One of the strongest proofs that the principle and finality of consumption is not enjoyment or pleasure is that that is now something which is forced upon us, something institutionalized, not as a right or a pleasure but as the duty of the citizen.
The puritan regarded himself, his own person, as a business to be made to prosper for the greater glory of God. His ‘personal’ qualities, his ‘character’, which he spent his life producing, were for him a capital to be invested opportunely, to be managed without speculation or waste. Conversely, but in the same way, consumerist man [l’homme- consomateur] regards enjoyment as an obligation; he sees himself as an enjoyment and satisfaction business. He sees it as his duty to be happy, loving, adulating/adulated, charming/charmed, participative, euphoric and dynamic. This is the principle of maximizing existence by multiplying contacts and relationships, by intense use of signs and objects, by systematic exploitation of all potentialities of enjoyment.
There is no question for the consumer, for the modern citizen, of evading this enforced happiness and enjoyment, which is the equivalent in the new ethics of the traditional imperative to labour and produce. Modern man spends less and less of his life in production within work and more and more of it in production and continual innovation of his own needs and well-being. He must constantly see to it that all his potentialities , all his consumer capacities are mobilized. If he forgets to do so, he will be gently and insistently reminded that he has no right not to be happy. It is not, then, true that he is passive. He is engaged in – has to engage in – continual activity. If not, he would run the risk of being content with what he has and becoming asocial.
Hence the revival of a universal curiosity (a concept to be explored further) in respect of cookery, culture, science, religion, sexuality, etc. ‘Try Jesus!’ runs an American slogan. You have to try everything, for consumerist man is haunted by the fear of ‘missing’ something, some form of enjoyment or other. You never know whether a particular encounter, a particular experience (Christmas in the Canaries, eel in whiskey, the Prado, LSD, Japanese-style love-making) will not elicit some ‘sensation’. It is no longer desire or even ‘taste’, or a specific inclination that are at stake, but a generalized curiosity, driven by a vague sense of unease – it is the ‘fun morality’ or the imperative to enjoy oneself, to exploit to the full one’s potential for thrills or gratification.
- Excerpt From: The Consumer Society – Myths and Structures, by Jean Baudrillard