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SY100- Fall 2020
Chapter 8: Paper 7
Conspicuous Consumption – False Consciousness – Exploitation
“The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled Was Convincing the World He Did Not Exist”
This little quote comes from a movie The Usual Suspects, which came out in 1995. The movie was really good
and has nothing to do with this assignment. What does fit is the sentiment behind the quote, and its relationship
to the American Class System. Specifically, it gets at how it is possible that we can have this form of
Structural Inequality all around us, but rarely do we ever see or think about it. Karl Marx called this lack of
awareness False Consciousness.
On the whole, all stratification systems (Slavery, Caste, Estate, and Class) are all easier to keep in place
through ideas rather than actual strength. It takes a lot of energy to control people through might or force. For
the Dominant Group it is always way easier to convince Minority Groups they are inferior and belong in their
subordinate place. From your history classes you may remember a thing called the “Divine Right of Kings”.
In this case, kings ruled over the land because they claimed to be selected by God to do so. Who would ever
question the king and his rule if that means you were also questioning God? The idea of divine right is much
more powerful and easier to use to keep control over the people.
Karl Marx saw this process taking shape with the formation of Capitalism and the two class system made up of
the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. The Proletariat basically become the slaves of the newly emerging
industrial production system. Bourgeoisie Capitalists control the economy and the jobs, and therefore directly
control the workers. A whole host of things keep the workers from recognizing this, and keep them in a state of
False Consciousness. One, the Bourgeoisie are good at pointing out how smart, successful, and necessary they
are for running the capitalist system. Two, the workers are paid for their time, just nowhere near as much as
they are making in profit for the capitalists. Three, the working class often turns their attention toward other
workers to compete with each other for the existing jobs. We see this today in the current debate over
immigrant labor, and the shipping of factory work to foreign countries. The workers rarely step back and
realize they are all being played off each other by and for the benefit of the Bourgeoisie.
As capitalism has developed, the system of exploitation has gotten harder to see. Class Consciousness is
getting harder to achieve. One reason for this is a concept provided by Sociologist Thorstein Veblen called
Conspicuous Consumption. No longer do the Bourgeoisie just control us while we are at work. The
lifestyles they are able to purchase becomes the standard frame of reference for the entire society. For the
working and middle classes, trying to emulate and live up to this expectation becomes a form of False
Consciousness. We all end up living beyond our means, over worked, in debt, feeling inadequate, and in the
end all we really do is lock ourselves up in a new form of consumer slavery. We exploit ourselves, compete
with other middle and working class members of society, and pay the Bourgeoisie for the pleasure of doing it.
When we start to look, these conflict perspective messages are all over the place. It is important that we
recognize and examine them more objectively. Fortunately for us we have a solution. We have sociology and
Dr. Seuss (yes the children’s book author). For this assignment I would like for you to watch two things. For
your write up you should be providing a two-page report, without counting your title page which has your name
The first thing you should watch is the video clip found at the following link:
The first part of your write up should work to analyze this Dr. Seuss video using two theoretical perspectives.
First, I would like for you to use the symbolic interaction perspective to explain how inequality is being
symbolically created within the Sneetch community, and why those “with the Stars” are not really the
Bourgeoisie. Second, I would like for you to use the Conflict perspective to explain how the concepts of False
Consciousness, Conspicuous Consumption, and Bourgeoisie Exploitation are being depicted in the story.
Once you have this figured out, I would then like for you to do some research on people and watch 30-60
minutes of television advertising. It really does not matter what channel, what time, or what program you
watch, they all do the same thing. Pay particular attention to the images, themes, and messages given in the
advertisements. To be very clear here, this assignment is not about the plot of the show you are watching.
Watch specifically for the themes related to social class in the commercials. What do the commercials project
in terms of the class, and how do you think this varies from the social class of who is actually watching and
being targeted by the adds? What items of Conspicuous Consumption, or “Stars” are being sold?
After you have finished watching, summarize your findings and explain if Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen
would say people are any different than a Sneetch.