Consumerism and Popular Culture—A Historiographical Survey

Authored by: Emily A. Remus

The Routledge History of the Twentieth-Century United States

Print publication date:  May  2018
Online publication date:  May  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138892071
eBook ISBN: 9781315709345
Adobe ISBN:


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On the threshold of the twentieth century, economist Simon Patten theorized that the United States was evolving from a “pain economy” rooted in scarcity to a “pleasure economy” based on abundance. The transition had been sparked by new manufacturing and distribution methods that granted consumers access to an ever-increasing array of goods—from ready-to-wear clothing to convenience foods to home appliances. As Americans came to rely on getting and spending to fulfill more of their everyday wants and needs, consumption levels soared to unprecedented heights. Yet sustaining these conditions, Patten predicted, would require a break with the past, a remaking of old “ideals, impulses, and institutions.” The effects of the break would be far-reaching. Indeed, in Patten’s view, the growth of the consumer economy was destined to transform everything from morals and customs to civic standards, social relationships and the built environment. In short, the ascent of consumer capitalism would create American culture anew. 1

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