CONSUMING VISIONS: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America 1880-1920 by Simon J.--Ed. Bronner

CONSUMING VISIONS: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America 1880-1920

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Interdisciplinary scholars contribute fresh and intriguing insights into this collection of essays about the emerging of the US consumer culture--though Bronner (Grasping Things, 1986) offers a vague, jargon-packed introduction and fails to give the book shape. During the 1880-1920 period, the US suddenly transformed itself from a nation of myriad local markets to one of huge impersonal national markets based on a railroad network newly operating coast to coast. Giant corporations responded by flooding the burgeoning cities with a surplus of mass-produced goods, most of the nonessential variety needing advertisers to create consumer need. The imperative was for Americans to buy to ensure growing abundance. Consuming visions shaped this new way of American life based on accumulation, status symbols, and conspicuous spending. In ""The Victorian Jeremiad,"" Michael Barton tells of Bible-based critics of the new free-spending ways, but also relates how the new champions of consumption won the day. In Bronner's essay, ""Reading Consumer Culture,"" this cultural change can be read in the new consumer ""texts""--the novels, advertising, and city growth of that time. The first modern department stores, for instance, served as lush, multilayered cornucopias of consumption. Also covered here are the artful displays of goods (William Leach) sending thousands of alluring messages to buy, and the giant world fairs (Robert W. Rydell) sending the message that the acquiring of empire meant continued material abundance for all Americans. N.Y.C. was the country's new capital of commerce and consumption; William R. Taylor writes of the link between its public space and the need to showcase according to the new mass patterns of display, whether the consumer artifact be the Woolworth Building or Grand Central Terminal. And Jackson Lear (""Beyond Veblen: Rethinking Consumer Culture in America"") offers a provocative new look at how and why America began so frantically trying to keep up with the Joneses. David Potter's People of Plenty (1954) remains the classic in this field, but, still, the individual essays in Bronner's book--despite its confused organization--are worthwhile.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1989
Publisher: Norton