Wednesday, April 05, 2006

ADVERTISING AND VALUES: The Impact Of The Consumer Mentality On Marriage And Family

Marriage aint what it used to be. Couples tie the knot and then break up after a year or two or three. First marriages that last five years or less with no children have been dubbed 'starter marriages' or 'rehearsal marriages' by the media. And they're even cool. Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Uma Thurman, and Jennifer Lopez were married and divorced while still young. If the stars are doing it, in our celebrity obsessed culture, it must be okay!

The word 'starter' is a commercial word usually attached to products such as 'starter homes' or 'starter hobby kits'. Marketing departments like to 'bundle' stuff together into packages. This gives the appearance of making things easier by removing difficult consumer choices and allowing marketers to sell more at the same time. The implication with the word 'starter' is that you will soon outgrow it and move on, but it is a good and low cost introduction.

Like many commercial ideas, the prevalence of 'starter' this and that has now invaded our thinking. Moreover, we live in a 'throw-away' culture with new models becoming available regularly. Ads are always tempting us to try another product or trade-up or improve ourselves. So if things don't work out, do like you do with your automobile or your toaster, dump the old one and get the latest and the greatest.

But wait there's more! The consumer culture breeds dissatisfaction. The proliferation of merchandise means that long term decisions are hard to make. 'Post-purchase depression' (PPD) often follows many consumer buys because with so many choices, how do you know you got the right one at the right price?

On the Simple Living With Wanda Urbanska TV show which airs on PBS, Ms. Urbanska referred to a study designed to measure satisfaction when a commitment was made or not made. Those who made a commitment which could not be changed were more satisfied with their choice than those who were allowed to change their minds. This study reflects our consumer society. No matter what the choice there might always be something better made, easier to use, prettier or less costly. Real commitments are hard because so many other choices are available.

As a result this way of thinking is changing people's expectations about marriage. If it doesn't work out, just trade-in your wife or husband and get a new model.

And it's not just marriage, it's children. If you don't like your kids, throw them away. There are a slew of youngsters neglected by their parents because the kids are too demanding or take up too much time or are too much trouble or who have become 'damaged goods'. They're known as 'throw away kids'.

I believe a society's attitude toward commitment, marriage, children and divorce speaks volumes about the depth of shared values and the quality of our culture.

Now don't get me wrong. There are certainly times when divorce is appropriate and necessary. No man or woman should be forced to stay in a marriage that is abusive, for example, or one in which the partners are no longer compatible.

I know. I was involved in such a ten year marriage. However, before I ended it, I spent years exploring every option. My wife and I went to marriage counseling, to individual therapy and we tried to start fresh with a new understanding between us. After struggling for three years, it became clear that our marriage was broken and could not be repaired. Although it was painful and exhausting, I am glad we spent that amount of time because our choice to divorce was not taken lightly.


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