Consumer Hedonism and Product Novelty.
Register has written a quasi-academic work, and sifting through it takes work. But the payoff is exposure to sociocultural theory that is often quite fascinating. Besides battling the conventional perspectives of an industrial age society, Thompson (the amusement-oriented entrepreneur) had to respond to the desire for novelty. Sociologist Colin Campbell, from the University of York, is introduced into the discussion regarding novelty's relationship with consumerism. His claim is that "Only in modern industrial societies have innovation and novelty risen to the level of moral obligations" (this is Register paraphrasing Campbell). This fact arises from the definitions of traditional and modern-day "hedonism". In the traditional sense, familiar objects were appreciated for their known sensory pleasures. The modern form of hedonism, alternatively, begins with the individual's dreams of possibility, and the expectations the hedonist has for new and unfamiliar pleasures. The past is a mere record of disappointments, rather than remembered pleasures.
Campbell theorizes therefore, that consumerism is not about the actual satisfaction or pleasure gained from a product... because it will never meet the dreams or imagination of the "modern-day hedonist". The novelty of the product is what holds out the hope that past disappointments will be supplanted, and thus the product must seem unfamiliar, even if in reality it offers nothing new at all. Thus the quality of a particular consumer good is beside the point. It's the promise of the "new", and the neverending cycle of that pursuit that will ensure the success of a company. The main task is to encourage a consumerist hedonism, and then keep the ball rolling.
While grounded in ideas that I could identify as "common sense", this reasoning indeed seemed enlightening. It attempts an answer to a question that has long mystified me- Why do Americans constantly flock herdlike to a succession of shoddy goods and products, whether in the realm of food, film or fashion? They have been tempted by the tantalyzing prospect of an undiscovered pleasure appearing in that new chain store in the strip mall. Advertising is structured so as to catch the consumer's attention with flashy gimmicks and a sense of the novel. The product doesn't even need to be that good... in fact it can't satisfy the continuing quest of the hedonistic consumer because after awhile it will by necessity play the role of the mundane familiar... and inspire the next round of searching.
But how do advertisers turn customers into hedonists? They do it by inspiring the dreams and imagination that lead to the neverending quest for future satisfactions. They associate their "new" products with youth, sex, or financial success. If you choose their brand, then your dreams of satisfaction just might come true. It's actually the expectation that consumers get addicted to.... certainly not the reality of the products.
I'm barely a third of the way through "The Kid of Coney Island", but I'd have to assume that Fred Thompson intuitively understood the ideas that Campbell would explain years later. And that would account for the phenomenal success he would have with Luna Park. The glitz and the glamour created the expectations in his clientele that were the true product that he was selling. It's fair to say that he was literally selling dreams.