Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Advertisement & Consumption: Modern Day Ritual?

As time has passed, our focus has shifted from religion to consumption. Towns used to be centered around churches as the largest building-- now churches are centered around us, and massive office buildings dominate cityscapes. Religion has become more centered to our convenience than in the past and plays a lesser role. Is consumption/advertisement in some ways like a modern day secular ritual for Americans?

The purpose of religious rituals from an evolutionary standpoint was to help hold members of a group together. According to costly signaling theory, a ritual requires a set of costly behaviors that demonstrate the person has, essentially, genuinely bought in to the religion. The act of an individual performing ritual actions sends signals to other members about their adherence to the group, and their following of societal values. Rituals also re-enact a religion's mythologies, reinforcing the strength of the shared myth on the whole of the group.

How similar do you think consumption might be to ritual from this perspective?

Child-targeted ads build the foundation for consumption early in life, enforcing consumption as a set behavior and societal value. Not necessarily unlike religious instruction that would raise a person to live their lives in a socially-cohesive way. Also, buying a brand is like buying in to a set of mythology, as what may be what makes one product different from another (ex: Coke vs. Pepsi). Additionally, the costs of purchasing one type of product sends signals about themselves compared to others, as well.

While it appears advertisement/consumption has many similarities to religion, what do you think might be the comparison's limits? Do you think the difference between advertisement/consumption and religion might be degree, or is there something fundamentally different? Is religion especially distinct, or are all things just ideas?

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