Schizophrenic Proliferation: Consumerism and the Millennial Dream

Curator's Note

Consumerism has long been associated with the American Dream. In this dream of things, the hopeless entanglement of capitalism with what it means to be American is perhaps nowhere clearer. This preoccupation with things is succinctly encapsulated in a scene from Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, where, in his “Look at all My Shit” speech, Alien pontificates on how as a drug dealer, he was able to fulfill his dream by illegally hording cash and acquiring material possessions. During the concurrent montage views of Alien’s pad, it quickly becomes clear that proliferation and multiplicity are key—shorts in every color, Scar Face on repeat, numchucks, multiple bottles of Calvin Klein cologne, bullets, blades—and of course Candy, Cotty and Brittany, who come into Alien’s possession in the second half of the film. As A.O. Scott observed, this scene displays an uncanny similarity to a scene in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, where Gatsby violently throws from his closet balustrade a proliferation of men’s shirts down at Daisy seated on his bed below. What makes these scenes interesting in relation to each other is their shared implication that the pursuit of consumerism and its logic of surplus function as symptoms in the psychoanalytic sense. The very impulsiveness of our consumer habits speak to an anxious inability to identify what it means to dream in America and certainly never outside the logic of capitalism. If we watch carefully, then, and in their shared stylistic excess as well, Spring Breakers and The Great Gatsby betray a powerful if immanent critique of American values simply by reproducing our dreams in all their excessive and schizophrenic preoccupation with things.


Very interesting post! I hadn't made the Spring Breakers -> Great Gatsby connection, but the focus on materialism is very clear. I think most salient is the "logic of surplus," where the need for objects surpasses justification. People have nice cars, but it is quite a different thing when a single person has 10+ with only two drivers. Materialism emphasizes excess and a repetitive need for ownership. Because you mention schizophrenia, I was wondering if you could elaborate more on the relationship between it and consumerism as apparent in the clip. The link is not clear to me, but it seems an interesting avenue to explore. Thanks for the post!

Hi Emma, Thanks for your feedback. This would be the problem of turning in your title before you actually try to cram your ideas into 350 words! If I had had a few more words I would have explained that I was thinking of schizophrenia in the sense elaborated by Frederic Jameson in "Postmodernism or the Logic of Late Capitalism," which derives from Lacan's theory of psychosis: the idea of living in a perpetual present, unable to proceed with causality, a state Jameson ascribes to the condition of postmodernity more generally. I think this idea is relevant to the clips from Spring Breakers and The Great Gatsby in that the emphasis on proliferation and multiplicity express a lack of purposelessness or goal-orientation similar to what Jameson describes.

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