Living in a Material World


In the months after 9/11, President Bush urged Americans to buy cars and take vacations to show their patriotism and unity, and also to send a message to terrorists that "our way of life" could not be stolen. Such calls to consume have often been made in times of crisis, and consumption has long been something of a national pastime (some would say a national pathology!). But frugality, simple living, and ethical consumerism have also at-times been declared American values, and are now just as likely to be advanced by celebrities, entrepreneurs, or corporations as by political activists. This multidisciplinary course explores our complex and evolving relationship to materialism and materiality, focusing on moments in U.S. history when consumption has been especially consoling or haunting, or been aligned with ideas of the public good or social and political change. Along the way, we will study material goods that have been declared symbols of American values (soap, Tupperware, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, #MAGA hats); influential advertising campaigns and models of "good" and "bad" consumer behavior (shoplifting, hoarding, "good housekeeping," thrifting, etc.); and anti-materialist positions from Thoreau's Walden to the Occupy Movement to today's "off-the-grid" cooperative-living communities. Students will write short analytical response papers, conduct a study of their own consumer practices, and do a final project on a recent "ethical consumption" campaign in historical perspective. This course counts as "Multidisciplinary" for AMCS students, and as "Visual Culture" for Sam Fox students.
Course Attributes: EN H; BU Hum; BU BA; AS HUM; FA HUM; AR HUM; FA VC

Section 01

Living in a Material World
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