George Ritzer explores all the open, apparent and easily discernible facets of American consumerism in “A Disenchanted World.” Although the introductory chapter is written in a neutral form, the book title suggests that Ritzer is not enthused about the shopping mall known as the United States of America.
Most of the “cathedrals of consumption” he explores are not new to me. I have experienced every cathedral he mentions (mega-churches, athletic stadiums, big box superstores, Disney World, and Hard Rock CafÃ© to name a few). However, I was startled when he mentioned how universities can now be included in the same consumption category as the Mall of America.
“These days most campuses are dated, stodgy, and ineffective compared to shopping malls, cruise ships, casinos, and fast food restaurants.” (P.21)
Okay, that’s not too hard to agree with. But how many students come to college to be entertained and marketed to?
“To compete, universities are trying to satisfy their students by offering, in addition to state-of-the-art athletic facilities that have many of the characteristics of professional stadiums, ‘themed housing’ – dorms devoted to students with shared special interests.”
This is the statement which was most plain to me. UIC, in its efforts to shed its commuter school image and create a respectable and enjoyable campus life, has introduced both of these “consumption elements.”
I disagree with placing universities alongside all the other cathedrals of consumption Ritzer describes – education is not something merely consumed, or used up. It is greater than that and helps extend our understandings of economic and social phenomena like “excessive consumption” and Disneyification, and prepares us to become the next innovator of a type of American waste or perhaps extend and promote the eco-friendly, anti-consumption movement.