Saturday, April 24, 2010
Eminent sociologist George Ritzer gave a plenary address to the Southern Sociological Society this week on consumption and hyperconsumption. I learned a wonderful new term from this address: a weenie. Walt Disney, a genius at marketing, thought that his theme parks needed a tall, striking visual magnet to draw visitors along through the park. And as they were drawn along toward the magnet, their path could be lined with stores selling them stuff. He called these visual magnets "weenies." Cinderella's Castle is the great Disney weenie.
Ritzer said the principle of the weenie has not been lost on brand makers around the world. He showed a series of images of the arms race of tallest buildings in the world, as they have grown increasingly outsized. The biggest weenie of them all is also the most ridiculous: the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It is, indeed, the world's tallest building - a Chrysler Building stacked on top of an Empire State Building. It is also, Ritzer said, empty, and not in use except for the observation tower. The Burj Khalifa is the perfect emblem of both the weenie and of hyperconsumption.