Like This Article: Generation Y - Social Status : More Wealth?
Have materialism, excessive consumption, and social status become the new measures of wealth?
THE NEW MAKERS OF SUCCESS
Materialism, excessive consumption, and social status have become the new measures of wealth. It is no longer about your net worth, or how much you invest or save; instead, our attention is concentrated on owning expensive brands, emulating entertainment icons, and attending the biggest concerts and A-list parties around the country. Young people born between 1980 and 1995 (Generation Y or Millennials) are becoming increasingly characterised by their consumer practices and desires linked to opulent lifestyles. 'Slaying', a youth sub-culture centred on displaying excessive forms of wealth, has highlighted how important gaining social status has become among young people in the country.
"Social status and wealth – the currency of esteem!"
WHY ARE WE SO MATERIALISTIC?
The growing tendency to use social status as a marker of wealth is not only reflective of a ‘lost generation’ as some critics may argue. It is a consequence of our online and offline social environment, which is heavily saturated with advertising. This has hard-wired us to believe the more we have the better we will be and wanting to fit into “society”.
A huge driver of this phenomenon is the consumer culture, which has become synonymous with the entertainment industry. The media content we consume endorses an image that has become engrossed with a kind of ‘cool’ centred on money, fashion, and class status. Just consider the popularity of television shows like Keeping Up with The Kardashians, and the rise of celebrity endorsements around the world. Music lyrics and videos, product placement in TV shows, films, YouTube, and especially advertisements are effective at using vacuous public figures to model materialism. It is effective because many young people equate success and social status with wealth when they see and hear people, they admire promoting lavish lifestyles.
WHO IS AFFECTED? HOW FAR WILL WE GO?
Generation Y has been characterised around the world as techno-savvy, independent, success-driven, and lifestyle-centred, but how far are we willing to go to gain favour among our peers? The accumulation of material possessions is not the only determinant of social status. Perhaps you know of someone who has gone to extreme lengths to improve their social status by exaggerating their online social media identity, lying about their background, or only dating and befriending certain people. With more integration in South Africa and the influence of a global culture, young black and white people find they have more in common with each other than their predecessors did. The celebration of social status as a measure of wealth is the perfect example of how global influences have had a similar local impact on young people across the country, making this a generational, rather than a racial or class, trend.
WHAT IS AFRICAN SUCCESS?
By equating success with material possessions, some argue that we have stumbled towards a generally accepted Western notion of success and wealth. Although there is some merit in such a statement, let us not forget that indigenous African wealth also took the form of acquiring material possessions. For example, in the past the number of heads of cattle, wives, and children were the determinants of social status.
Today a culture of materialism has nurtured a breed a “blessers” and the young girls and women who grow to depend on them. Participation in crime will likely increase as young people from poorer families feel more pressure to meet material demands. And, if greater emphasis is placed on always buying new expensive products and maintaining an excessive lifestyle, a possible fall-back on the economy is that young people are less likely to save and more likely to fall into debt. Firstly, we need to define what success means to us as a society. Is it all the bright, shiny products being brandished about, or is it building a society that wants to leave a positive legacy behind? What legacy is being formulated in this new currency of esteem?