America’s Entitlement: Consumerism

“See he just wanted a jump shot, but they wanted his Starter coat, though
Didn’t wanna get caught, from Genesee Park to Othello
You could clown for those Pro Wings, with the Velcro
Those were not tight
I was trying to fly without leaving the ground,
Cause I wanted to be like Mike, right
Wanted to be him, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to touch the rim
I wanted to be cool, and I wanted to fit in,
I wanted what he had, America, it begins”

We held our Sunday Youth Group yesterday and gathered in the Youth Room to look at a particular video. I wanted to talk to our youth group about consumerism and what it means to place our identity in consuming. You might be thinking, “Whoa. Don’t you think that’s a little deep for a youth group, Jonathan?” Truthfully, I don’t think it is. Sometimes it can be too much. But you’d be surprised to hear the depth that most students think and feel. Yesterday was no different.

So, how DO you talk to youth about consumerism?

Great question. The answer? You don’t. 

Youth and Children don’t necessarily sense the tie to consumerism. They don’t feel a desire to own as much as the next person to fit in. For them it’s less about consumerism as an ownership and more about consumerism as an identity, which I think the Macklemore song really gets into. In other words, kids don’t have money, ergo, they don’t follow the idea of buying something to fit in. That’s more of a reflection on their parents (which still has an effect but the idea of consumerism is different).

Before we get any further– check out the Macklemore song below:

What you’re going to find with kids, is their identity in consumerism is the idea of who they should be and how that reflects with logos, brands, and idealisms.

For instance, iPhones. They’re awesome. You’ve got to have one to be cool, right? No. Many students who are in High School can sense the tension that exists when that is said. To own a phone doesn’t make someone cool. In fact, it might not do anything to aid in this. In fact, it would be just a common thing to have. Some kids have Android and some have iPhone. The difference maker is not do they have the most up to date technology, but it’s what identity is tied to that phone and what it allows them to do. For instance, a lot of us in our 20’s look at the iPhone and think: Hipster, large frames for glasses, plaid button-up shirts, beards, uniquely styled dresses, etc. For us, it’s the idea of the person that’s tied with that particularly style of phone. In order to have an iPhone you probably want to fit that certain hipster type of person– I mean, just look at the commercials. Here’s a funny one for all you folks who like JT and Jimmy Fallon:

It creates an identity. You want to be healthy. It’s hip to be healthy. You’ve got to have an app for that. You’ve got to have a new GPS system that can take you anywhere. And you probably want to have some kind of creative ability with music, art, or whatever because that’s key to fit in to the hipster culture.

Similarly, in youth circles, you own something not to create an identity, but to fit an identity. You consume in order to maintain being who you are, or rather, who you’ve been told or shown to be.

That’s where commercials and ads are targeting nowadays. Look around you. It IS most definitely about the brand BUT it is ALSO about the identity that comes with that brand.

Let’s break this idea down just a bit more. What are kids being told they need to be? They need to be smart and go to college, and not just smart: they need to be smart enough to be active in their community. They need to be up to speed on all the latest technology. They need to play on some sports team. They have to do all this not just to go to college but to go to the BEST college. That way they can go pay a whole bunch of money to get into the BEST college. Then, when they graduate, they’ll have a ton of debt and a ton of memories of all the things they had to do in college so they could fit in to society once they graduated. Because only THEN can they get the right job, to earn the right amount of money, find the right person to share their life with, to have the right number of kids, to have the right kind of house in the right kind of neighborhood, and to finally die with dignity and be buried in the right cemetery. Do you get what I’m pointing out?

Young people are given an identity based on what they have to do now in order to be considered successful when they become adults in our society. So, they begin making their choices in Junior High and High School on how they want to associate with the world and get ahead. Because God forbid they change their mind and choose a career that might not make as much money. Kids are pushed to become consumers. They aren’t there yet. But they will become that because of an idea of becoming a consuming adult. It’s a scary idea.

And this is still in a place where kids are loved by their parents. Kids can be loved exactly as they are– and yet, will still become consumers. It’s the american dream. We love you just as you are. And you are just as we created you to be… an american consumer.

But, what if company after company helped push forward the idea of creating instead of consuming? Perhaps we would solve more problems if we created instead of consumed. We could work on world hunger, homelessness, or even… loving one another for the individuality that we experience.

That’s an idea I could only imagine or dream of…

To wrap this up, here are some key points I’ve learned from my youth and this song.

1.) America is a consumer nation

2) Kids aren’t consumers yet. Their identity is wrapped up in what they will become.

3) Kids will become consumers just like us.

4) We can love our kids for who they are but that’s not enough.

5) We need to teach future generations how to create a new mold of society rather than sticking to the one we currently have. Cause this one just ain’t working…

That’s where I believe we need to head. If we want to accomplish anything, we can teach future generations to break the molds that we’ve created so we can move into a new identity as both a country and people of faith. Yes, even a people of faith need a new mold. But perhaps that’s whole ‘nother blog write-up.

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