creating 'happiness' through consumption

Let's speak, for a moment, about this issue of happiness. It was alluded to in a few earlier posts with regard to the desire for 'vegging out' at the movies, for contently complying with practices and ideologies of the current sociopolitical order, for breaking with this so-called 'system' whilst maintaining ones' sanity. In response, let me back up for a minute:

I would encourage us to not necessarily dismiss A & H's ideas because of their historical circumstance, and instead look to their proximity to both the propaganda Nazi machine and the Hollywood machine as offering a juxtaposition that we may not have otherwise identified. If we imagine, for argument's sake, that capitalist-era 'art-making' (ie: mass culture) is indeed inextricably bound to the constant demands of the profit-motive, then it is hardly a stretch to see mass culture as a business culture, right? Yes, there are extraordinary possibilities for art produced under the auspices of enterprising capitalists, but mainstream movies and music and television are, nonetheless, cultural productions that strive to bring in the big bucks. THUS if film (for example) is a profit-bound 'art', as A&H suggest, the culture industry will work in every possible way to attract and addict us to the 'beauty' of film -- so that we see the consumption of the film product as an inherent element of engagement with art. In simple terms: we spend to see 'art' and thus 'art' is an industry, even though we don't see it as such.

Ok, I know, so what's all this got to do with happiness? Well, everything, really. Because if we acknowledge mass culture as a deceptive tool for our continued entanglement in capitalism then the 'happiness' we once associated with our carefree movie-going becomes slightly knocked off balance. 'Happiness', in this sense, is a misnomer. A false label for identifying the satisfaction of being rewarded for our complicity. Capitalism demands consumption: we eat, we watch, we acquire, we 'veg' in ways that we see as essential and human and 'real'. But instead, as 3NT mentioned, these are the normalized practices inherent in the equation of 'capitalism' with 'freedom.' When we shell out our 10+ bucks to go to a movie, and sit back to laugh and cry, we think 'hey this is just art. and it rocks. it makes me happy.' But when we see the film industry as an INDUSTRY that works tirelessly to get us to indulge in its products, we can begin to see how our understanding of 'happiness' has become constructed in ways that connect us with spending.

In other words, is successful consumption the only indicator of 'happiness'? Is there authentic pleasure in consumption of the culture industry? Or, as A&H suggest, is it all part of the guise of the profit-motive. Personally, I would encourage us to think about the ways in which consumption-bound happiness has come to occupy the space of, and take priority over, other forms of pleasure.

wheew, sorry for the wordiness.

"Is successful consumption the only indicator of 'happiness'?" No, consumption is one form of obtaining happiness, its not even an indicator. The only indicator we have is some internal gauge that says "I feel happy". I derive some form of happiness from buying a plasma tv, but I also obtain happiness from long walks on the beach, a good night kiss, and talking with friends until the wee hours of the night. Every example there adds to my internal happiness gauge.I don't think we should fixate on consumption as the "only" way to obtain happiness, but look on it as one of many means to achieve happiness.

"Is there authentic pleasure in consumption of the culture industry?" Yes. If you feel happy then you are happy. How can a feeling not be authentic? One can outwardly portray a false sentiment (I say sorry for blocking the tv, but I am not really sorry, I had to get to the other side of the room), but I can't fake a gut feeling. If I come out of Pulp Fiction saying it was the best movie ever, feeling happier then when I went in, and unable to state the amount of elation I feel, have I not encountered an authentic sense of happiness? It is entirely possible that someone may not derive enjoyment from movies, music, food, etc.. and that person will never go to a movie or concert or restaurant, but will still enjoy hiking, conversing, and eating berries. Things are only there to improve one's well being, if people didn't want/need them, then they wouldn't exist.

Sorry if I rambled, but I think am the only one that holds the position that consumerism is not the creation of some evil deity here to mess with us. This position causes me to be on a constant defensive against everyone, including the authors, and I tend to get excited.

The notion that feeling happy indicates an underlying happiness is no doubt true. Tautologies aside, though, I think that what all the authors thus far - and especially Althusser - want us to question is the (capitalistic) basis of the rubrics that we use to differentiate pleasure and displeasure. To use Bumpkins' analogy, maybe question is not whether one's "internal happiness gauge" goes up or down, but rather: where did that happiness gauge come from intially? How have we been socialized to believe in certain forms of happiness over others?
Indeed, this kind of critical inquiry is even more important in the context of ostensibly "non-commodified" catalysts of happiness such as good night kisses, long walks on the beach, pina coladas, etc. Without denigrating the experiential high that each of these stimuli provides (which is something to which we can probably all relate), I think it's important to keep an open conversation going about how they may reinscribe normative conditions. Of course, normativity is not inherently malevolent; it becomes problematic, however, when normalized social and economic conditions are unnecessarily oppressive to a certain, often majoritary, chunk of society.
I notice that you (Bumpkins) failed to put, e.g., "throwing bricks through a Starbucks window" on your list of happiness-inducing practices. I assume this is because you don't find any joy in partaking in such anti-corporate demonstrations. But what about people who do? My point is simply that certain forms of "happiness" are systemically condoned over and above others, which, to my mind, makes it difficult to affirm the kind of psuedo-harmonious, "if people didn't want/need [things], then they wouldn't exist" mentality that you espouse. Right of the bat, debate about what people want - and more importantly, what they need - is bracketed according to the exigencies of certain institutions.
Very few people would find "happiness" in throwing bricks through Starbucks windows, whereas many would find "happiness" in long walks on the beach, escapist film, etc. Again, not necessarily bad, but we need, at the very least, to ask the Althusserian question: is this because walking along the beach is simply more life-affirming than attacking coffee shops (i.e., more of "what people need"), or is it, rather, because of what we've been taught by people and institutions that have an extreme vested interest in keeping those Starbucks windows in tact?

Can you consult this gauge, as a man consults his watch, when asked, 'Are you happy?' If you can: //must// you consult the gauge? Or, as in the case of the man asked the time, could light conditions in the sky, circadian rhythms, and other internal/external gauges be consulted instead, even if only for approximations?

When someone asks you in passing, 'How are you?', and you answer 'Doing great!', have you consulted any gauge?

Where is the gauge located? The heart? The stomach? The leg? Is the gauge a 'moving target,' in the sense that pain is a moving target? 'Yesterday I felt a happiness in my thigh, but today it's my back that's happy.' Like pain, can the gauge be indeterminate? 'I feel a happiness, but I can't tell where.' Like pain, can numbness desensitize you to the gauge? 'I can tell by looking at this limb that I must be happy, but I can't feel anything yet.' Or does the gauge have nothing to do with pain?

Is the smiling of your mouth an activity of the needle of the gauge? Sometimes one smiles in the very moment before weeping violently. Is this a malfunction of the gauge? Sometimes you smile when no one is looking, as if for your own benefit. Do you consult your smiling to gauge your happiness?

Can you jerry-rig the gauge? In certain situations, can you say to yourself 'I am happy,' or 'How nice,' or 'How lucky I am' with enough conviction that these statements are performative? In these situations you can almost feel your hand inside yourself, forcing the needle of the gauge. Are all situations in fact these sorts of situations? If you //can// jerry-rig the gauge: how trustworthy is the gauge? I.e.: granting the capacity to 'deceive' yourself, what is the status of your authority regarding affective states?

Have you read the instruction manual for each of your internal affective gauges? When you buy a plasma TV and feel the activity of a gauge, how can you be sure it is the 'happiness gauge' and not the 'contentment gauge' or 'pleasure gauge'? Or the 'terror gauge'?

Grant that there is only one gauge - the happiness gauge - that registers sensations of a generalized positivity, such as contentment and pleasure and bonhomie: is the happiness gauge sensitive to distinct pressures, or does the needle jump equally high when you buy a plasma TV and when you are spiritually transported? How are you sure that it is the same needle? How does the needle 'feel'? And where in your body is it? Always in the same part?

Do you ever buy or do something with the intention of setting off the 'happiness gauge,' only to discover afterward that you have alarmed a 'vague sadness' gauge? Whence this unpredictability of your own gauges?

Is it possible that others' gauges are more refined than yours? If so: is there anything to be learned or gained from these gauges?