overconsumption (Chappelow, 2019).

Robert Crocker teaches at the University of South Australia. He lectures history, the theory of design and sustainability within design at The School of Art, Architecture, and Design. Crocker began his career as an early modern scientist and philosophy historian, and his interest in sustainability, consumerism and consumption evolved during his time helping out at local pedestrian and advocacy groups (Crocker, 2016). Robert Crocker’s enthusiasm for sustainability and consumerism led him to publish ‘Somebody Else’s Problem.’ Robert Crocker’s core argument in his publication is that consumerism remains the leading cause of today's environmental issues. It emphasizes the point that solely relying on technology is not a satisfactory solution to environmental issues, particularly climate change and that it is no longer feasible to leave the burden of solving these global issues with scientists and economists. ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’ addresses consumption, waste, pollution, accelerators within consumerism as well as ways designers can take action to evoke necessary change (Somebody Else’s Problem: Consumerism, Sustainability, and Design, 2016). Crocker further addresses the severity of consumerism, claiming it to be the underlying source of the high carbon system. Key arguments displayed within ‘Somebody Else Problem’ include individualization and substitution, waste-making, deception and how we as consumers value products (Somebody Else’s Problem: Consumerism, Sustainability, and design, 2016).

Firstly, Crocker effectively establishes the key idea that deception feeds consumerism and consumption. He argues that the current consumption rates are unendurable even though the product or service may be technologically competent. Crocker furthers this idea by explaining that, despite the ongoing technological and economical advances in products and services, the continuous incline of consumption ultimately defeats the efficiency rates. To illustrate this idea Crocker provides us with the example of the new Tata car in India. The car itself has a very small motor thus making it a vehicle with remarkably low emissions. The Tata car was advertised at two thousand five hundred American dollars, however, due to its low, affordable cost the sales skyrocketed, and millions were purchased. This ultimately contradicted the initial purpose of the efficient car. This example can be applied to many companies, especially in the sales of environmentally friendly cars, appliances and devices. In addition to this idea, Crocker discusses that deception is also fuelled by consumers, in particular their devotion to products that guarantee fulfillment, which is promised through the media. An example that portrays this is wrinkle-reducing face creams. As soon as the product is purchased its value to the consumer increases, because of the belief that what is now theirs is wonderful and terrific. These pledges to products and brands consequently give consumerism unnecessary power and moral stance. As a result of this, we find ourselves ‘buying and using products, becoming committed to the product which we have sacrificed our money for and the time and effort this represents to us’ (Crocker, 2016, p. 6)

Crocker further explains that deception is more than just being enticed through fictitious advertising, it is a commitment to continue to hide away, remaining in complete blindness. Crocker explains that we are deaf to the disastrous effects of our everyday choices. (Crocker, 2016). To conclude Crocker’s idea on deception feeding consumerism, he explains ways in which this can be reduced. He informs us of his strong ideology that science and technology will not free us from the vicious cycle of consumption and consumerism. Crocker espouses that values need to be altered, values need to construct differently, particularly within social media and advertisement, designers and scientists should start collaborating to produce environmentally friendly and efficient products but most importantly we should work together, eventually finding the right solution (Somebody Else’s Problem: Consumerism, Sustainability and Design, Green Leaf Publishings).

Similarly, the distinct ideas portrayed in Consumption, Consumer Culture and Consumer Society by Arıkan Saltık, Işıl, Fırat, Aytekin & Kutucuoğlu, Kemal & Tuncel, Ozgür (2013) are consistent with that of Crocker. The article makes some direct links with Crocker’s ideas of deception feeding consumerism and consumption. (Arıkan Saltık, Işıl, Fırat, Aytekin & Kutucuoğlu, Kemal & Tuncel, Ozgür, 2013) The ideology of the authors is that within the consumerist culture there is the deliberate use of advertising and social media deception to control and manipulate others, encouraging them to buy compulsively, and they must abide to the idea of consuming in the instance rather than postponing. Moreover, the article displays other ideas linking to that of Crocker’s on deception and consumerism is that the consumer society revolves around consumption, the exhibition of products in pursuit of social gratification and status (Baudrillard, 1998). To conclude on the ideas of deception within the aforementioned research paper, the final idea which corresponds to that of Crocker’s is that within the consumer society products are used swiftly then discarded ignorantly. This unthoughtful disposal of products has lead to the exploitation of values, alluding to negative consequences. (Penpece, 2006).

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It is apparent that the ideas espoused by Arıkan Saltık, Işıl et al., Baudrillard and Penpece consolidate the views of Robert Crocker, as their views are very similar to that of Crocker’s concept of deception fuelling consumerism. The respective ideas that are directly linked to the ideas of Crocker’s are that advertisements and social media are used to wrongly influence people resulting in compulsively buying as well as encouraging unnecessary purchases in order to satisfy their needs and gain social gratification. In addition, it can be seen that there is an agreement on the idea that consumers buy fast, become committed, and dispose of the product carelessly consequently resulting in negative effects to the environment.

Secondly, Crocker provides the idea that consumerism can be identified as waste-making. Waste-making that is produced through the old being reinstated by the new and trendy. Crocker explains that this encourages people to discard perfectly good products that may merely be few years old or provoke people to use one-off items. This is driven by our willingness to discredit the products which we hold in our hands. Crocker provides the example that there is substantial consumption and waste-making within the coffee shop industry, which involves quick disposable, plastic-coated paper cups despite them being non-recyclable, generating unsustainable emissions in the manufacture and production process. Also, Crocker reinforces his idea by stating that over eight million of cups are sold at Starbucks every day. Crocker further reinstates his idea that consumerism comprises waste-making in the form of stylistic and technological obsolescence as well as the physiological depreciation of our product values, hence initiating the process of comparison. This leads to the issue of throwing products away because they are considered old, therefore creating an accelerating problem of waste. Crocker makes three points regarding waste within consumerism; First of all is that the global production rates of consumption generate waste in unmanageable quantities. These excessive volumes cannot be tackled efficiently. There is the exception of the few clean, post-industrial cities that use leading engineering and collection systems, however, in the remaining parts of the world there are uncontrollable plans put in place, in an attempt to salvage the accumulating waste. To clarify this further Crocker delivers some facts and figures; 50% of the world experiences the formal collection of waste, and 50% of our global population have access to modern sanitation, however, this means that to over three billion people waste is a contributor to pollution. Following on from the previous point Crocker explains that today’s waste contains vast volumes of environmentally damaging toxic substances. These eventually evade their briefly lived residences unable to be ceased or reused in a useful form. Crocker further adds that marine scientists are now able to photograph plankton that glow due to the microplastics found within cosmetic packaging and other products (Crocker, 2016) Seabirds are now being recovered with their organs filled with vivid coloured plastics fed to them by their innocent parents (Liboiron, 2015/6). Crocker's final point within this idea is that consumers themselves rely on the old products being swiftly replaced to make space available for the new products, resulting in the accumulation of waste. Furthermore, Crocker asserts that the re-use and second-hand markets are unable to effectively keep up with the extensive production of products. Recycling converts around 20% of the population’s waste to resources in which the product can be used again. Overall a large percentage of consumer waste turns into pollution, destroying the environment.

Crocker's idea of consumerism as waste-making directly compares to that of Athreya Mamidipudi, Kristi Gartner and Suzzane Jacobs in their written articles. Athreya Mamidipudi's ideology is that due to the escalation in consumerism there is an immense gathering of waste, with no acknowledgment of our mistakes. She explains that the increasing income levels and modernization results in more unnecessary consumption resulting in greater waste generation due to more and more disposable incomes. Also, Mamidipudi discusses that since the creation of plastics in the nineteen fifties the consumer society has changed as plastics are being produced at high rates making it very cheap to use. Mamidipudi furthers her idea of consumerism as waste-making as she explains that in consumerism easy-use products have dominated the market. Mamidipudi emphasises her idea further by providing an issue in India as a consequence of consumerism; India is dealing with the worrying problem of the production of plastic is significantly higher to the recycling rate. To conclude her idea Mamidipudi suggests that eco products should be encouraged, as well as investing in the long term, reusable products and incentives (Mamidipudi, 2018). Correspondingly Kristi Gartner’s article Consumerism, Mass Extinction, and our Throw-Away Society showcase her idea that consumerism has reached its peak, with products becoming obsolete quicker than ever and new products being purchased every day leading to serious consequences regarding pollution and waste. She explains that there is the chance of mass extinction, there is the hazard that over three-quarters of the earth species could become extinct which is a result of our overconsumption and wanting more than we require. Similar to the idea of Crocker's, Gartner explains that she feels technological products are being upgraded at a startling rate and that we are being sucked into the advertisement that goes hand in hand with products, selling us high-speed processing and exquisite graphics. We end up buying these products to improve our lives, to benefit the environment however this may be true in some cases Garter explains that the product will only be environmentally friendly if we dispose of the replaced products effectively. Gartner provides the idea that these products can only be environmentally efficient if we stop the ignorant discarding of toxic items. To conclude Gartner gives her final idea that society needs to be informed about the impact of disposing of waste carelessly and that just because we can afford something doesn't mean we need it (Gartner, 2016).

The ideas adopted by Athreya Mamidipudi and Kristi Gartner unify with those of Robert Crocker’s as their ideas are remarkably similar to that of Crocker’s that Consumerism can be seen as waste making. The ideas directly linked to that of Crocker’s are that the expeditious obsolescence of products is directly encouraging people to throw away perfectly good products just to conform to the trends, this is amplified through our disregard for product value but also the benefits we believe it will bring to us. Furthermore, there is agreement on the idea that products are being manufactured rapidly creating waste at unmanageable quantities, making the recycling process unsustainable as can be seen with the India Scenario. It can also be seen that the idea of quick use, mass-manufactured at inexpensive prices encourages consumerism as the products are affordable are evident it that of Crockers and the articles. Finally, the ideas of consumerists not being informed on how to throw away products correctly are contributing to pollution and waste as products are being purchased however there is a apparent lack of concern when disposing of obsolete are similar.

Another idea of Crocker’s which is discussed within “Somebody else’s problem…’ is that continuous comparison and competition advocated through idealistic advertisement fuels consumerism and that companies are playing off our fears of not being the best. Crocker shares his idea base on that of Dwyers ‘Making a habit of it’ on that people are constantly looking over their shoulders, comparing themselves to friends and feeling the need to look a certain way to gain specific job, car or house (Dwyer, 2009). Crocker further explains his idea that Consumerism caused by comparison as well as self-evaluation. Comparison in most cases involves looking at those above us in order the gain ideas of the standard which we should be following. An example that Crocker provides concerning this idea is the Benson and Hedges advert, where the protagonist has the best qualities and highest standards, which represents a luxury and prestigious life. Through the potential wealthy and luxury that can be associated with the product, it gives us an insight into what our lives could be like if we owned it. Moreover, Crocker explains that reaching the top of the luxury ladder requires time and effort, this means working hard as we don’t want to look underprivileged. This often means reaching the goal where we can purchase a ‘copy’ of the affluent item. Following on from this Crocker discusses that many businesses offer a more affordable copy of their luxury products, for example, BMW offers more affordable models to engage new consumers. This enables people to be part of the luxury brand at a much affordable price. Also, Crocker furthers his idea stating that ‘comparison and consumption are necessarily escalatory’ (Crocker, 2019, p.104). He explains that it achieves a sense of insistence, which ultimately encourages us to purchase more desirable things, this latches on to use causing the fear of social decline. Brands play of this fear and worry by creating stories, making the products seem magical. Crocker provides his idea that brands live in our minds and that advertising ensures we see the ideal product. For example, car showrooms are the foundation for the brand and the story for cars, it becomes a place to impress. (Litman, 2009). p.105

Correspondingly the ideas shared by American behavioral scientist Marsha L Richins, in the article ‘Social comparison, Advertising and consumer discontent’ are akin to that of Crocker’s. Richin’s idea on consumerism and comparison is that the exposure of adverts, magazine images, and television programs are being idealised to portray a certain way of life. These images give us the impression go high luxury lives which realistically can nothing but be achieved by the few. Richin’s explains that these idealised images, especially in an advertisement, lead to self-comparison and evaluation, resulting in the purchasing of products with the hope of improving their standards of living. This according to Richin’s is a significant contributor to the rise in consumerism. Furthermore, Richen’s explains social comparison is between people is being fulled through glorified adverts, this is again causing people to continuously buy products to outdo others consequently increasing consumerism and waste. Richin’s continues her idea by discussing how the use of advertisements has been carefully produced to increase the consumer's eagerness to purchase the product, this is also influenced the continued comparison to others and the fear that they might not be the best. However, Richin’s provides a counter idea that despite idealised advertising encouraging competitiveness and consumerism it is effective in the selling of products so, therefore, it wouldn’t be conceivable to discard the advertising technique. Richin’s believes in the idea that consumers should be informed on how to interpret the precise meaning of advertisements (Richins,1995)

It can clearly be seen that ideas of Crockers and Richins share some similarities, however Richins shares some valid ideas contradictory to that of Crockers with regards to comparison and competition fuelling consumerism. Both share the same idea that the continuous comparison between people to achieve better standards is increasing consumerism, this is because people are comparing what they have to what other have as well as comparing themselves to idealised adverts which convey unrealistic expectations. In addition, both parties agree that advertisers use the fear of social decline to evoke self-evaluation, resulting in the purchasing of products ultimately increasing the vicious cycle of consumerism. However Richins makes a valid idea which somewhat conducts that of Crockers which is the idealised advertisement is necessary in the advertisement of products and that people should be educated on to interpret the true meaning of advertisements, this is something Crocker failed to mention which would be beneficial in the aid to decrease self-evaluation and social comparison.

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Ideas on Consumerism Versus Ideas of Robert Crocker’s in ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/ideas-on-consumerism-versus-ideas-of-robert-crockers-in-somebody-elses-problem/
“Ideas on Consumerism Versus Ideas of Robert Crocker’s in ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/ideas-on-consumerism-versus-ideas-of-robert-crockers-in-somebody-elses-problem/
Ideas on Consumerism Versus Ideas of Robert Crocker’s in ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/ideas-on-consumerism-versus-ideas-of-robert-crockers-in-somebody-elses-problem/> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
Ideas on Consumerism Versus Ideas of Robert Crocker’s in ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 Apr 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/ideas-on-consumerism-versus-ideas-of-robert-crockers-in-somebody-elses-problem/
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