The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures by Baudrillard

Baudrillard, J. (2016). The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society) [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com


Introduction to the First Edition

Page 22

As a result, instead of Marxian use- values and exchange- values, consumables become sign- values.

Page 23

However, in Baudrillard’s view, it is the code, or the system of differences, that causes individuals to be similar to, as well as different from, one another. In the very act of particularizing themselves, people are reading and conforming to the code.

Page 24

Baudrillard criticizes sociologists for seeing individuals as free and creative and for being ‘wary of “deep motivation”’.)

Page 24

For example, because of their training, the upper classes are seen as having some degree of mastery over the code.

Page 24

It is the middle and lower classes who are the true consumers because they lack such mastery.

Page 24

He concludes that society’s social logic is condemning people to a luxurious and spectacular penury.

Page 25

is clear that Baudrillard is critical of modern society and that critique emanates from a sense of the importance of the symbolic, especially symbolic exchange, as it exists, in part, in primitive society and more generally in an abstract model of such an exchange process.

Page 26

Leisure time is separated from work time and one is obligated, constrained to spend it.

Page 26

Time in this context is nothing more than the rhythm of collective activities, especially the rituals of eating and feasting.

Page 26

Time in primitive societies is integral to symbolic exchange.

Page 26

In the primitive world, waste is a festive ritual and a symbolic act of expenditure. However, in the modern world it has become a bureaucratic caricature in which wasteful consumption is obligatory.

Page 26

Hunter- gatherers like those of the Kalahari suffered from absolute poverty in the sense that they had few, if any, personal possessions. They did no ‘work’ in the contemporary sense of the term, made no economic calculations and did not amass a store of goods. They shared everything they did have with other members of the group and were confident (or foolish) enough to consume everything immediately.

Page 26

They managed to rest easy because they trusted in the abundance of natural resources.

Page 26

In contrast, modern society is characterized by anxiety and despair about a variety of insufficiencies.

Page 26

To Baudrillard, following Sahlins, poverty involves not the quantity of goods a group possesses, but the nature of its human relationships.

Page 26

In the case of primitive hunter- gatherers there are transparent and reciprocal human relationships. There is no accumulation or monopolization of raw materials, technologies, or products that would serve to interfere with free exchange and lead to scarcity.

Page 27

Wealth is based not on goods but on human exchange; and, since the latter is endless, wealth is unlimited.

Page 27

While these primitive societies bask in the ‘wealth’ of the dialectic of human relationships, modern societies are characterized by the ‘dialectic of penury’. In a society characterized by such a dialectic there is unlimited and insatiable need; a constant sense that one does not have enough.

Page 27

Rather than a reciprocal sharing of what people have, modern society is characterized by differentiation and competition which contributes to the reality and the sense that there is never enough.

Page 27

Since the problem lies in social relationships (or in the social logic), it will not be solved by increases in production, by innovations in productive forces, or by what we usually think of as even greater abundance.

Page 27

The only solution to the problem lies in a change in social relationships and in the social logic.

Page 27

For example, in primitive society nature is seen as an original and specific presence which stands in contrast to culture.

Page 27

However, in the modern world nature has tended to be reduced to something carefully groomed, managed, policed and tailored to the needs of humans.

Page 27

Nature in this form is a simulation of what it is in primitive society.

Page 27

It has become a sham; simulations can be defined as ‘sham objects’ and it is such objects that define our consumer society.

Page 27

They are objects that offer an abundance of signs that they are real, but in fact they are not.

Page 28

As a result, all of society is suspected of uselessness, artificiality and fakery.

Page 28

Instead of reality, people are treated to simulations involving the constant recombination of various signs, of elements of the code.

Page 28

Modern society is characterized not only by simulated objects, but also by simulated relationships.

Page 28

More specifically, consumer society is one in which most of us are obliged to be solicitous of others. However, it is a simulated solicitousness which is forced, bureaucratized and counterfeit. As a result, we find ourselves surrounded by emotions and personal relations that are carefully orchestrated. Many of those we interact with are instructed to keep smiling and to be sure to tell us to ‘Have a nice day.’

Page 30

Baudrillard consumption is not, contrary to conventional wisdom, something that individuals do and through which they find enjoyment, satisfaction and fulfilment.

Page 30

Rather, consumption is a structure (or Durkheimian social fact) that is external to and coercive over individuals.

Page 30

it is above all else a coded system of signs. Individuals are coerced into using that system.

Page 30

The ideology associated with the system leads people to believe, falsely in Baudrillard’s view, that they are affluent, fulfilled, happy and liberated.

Page 30

Ultimately, what is being consumed in the consumer society is consumption itself.

Page 31

What this communicates is the idea that consumption has been extended to all of culture; we are witnessing the commodification of culture.

Page 31

one of the basic premises of postmodernism– the erosion of the distinction between high and low culture.

10 The Mystique of Solicitude

Page 177

The tiniest bar of soap is presented as the fruit of the thinking of a whole council of experts who have been poring for months over the softness of your skin.

Page 177

Objects no longer serve a purpose; first and foremost they serve you.

Page 177

is in the sun of this solicitude that modern consumers bask.

Page 178

A whole maternal, protectionist lexicon is deployed to refer to these institutions: social security, insurance, family allowance, old- age cover, unemployment benefit.

Page 178

Every commodity must be regarded as the nexus of non- chargeable services which qualify it socially.

11 Anomie in the Affluent Society

Page 192

‘spectacular’ violence and the pacification of daily life are homogeneous, because they are each equally abstract and each is a thing of myths and signs.

Page 192

the uncontrollable violence which well- being secretes in its very achievement.

Page 192

That violence is characterized (precisely like consumption as we have defined it, though not as superficially understood) by the fact that it is aimless and objectless.

Page 192

It is because we base our lives on the moral illusion of the conscious finality of all things, of the basic rationality of individual and collective choices (the whole system of values rests on this: there is in the consumer an absolute instinct which inclines him by essence towards his preferential ends– the moral myth of consumption which is the direct heir to the idealist myth of man as naturally inclined towards the Beautiful and the Good), that this violence seems unspeakable to us, absurd, diabolical.

Page 193

depending on whether we look at them in terms of the rationality of institutions or the lived evidence of normality– forms which run from destructiveness (violence, delinquency), through collective escapist behaviour (drugs, hippies, non- violence), to contagious depressiveness (fatigue, suicide, neuroses). Each of these characteristic aspects of the ‘affluent’ or ‘permissive’ society raises in its way the problem of a fundamental imbalance.

Page 194

In the event, this takes the form of a rejection of the ‘consumer society’ in violent and Erostratic3 form (the blind destruction of material and cultural goods) or non- violent, abdicationist form (refusal to engage in it through either production or consumption).

Page 196

These two control mechanisms have powerful effects, but they are not, however, capable of forestalling the critical process of the turning– the subversive conversion– of affluence into violence.

Page 197

From LSD to flower- power, psychedelia to hippies, zen to pop music, all have in common the rejection of socialization through status and the principle of productivity, the rejection of this whole contemporary liturgy of affluence, social success and gadgetry. Whether this rejection paints itself as violent or non- violent, it is always the rejection of the activism of the society of growth, of enforced well- being as the new repressive order. In this sense, violence and non- violence, like all anomic phenomena, have a litmus function. This society which gives itself out to be, and sees itself as, hyperactive and pacified is revealed by the beats and the rockers on the one hand, and the hippies on the other, to be characterized at a deep level by passivity and violence.

Page 197

The other group extends the secret, orchestrated passivity of this society (behind its façade of hyperactivity) into a practice of abdication and total asociality, thus causing that society to deny itself, in accordance with its own logic.

Page 198

We want to have time for living and loving. The flowers, the beards, the long hair and the drugs are secondary… Being ‘hip’ first and foremost means being a friend to humanity.

Page 198

Someone who tries to take a fresh, non- hierarchical look at the world: a non- violent person, who respects and loves life.

Page 198

Someone who has true values and a true sense of proportion, who puts freedom before authority and creation before production, who values cooperation and non- competition… Just someone kind and open who avoids doing others harm. That’s the main thing.

Page 198

As a general rule, doing what you think is right whenever and wherever it may be, without worrying about approval or disapproval, on the sole express condition that it causes no harm or offence to anyone.

Page 198

They are, or remain, conditioned by the basic mechanisms of that society.

Page 198

They advocate the abolition of competition, of the defensive system and functions of the ego. But this is merely to translate into more or less mystical terms what has already been described by Riesman as ‘other- directedness’, an objective evolution of personal character structure (organized around the ego and the superego) towards a group ‘ambience’ in which everything comes from, and is directed towards, others.

Page 199

the irresponsibility and infantilism to which modern society confines each of its individuals.

Page 199

short, the ‘Human’, almost hounded out of existence by productivist society and the obsession with social standing, celebrates its sentimental resurrection in the hippie community, where, beneath the apparent total anomie, all the dominant structural features of the mainstream society persist.

Page 199

Our current society can thus be defined by the formal opposition between a dominant culture which is one of unrestrained, ritualistic, conformist consumption, a culture which is violent and competitive (the potlatch of the Kwakiutl) and a permissive, euphoric, ‘drop- out’ subculture of the hippie/ Pueblo type.