Vol. 10, No. 1, December 2008

Themed Death:
Novelty in the Funeral Industry
Sam Binkley
newsletter designer
Emerson University

Dan Cook
Rutgers University- Camden

George Ritzer
long-time, dedicated supporter
University of Maryland-College Park

Mike Ryan
listserv manager
University of Maryland—College Park

Statement of Purpose
The organizing group for the Consumer Studies Research Network seeks to foster dialogue and debate among those who are interested in and concerned about the place of goods and commodities in social life. These interests and concerns may range from the poetics of micro/personal identity formation to the identity politics of gendered, raced and classed display, from historical work on the rise of consumer culture to a critique of Nike advertising, from investigations of typical places of consumption to the study the dynamics of globalization and urban areas. Individuals affiliated with the Consumer Studies Research Network desire to bring to the fore, in their own ways, the depths to which commodities and a market logic have come to pervade virtually all forms of social life and social interaction. The primary goal is to begin to engage in an interchange.


Dan Cook
Consumer Studies Research Network
Rutgers University
405-7 Cooper Street
Camden, NJ 08102
phone: 856-225-2816
fax: 856-225-6435

Have something to say? Send in essays, comments, letters, reviews, observations for the next Newsletter.

Visit our new website

CSRN logo

Monika Wood, webmaster

by George Sanders

Oakland University

When the U.S. was primarily a producer economy the protestant work ethic that Max Weber described served us well. Hard work, re-investment, saving money, pinching pennies and so on all provided normative behavioral guidelines. But now we live in a consumer society, and with the “ongoing commodification of everything” as Wallerstein  (1983, 1998) puts it, the citizenry has been encouraged to spend, spend, spend—an ideology epitomized in the advice given to us by our president shortly after Sept. 11th 2001 when we were told to not to allow terrorists attacks to impede our shopping activities. Even in an era of limited credit and liquidity, this ideology has become so entrenched that it is unlikely to be completely undermined in the near term. 

As a consequence of consumerism’s entrenchment in contemporary society, I would argue that Weber’s “elective affinity” between asceticism and the expansion of capital has given way to a new relationship. The new affine making possible capitalism’s growth is novelty. That is, in order to consume more and more we require an unceasing supply of fresh stimuli (Bauman 2007). One area in which this is readily apparent is in the kinds of experiential consumption (Caru and Cova 2007) now available in our “cathedrals of consumption” (Ritzer [1999] 2005). We eat in themed restaurants; buy our wares at wondrous big box retailers that woo us with their expansive aisles of merchandise stacked twenty feet high; attend increasingly extravagant amusement parks; and we glory at the marvel of online shopping which allows us to connect to other shoppers, rate our experiences, and await the arrival of our sundries straight to our doorstep. But it’s not merely applicable to the arena of retail therapy.

In this essay I examine some of the means through which the American funeral industry has contributed to experiential consumption via themed goods. Steeped as it is in conservatism and over a century’s worth of staid traditionalism, the notion that the funeral industry can contribute to experiential consumption utilizing themed products and services might surprise some.


Conference Calendar

Books of Note

New Editor, J Consumer Culture

Kidz Bop, “Tweens,” and childhood music consumption

by Tyler Bickford

Columbia University

The last several years have seen the consolidation of a new marketing category in the entertainment industry—“tweens,” a group that before it was so prominently and successfully cultivated as a market demographic would have been called “preteens.” The top-selling album of 2006 was the soundtrack to the Disney Channel movie High School Musical, a “tween”-driven phenomenon. The following year, two more Disney Channel acts, Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers, emerged as top acts in the industry.

Below the radar of Disney Channel’s meteoric successes, the entertainment company Razor & Tie is the workhorse in this market, regularly releasing albums of the prominent brand Kidz Bop, which sells mainstream popular music partially digested for children’s consumption. Kidz Bop markets CD compilations of top-forty hits for preteens, rerecorded with groups of children singing along to the choruses and hooks, occasionally interjecting “yeah!” and “woooh!” In addition to being the top selling children’s artist in the four years through 2006 (recently overtaken by Disney acts), Kidz Bop represents vibrant growth in a music industry troubled by diminished profits. The tenth volume of Kidz Bop debuted in August of 2006 at #3 in the all-around Billboard album sales charts, and Kidz Bop volume 9 entered the charts in February 2006 as the second best-selling album in the country.

In this paper I look back a couple years to examine a recording from volume 8, which in August 2005 became the first Kidz Bop album to crack the Billboard Top 10, following on the heals of Kidz Bop 7, which itself broke sales records for children’s music and was certified gold.

CSRN website