In 1928, André Siegfried, a Frenchman who had visited the United States
four times since the beginning of the century, commented that a "new society"
had come into being, in which Americans considered their "standard of living"
a "sacred acquisition, which they will defend at any price." In the Atlantic
Monthly, the journalist Samuel Straus called this new society "consumptionism"
and identified advertising and motion pictures as its distinctive forms
of communication. In Muncie, the Lynds found that new leisure activities
and a new emphasis on consumption had supplanted politics as the focus of
public concern. Elections were no longer "lively centers" of public attention
as in the nineteenth century and voter turnout had fallen dramatically.
National statistics bore out their point; the turnout of eligible voters,
over 80 percent in 1896, had dropped to less than half of those registered
by 1924. There were many reasons for this decline, including the consolidation
of one-party politics in the South, the enfranchisement of women (who for
many years voted in lower numbers than men), and the long period of Republican
dominance in national elections. But the consumerist shift from public to
private concerns undoubtedly played a part. "The American citizen's first
importance to his country," declared a Muncie newspaper, "is no longer that
of a citizen but that of a consumer."
-- James Foner in The Story of American Freedom, © 1998, pg. 151.