Market Forces / Part II, Consumer Confidence
"In the next months domestic political issues will be:
a. As contentious as ever
b. About the same with politicians still arguing
c. Best ignored -- as I do today"
question from ConsumerConfidenceSurvey.com
The consumer confidence index serves as a barometer of the nation's collective (consumer) psyche, a monthly taking of the pulse that sheds light on the current mood and purchasing power of the American consumer. Responsible for roughly 75% of the economy, maintaining a regular consumption of goods and services among the public is critical to sustaining economic growth. While the index has the aura of scientific measurement, the thing being measured is inherently psychological, more dependent on "sentiment" (a term for a similar index) than hard fact. In the aftermath of 9/11, genuine concern broke out within the business community about the possibility of a traumatized public that would lose focus and, out of fear or a sense of doubt, fail to return to the nation's malls and stores. Politicians (Rudy Giuliani) and media figures (Gossip columnist Liz Smith) urged and occasionally chided a stunned public to do their "patriotic duty" and report to the checkout line forthwith.
The most significant annual right of consumer activity is the day that has come to be known as Black Friday. Revving the economic engine full tilt, this first Friday after Thanksgiving lays bare the competitive and sometimes brutal realities of "getting the best deal". Featuring the consumer version of the mosh pit, the crowds crashing the gates on Black Friday often show no mercy, with at least one or two unfortunate souls being stampeded in their innocent attempt to acquire the newest technological gadget at a once in a lifetime discount. Along with the need to "be the first" exists an almost survivalist mentality that pits one consumer against another, in a race to avoid losing out by failing to obtain the coveted item. Underneath it all is the monumental pressure of the media's version of "the Holidays", which tests the consumer's devotion to God and Family in a month long orgy of product-laden sentiment.
While Black Friday represents the pinnacle of consumer culture, one's "buying power" is at the core of their everyday identity as a consumer. With the increasing sophistication of demographic research and applications, consumers may seamlessly match themselves with brands readymade for their particular lifestyle. No longer objects that are lifted from the shelves and purchased according to need, products now carry with them far reaching associations, that, when assembled with their appropriate counterparts, emerge into a full fledged belief system that often trumps politics in its significance to daily life. In this second part of Market Forces, the exhibition's focus will be on the underlying psychology of consumerism and its objects, with work that presents an often skeptical and ironic detachment with respect to one of America's most favorite and absorbing pastimes.