The Misconduct of American Shoppers
August 8, 2021 7:18 PM Subscribe
Amanda Mull's Atlantic article traces the rise of an American class identity system by another name. The message that money can buy you status, which can all too easily be conflated with superiority or success, has long been reinforced in the U.S. when businesses and organizations offer exclusive access for a fee, special seating in a different class for a higher rate and gifts in exchange for higher value "membership." Customer service, client relationships, member experiences and the emphasis on consumers by both business and government alike gets increasingly ugly, however, in a pandemic-ravaged economy where nearly 80% of us work in the service sector, and rather than recognize that service workers are probably more like us than not — we throw a fit.
Less than six months into 2021, airlines had reported more unruly passengers to the agency than they had in any full year since it began collecting data, in 1995…. At its most violent extreme, workers have been hospitalized or killed. Eight Trader Joe’s employees were injured in one such attack in New York, and in Georgia, a grocery-store cashier was shot over a mask dispute. Far more frequent are the accounts of short-fused shoppers becoming verbally abusive or otherwise degrading over slow service or sold-out goods. Earlier this month, a restaurant on Cape Cod reportedly was so overwhelmed with rude customers that it shut down for a “day of kindness.”Why do so many of us behave so badly with clerks, salespeople, essential workers and so many others tasked with handling the public? Mull argues that in the "150 years that American consumerism has existed, it has metastasized into almost every way that Americans construct their identities." It's the way, she explains that "retailers won over this growing middle class by convincing its members that they were separate from—and opposed to—industrial workers…." To put that another way, business and marketing taught us to disengage, just as they taught us that the customer is always right.
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