Selling the Gobstopper:
Conspicuous Consumption and the Commodification of Desire in
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Many viewers may be familiar with the Warner Brothers film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, now considered a cult classic. Based on the children's book of similar name by Roald Dahl, the movie was marketed in 1971 as a colorful tale for children. Charlie Bucket, the film's protagonist, is lifted from his working class status when he wins a lifetime supply of chocolate and a chance to tour Willy Wonka's famed Chocolate Factory. Once inside the factory, Charlie and his compatriots are met with sugar coated fantasy as, unbeknownst to them, Wonka tests their honor in a series of surreal plot twists.

This site argues that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory supports the theory expounded in Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class (1898). The central characters of the film, excepting Charlie Bucket, exemplify the retardation of social progress set in an American industrial landscape. Charlie represents the rare, virtuous discontented that Veblen identified as the only hope for institutional growth.

As evidenced in the site, the plot of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the symbols used to enhance it underscore the role of advertising and propaganda in encouraging "pecuniary emulation and insatiable desire."

Notes and Works Consulted




Veblen: Willy Wonka as a Case Study
Veblen: Wonka as a Case Study
Wonka and Semiotics
Wonka and Semiotics
The Commodification of Fantasy and Desire
Commodification of Fantasy and Desire