The objective of this essay is to argue the influences that the mass media has on exploitation within a consumerism society. The essay will focus on consumerism within modern day society and the brands which we consume, looking at exploitation in third world countries, for example the production lines for these brands and how the mass media alienates the labourers. I will analyse a variety of newspaper articles to see their development and their connection between production and consumption. I will be considering the work by N. Klein (2000), K. Marx & F. Engels (2009), J. Storey (2006), R. Tomkins (2001) and G. Hodgson (1982), alongside a wide range of other sources, which all argue ideas around capitalism, consumerism, values and exploitation.
In modern society our culture is based on mass consumption. Whether the products being consumed are produced in a politically humane way or not, the public are still increasingly contributing to the fashion industry with a 23% increase since 2009 (Oxford Economics 2014) suggesting that our actions towards consuming is not going to stop. To consume has become a part of society influencing the public’s social life, “Consumerism appears to have become part of the very fabric of modern life” (Miles. S, 1998) evoking the idea that consumerism has become a structure for everyday activities, becoming a fundamental base for social life. It is hard to define the idea of consumption and consumerism when there is such a close connection between the relationships of the two, ‘consumerism can be said to be more of a sociological interest than consumption’ (Miles. S, 1998). The extent in which we do consume is to stretch out into this utopia, we escape from the limits of consumption and consume items which we believe are needed and in some cases it can make your class status divergent. A mass amount of individuals are under ideological control for example consumerism, R. Tomkins, 2001 discusses the idea that when people have a void in their life they then fill this with consumerism to for fill happiness and peace.
Branding is a vast part of consumerism, without the brand most products would be identical leaving the industry with no substantial meaning. Super brands such as Nike, Adidas and Zara all playing a huge part on the high street and showing certain status symbols. Brands such as Nike have a certain brand identity which they expose to their customers such as being authentic, inspirational and innovative however they do not stand by these ideological values when it comes to their production line due to high demand by consumers. Klein argues the idea that from a young age of five we are exposed to these consumerism thoughts with it being repeated through generations; the U.S consumers union in 1995 ‘found that thousands of corporations were targeting school children or their teachers’ (Klein. N. 2000, pg. 93). By using a variety of different marketing activities to encourage buying products that are branded such as Nike, giving a course on how to make a sneaker to raise awareness on their environmentally friendly products, Nike is a huge brand which we see every day throughout the high street, we are starting to become surrounded by brands such as Nike which use global endorsements to interact their consumers and attract them to the brand.
John Storey (2006) argues that Marxism emphasises the idea of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat forms of social life which is based upon ‘conflict of interest’ (Storey, J. 2006). When it comes to mass production, the thinkers and the labours. Inflation within consumerism could arguably be great support for local, national and global economies, however with the elite being in control, the production process is being concealed from the public. The exploitation around the subject area is escalating with people becoming more aware of the sweatshops, nevertheless this does not stop the mass population contributing to it, ‘While the workers are making our clothes thousands of miles away, in other ways we’re close to it – we’re wearing these clothes every day’ (Klein. N, 2000, Pg. 408). This shows that we do not agree with it, nonetheless by consuming these products as a society it is developing it into a larger organisation, associating closely with the production matters book and the idea of alienation of the third world countries, ‘corporations outsource the manufacture of their products to multiple sites of cheap labour’ (Vann. E F, 2003). The main point is that the cost of the product is on the rise and with the wage of the labourer only being a few pence, evoking the idea that fair trade is ultimately lost when it come to the production line; with the elitist community producing a larger profit. This isn’t something which any society should accept which is why Marxism is still relatable in today’s society.
Once an activity has become globalised it is extremely difficult to control it, such as ‘sweatshops’ people can protest and workers can unite, but realistically in a capitalist society the elites will always control the system. ‘The worker becomes poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increase in power and extent’ (Churchich. N, 1990, pg.). Signifying the idea that the increase in consumerism and profits for the wealthy, this affects the production as the more their work load increases, the more it will cause the working conditions to decrease and the likeliness that their hours will double; this is the reality of the money and labour conflict between the wealthy elites and the poor underprivileged ‘immigrants’ in the hierarchy system. With the mass of unfair treatment ‘It is easier for management to maintain control over the labour process when workers are deskilled and know they can easily be replaced’ (Smith. T, 2000, pg. 34) demonstrating the idea of the underprivileged being sub-grouped into the bottom of the hierarchy, giving them no option but to be a part of this system.
Marxism is still relevant in modern society, with the economic power still having influence over the superstructure. Whilst living in a capitalist society a mass culture is exposed to advertising, branding and marketing which gives them a second vision to reality and the production of the product; Y.B. Mangunwijaya, 1998 ‘You might not see things yet on the surface, but underground, it’s already on fire.” signifying that what we see in the media is the false sense of truth and that the underlying issue is ‘on fire’ as we are blind to the reality of issues. With the media defining modern culture through many texts it is surprising that a barrier has formed to discourage news or information about third world conditions, the main conflict between this is the capital, wage and labour which disputes the antagonism between the elites and proletariat. On the other hand, it gives the elite a surge of power by using a range of advertising skills to constantly sell and increase profits, this is because that a system with power can impact the proletariat’s consumer decision making process. ‘The relationship can be seen as a mechanical relationship of cause and effect’ (Storey, J. 2007) this links closely with N. Klein (2000) such as Obama ‘using the same tricks and tools as super brands’ (Klein. N, 2000, pg. xxvi) when she expresses elitist ideas that the media is exposing mass information that impacts on the proletariat, with the effect being that they believe and respond to events such as ‘Black Friday’.
Throughout mass media different newspapers have attempted to bring awareness to sweatshop production, most of these being left wing who support working class and equality, however the idea of a false consciousness becomes misleading towards the proletariat and to other classes. The Independent and The Guardian have both covered issues with sweatshop production. The first article looking at Nike and Adidas avoiding to stop their sweatshop abuse, the workers are subject to ‘Verbal abuse, intrusive physical examinations and dangerous conditions’ (Parry. R L, 2002). This highlights the effects of living in a capitalist society and the alienation within Marxism ideology as the workers are in a state of disillusionment and frustration but due to their part in society they cannot ‘unite’. Equality has always been a fight throughout generations however brand such as Nike and Adidas are at the forefront for portraying a better environment to support the economy, nevertheless behind the scenes they do not show this, alienating underprivileged society’s mainly in Indonesia: ‘full-time workers at its factories are paid as little as $2 (pounds 1.40) a day. Workers are thus forced to work long hours’ (Parry. R L, 2002).Debatably, when we buy a certain product we do not look into the production of products for example, Nike trainers we expect them come from a factory which sticks to the labour codes and conducts, relating closely with the Naomi Klein source: ‘If they buy toys for their children, those toys may have been made by children who have no childhood’ (Klein. N, 2000, pg. 348) this shows the idea of commodity fetishism. The products are in high-demand and therefore the elites are mass producing products by using the third world countries to develop more and more sweatshops.
Social media has developed vastly meaning we can speak up and start local, national and global protests however there is still an ultimate control over this freedom with governments being able to shut off anything which devalues the system. The Independent exposes the story of a worker trying to ‘unite’, closely linking to the Marxist term ‘Workers of the World Unite’ which was utopia to most due to the strength of the elitist. ‘One female worker was arrested and imprisoned for a month last year for organising a strike at the PT Panarub factory, which supplies Adidas’. This is hegemony being broken by the workers realising that social organisation and power distribution is not in everyone’s best interest, going against the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. This is a prime example of capitalism at work and the superstructure is there so that it has a base and does not collapse, but to the extent that someone who is being poorly treated to be imprisoned is the extreme of modern day society. There are major movements happening linking to the above ‘Anti- Sweatshop movement’ this movement first took off in the middle to late 1990, with ‘sweatshops’ disappearing until the late 1970s when they returned to become global reality (pg.3) ultimately ‘sweatshops’ have been around for decades and with the movement only happening recently, the globalisation of it will be hard to control with the vast increase in consumerism still on the rise.
In addition, there are a vast amount of articles which cover ‘sweatshop’ abuse by high street shops. According to The Daily Telegraph, Zara a super brand has allegedly been supporting and using slave labour in factories based in Argentina. The allegations are always being published in a variety of media forms such as newspapers and magazines however the full outcome of this is never published unless proved to be false, this is to shade the public’s opinions of a certain company and their brand image. Reported by The Daily Telegraph, ‘Immigrant workers, including children’ were discovered in the work place; signifying the fact that the elites do not care about the underprivileged in third world countries and that they are taking advantage of poverty and portraying hierarchy of abuse. A source closely relating to the hierarchy within the workplace focuses how workers communicate in certain conditions and environments; ‘larger workplaces (and enterprises) have tended to produce a more class consciousness and unionization’ (Robert J. S. R, 1943. Pg. 69) relating to what Karl Marx has previously said about class consciousness, this links closely with ‘immigrant workers’ becoming more aware of the class structure in the work place, however they are aware of it which limits them to how much they can voice an opinion on their working conditions.
Overall, a variety of sources have concluded the idea in which the mass media has a huge influence of the information which is published within society. Throughout this essay I have argued the point of consumerism within society and how it has become a fundamental of everyday life and that we consume to escape from reality. Secondly, I have explored branding and the use of branding within consumerism and the fashion industry and how this is joint to exploitation. Analysing how exploitation of workers in the production of fashion is a globalised process due to the western elites. Mass media has proven too be a huge part on what is exposed to the public however as analysed we see that the media only publishes what the elitists want the public to see and believe. The newspaper articles which have been studied have shown how the media publishes the exploitation however it only exposes a limited amount of information and nothing is confirmed.
...(download the rest of the essay above)