It has become commonplace to say that we consume things. We consume food and drink for energy and hydration, and we are consumers of the many goods and services that make up our world. In many respects, consumption fuels our culture and society—it helps organize our lives, fuels how we interact with one another, and offers a foundation for how we constitute our identities. But what exactly does it mean to be a consumer? Where did consumerism come from, and how has it been sustained? How has the growth of advertising played a role in expanding consumer culture? Perhaps most importantly, why might all of us this matter for our everyday lives? This course will attempt to answer these questions through the historical study of advertising and consumerism, as well as an examination of the critical debates surrounding advertising in our contemporary moment, with an eye toward the social and political consequences of living in a commercial world.
This is an upper-level course that is designed for self-motivated students. It requires a good amount of reading each week, and its assignments entail significant levels of critical engagement and creativity. This is not a course that will teach you how to produce advertising content, or train you in the skills of public relations. Rather, it is a course for students to learn key historical, theoretical, and cultural debates related to advertising and consumerism. These are all skills that can make you a stronger producer and creator of media, but the focus of our course is on historical and critical concepts.