Thinking about words.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Today while A.M. and I were driving back from the grocery store and listening to NPR I was struck by an observation.  I noticed that in the media down here in the US the average American citizen is referred to as being either "the electorate" or "consumers".

This seemed interesting to me.  Referring to the citizenry as either "the electorate" and/or "consumers" implies a rather limited role for American citizens in regards to their participation in the political and economic milieu of the United States.  The word "citizen" is a word that suggests, at least to me, a sense of inclusiveness.  A citizen is someone who is an integral part of a nation, a person who with their fellows acts as a collective forming a nation.

A member of the electorate or a consumer doesn't have that sort of integral role.  A member of the electorate is just someone who (if they get off their ass) votes once every two years.  A consumer is just someone who goes around and buys stuff so that someone more important can reap the benefits of controlling the means of production.

I think it's interesting that the media, even sources of more responsible journalism such as the NPR, have chosen the words "consumer" and "electorate" to describe US citizens.  To some degree, such terms are accurate descriptions of how alienated the average American is from the political and economic processes that drive their country.  However, in some ways it's concerning in that it suggests that there is only a very proscribed role that is required of the average American.  All that a consumer or a member of the electorate needs to do is to buy stuff and occasionally vote.  But, if one is interested in having a healthy democratic nation, one must have a citizenry that is far more active.


Doug K said...

The use of "consumer" as a way of talking about US citizens has been noticed before -- and is always worth taking note of. What you might notice is that these same media outlets never seem to refer to "British consumers" or "Japanese consumers" or "Egyptian consumers" or, natch, "Iraqi consumers." Those people are all "citizens."

C.K. Loo said...

I've noticed that as well A.M. and I were talking about that yesterday. What I had initially noticed was that I never remember being referred to as a "consumer" by the media when I lived in Canada but even NPR, which we were listening to at the time, was referring to Americans as "consumers" and "the electorate" and I quipped "It doesn't seem like there's much of a role for you guys in your economy and political system. People in other countries get to be citizens, you guys just get to buy stuff and vote."

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