Delectable Materialism: Were the Critics of Consumer Culture Wrong All Along?

On January 31, 1990, when McDonald's opened in Moscow, Soviet citizens seemed stunned by the politeness of the people behind the cash registers who smiled and said, "May I help you?" They were delighted at the efficiency of the service despite a wait of two hours; many took home their McDonald's logo-laden refuse as souvenirs. Tongue in cheek, The New York Times wrote of hope-starved Soviet consumers won over to "delectable materialism." The Washington Post, similarly jocular, painted a portrait of a factory worker standing beneath the golden arches and said of him, "He had seen the future -- and it tasted good."

American journalists poke fun at the Soviet passion for American consumer goods because they cannot think of consumerism in the United States without ambivalence. It takes an immigrant, or these days a Soviet visitor, to speak of American abundance in beatific terms. Boris Yeltsin, now president of the Russian Republic, returned from a nine-day American tour in the fall of 1989 effusive about the extraordinary wealth of American life:

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