Ideology, consumption and leisure



The dominant ideology works as a stabilizing element of social relations, to the benefit of the classes that govern the productive system

The function of ideology

Ideological thought is expressed, at first, in a rational explanation to then reach the concreteness of social relations. At this moment, it materializes in the praxis of individuals, performing its primary function: that of adapting behaviors, regardless of the diversity of Interests in presence, to the established order. In a more sophisticated way, we would say that “in ideology, the practical-social function overlaps the theoretical, or knowledge, function. It therefore has a double relationship: with knowledge, on the one hand, and with society, on the other”. (ESCOBAR, 1979, p. 67).

Therefore, the dominant ideology functions as a stabilizing element, par excellence, of social relations, to the benefit of the classes that govern the productive system. It is “the indispensable cement for the cohesion of practices in a social formation” (ESCOBAR: 1979, p. 67). And that means saying that ideological thinking constitutes a powerful instrument of domination, insofar as it manages to legitimize the order established by the active or passive adherence of subordinate classes to the values ​​and standards of behavior in force. This adhesion takes place, as a rule, through a mechanism called “internalization” or “interiorization”.

We know that the ideology of the dominant class, when it radiates throughout society, is assimilated by members of the dominated classes, who make their own the ideas of the dominant ones. Frequently, this penetration of ideology makes the subordinate classes, by internalizing capital's interest values, assume, ipso facto, a psychological posture and behavior corresponding to those who consider these values ​​to be authentic.

The former are themselves in charge of guaranteeing – either through self-monitoring and blaming, or through simple convincing – the rules of behavior dictated by the latter, in the latter's exclusive interest. However, the dominant classes do not “genetically” have conditions to understand the historical and class character of the ideology, as well as the fact that it is men who produce their social relations, according to their material production.

These also create the ideas, the categories, that is, the abstract expressions of these same social relations: “these categories are as little eternal as the relations that express them: they are transitory historical products” (KOSIK:1969, p. 15).

Ricardo Musse brings up an analysis by Georg Lukács in this regard, when he recalls that “the class consciousness of the holders of capital (and its representatives), or their 'unconsciousness' – delimited by the practical historical function of this class – prevents it from understand the origin of social configurations. The class as a whole, as well as the individuals that comprise it, are subject to this reflective need whose characteristics are disregard for history, with the naturalization of the present and attachment to immediate data that contribute to the concealment of social relations” (MUSSE: 2020).

Indeed, the bourgeoisie of our country, for example, would live on earth as if they were in hell, if they were forced to live with the feeling of guilt and remorse of feeling responsible for the poverty and misery in which most Brazilians vegetate. Capitalists believe that the “free enterprise” regime, which they support, is the only one that can ensure, through the market economy, social progress and individual freedom, the supreme aspirations of man.

Regardless of the (un)consciousness of the owners of capital, objectively, this perception of the nature of the capitalist system is nothing more than a mere mystification. With it, you kill two birds with one stone. Not only do they justify the exploitation of capital, but “they take on the tunic of truth, respectability and detachment”. They thus buy, at a “low price, for themselves, “a good conscience on earth and a captive chair in heaven” (PELLEGRINO:1983, p. 3).

It is necessary to add power to the ideology also to incorporate the new, playing, in this case, a counter-hegemonic role. Therefore, even if ideology were a form of thought structurally committed to alienation, it would often have been so constituted, even quite directly, to promote the transformation of societies and to propel men into the movement of history (KONDER: 1965, p. 49).

consumption and leisure

The fantastic world of ideology, where illusions are confused with reality, finds fertile ground for its dissemination in commercial advertisements conveyed in the media. If deprivation of the pleasures of this world is advised for the miserable, quite different is the message that is intended, in varying degrees, to those who participate in the market. For them, the media stimulate consumerism in every way.

“Success… with Hollywood” is a paradigmatic example – publicized with great prominence years ago – of an advertising message produced by the media with this objective. It induces consumption as it associates the product's image with success, health and a privileged life. Its acquisition does not satisfy real needs, but works as a substitute for them. Cigarette smoking, far from providing the benefits advertised for the individual's health, provides, however, the ephemeral and illusory feeling of happiness. This is because the act of smoking appears, subliminally, in the smoker's conscience, as if it were the practice of all the acts to which he aspires and with which cigarette advertising identifies (and identifies him).

In this way, the real world, permeated with sexual and affective frustrations, discomfort and failures, in short, the routine of everyday life, is transfigured, in the individual's mind, into the universe of unparalleled achievements and pleasure. The feeling of harmony, of “being well” with life, obscures the awareness of the concrete reality in which they live, full of conflicts and challenges. All this leads him to a passive and conformist attitude, and to a practice voyeuristic, which replaces the praxis transformer of the subject vis-à-vis from situations of injustice and alienation, inhibiting their willingness to fight for a material and spiritual life endowed with real attractions and the joy of living.

The consumerist ideology dispenses, by internalizing the dominant values, the feeling of guilt (and the consequent self-repression). In this case, the sublimation of reality occurs through the concealment of the need for collective action to solve problems that, although individual, have a social content. Which, of course, leads to purely personal and ideal, and therefore illusory “solutions”.

Erich Fromm shows the relationship between consumerist behavior and the passive attitude of those who cultivate it. For him “they are precisely those men that capitalism needs to function without friction”. From “men who want to consume more and more and whose standardized tastes can be easily influenced and predicted. Men who do not feel subject to any authority and, nevertheless, willing to fit into the social machine. Modern capitalism has managed to produce this type of man – the alienated man whose acts become alien to him (1965, p. 82-83).

The various types of games and entertainment, such as the lottery, work as a remedy for the dispossessed, such as “opium de la misère”. Quelle est aujourd'hui la puissance sociale qui peut, pour quarante sous, vous rendre heureux cinq jours et livrer idéalement tous les bonheurs de la civilization?” (GRAMSCI:1976, p. 346). It is known that this type of game, currently, further enhances the illusion of millions of people, keeping them, each week, in the expectation of being awarded and thus receive millions of reais.

Ludic games and diversions constitute the escape valve, the illusion reconstituted every day, month or year, the “rum” that allows them to endure the permanent privations of a material life devoid of attractions and without perspectives of change. They serve as an ephemeral palliative for the existential problems of millions of people, offering moments of escape (e) or pleasure, which momentarily compensate for the hardships of everyday life.

Carnival, sometimes the scene of critical manifestations, works, in general, as a powerful soother, providing moments of escape and – or – of pleasure. The poet Vinicius de Morais describes the great catharsis provoked by Carnival in this way: “the happiness of the poor seems like the great illusion of Carnival / we work all year round for a dreamy moment / to make the costume, of a king, a pirate or a gardener / and it all ends on Wednesday (1976: p. 388).

Since Marx, we know that mercantile relations penetrate, in the capitalist system, in the heart of social relations. Today, capitalism, as a consequence of its recent transformations, has gone far beyond economic production in the conventional sense of the term. They reach, among others, the physical-psychic needs of the consumer society, culture, the leisure and entertainment industry and belief systems.

Thus, the capitalist system “became a way of life, a symbolic-cultural universe hegemonic enough to impregnate the subjectivity and mentality of the victims of its classifications and hierarchies. The anti-capitalist struggle became more difficult, becoming cultural and ideological in order to be effective on the economic level.” (DOS SANTOS: 2016, p. 148).

Theoretical-religious elaborations, as part of the symbolic-cultural universe of capitalist production, are, as a general rule, manifestations of hegemonic thought. The Prosperity Theory, with a decisive influence on important Neo-Pentecostal churches, illustrates this issue well. This thought materializes, in these churches, in the frantic search, and by their main leaders, for enrichment. They teach that the main sign of salvation is material progress: “It is tacit, not explicit, that the capitalist ideology is assumed as if it were an article of faith” (RAMOS E ZACARIAS, 2020).

More than half a century ago, Fromm asked himself whether there could be a greater sacrilege than the increasingly common religious practice of “teaching to pray so that God becomes a partner in your business,” a greater sacrilege than “selling” religion with the methods used for soaps” (1955: p.163).

We conclude with Vladimir Safatle's comment on the relationship between liberal ideology and religious faith. According to him “contemporary life teaches us that individualism and religiosity, liberalism and dogmatic restrictions, far from being antagonistic, have become two complementary and paradoxical poles of the same pendulum movement. We will have to live with the political results of this social pathology” (2012, p. 71).

* Rubens Pinto Lyra Professor Emeritus at UFPB and author, among other books, of La Gauche en France et la construction europeenne (LGDJ) and Political theory and Brazilian reality (UEPB)


DOS SANTOS, Bonaventure. the difficult democracy. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2016.

ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique. Science of history and ideology. Rio de Janeiro: Graal, 1979.

FROMM, Erich. the dogma of Christ. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1965.

KOSIK, Karel. The dialectic of concrete. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1969.

KONDER, Leandro. Marxism and alienation. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1965.

GRAMSCI, Antonio. Machiavelli, politics and the state. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1976.

MORAIS, Vinicius. Complete poetry and prose. Rio de Janeiro: Aguilar, 1976.

MUSSE, Richard. In the 0,0001% club, In: the earth is round. Available in

PELLEGRINO, Helio. “Camel through the Eye of the Needle”. In: Folha de São Paulo. 29 Nov. 1983. p. 3.

RAMOS, Ariosvaldo and ZACARIAS, Nilza. “Neopentecostals and the project of power”. In: The Diplomatic World, São Paulo, Feb. 2017.

SAFATLE, Wladimir. The left that is not afraid to say its name. Sao Paulo, Three Stars, 2014.

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