Culture Jamming Myth
December 12, 2004 12:39 AM   Subscribe

Hate consumer culture? Authors of the new book, Rebel Sell, argue you've been co opted by the very consumer culture you thought you had rejected
posted by squeak (196 comments total)
 
I'd avoided the book because I thought it was just more Adbusters bullshit but the article under that first link was very well-written and I'll probably hit the library for the full-length. Thanks.

(And I'll still buy Stay Free! because it is *not* just more of the Adbusters bullshit.)
posted by dobbs at 1:15 AM on December 12, 2004


I can't wait to buy this book!

This article was much better than I thought it would be from its description... the analysis of American Beauty was dead-on. Go Canadian philosophy professors! I want to force this article on every indie rocker I see.
posted by painquale at 1:20 AM on December 12, 2004


A lecture by the authors was televised on Big Ideas last week. I captured a transcript from the closed captioning which I can pass along if anyone is interested.

Also, anyone interested in the topic should check out the "Hidden Persuaders" link from last week.
posted by Chuckles at 1:30 AM on December 12, 2004


And the left will eat itself.

Fuckinghell
posted by undule at 1:58 AM on December 12, 2004


I disagree with a lot of what he is saying. His American Beauty analysis is dead on, but Fight Club? There's no 'guy goes and buys stuff to feel empowered' part to that movie, unless I'm remembering the plot badly. And I think he mistakes the primary motivation behind brand rejection. I'm sure some people reject brands in order to distinguish themselves, but I personally feel awful about every brand I own. Indie bands are not the driving engine of consumerism; Wal-mart is. You think those people buying 5 VCRs on Thanksgiving are trying to make a statement about individuality? You think I'm using linux cause it's hip? It's UI hell! But it's free, and it works well enough. That's the true force behind anti-consumer movements: the increasing conviction that we are being ripped off. If Linux can run things like Google, why am I paying for Windows?

If anything, I would consider American Beauty to be a contrasting movie to Fight Club, not a complimentary one. I mean, the first time I saw American Beauty I thought "$2000 for an ounce of weed? You have got to be kidding me." On the other hand, getting rich people to pay for their own fat? That's transcendent.

Or is my whole argument just an attempt to stake out the individuality of my preference for brand Fight Club? I doubt it; there is a difference between cultural object and brand object. Oh, but how to be sure?
posted by freedryk at 2:02 AM on December 12, 2004


I liked this part:
Many people who are, in their own minds, opposed to consumerism nevertheless actively participate in the sort of behaviour that drives it. Consider Naomi Klein. She starts out No Logo by decrying the recent conversion of factory buildings in her Toronto neighbourhood into “loft living” condominiums. She makes it absolutely clear to the reader that her place is the real deal, a genuine factory loft, steeped in working-class authenticity, yet throbbing with urban street culture and a “rock-video aesthetic.”


Now of course anyone who has a feel for how social class in this country works knows that, at the time Klein was writing, a genuine factory loft in the King-Spadina area was possibly the single most exclusive and desirable piece of real estate in Canada. Unlike merely expensive neighbourhoods in Toronto, like Rosedale and Forest Hill, where it is possible to buy your way in, genuine lofts could only be acquired by people with superior social connections. This is because they contravened zoning regulations and could not be bought on the open market. Only the most exclusive segment of the cultural elite could get access to them.


Unfortunately for Klein, zoning changes in Toronto (changes that were part of a very enlightened and successful strategy to slow urban sprawl) allowed yuppies to buy their way into her neighbourhood. This led to an erosion of her social status. Her complaints about commercialization are nothing but an expression of this loss of distinction. What she fails to observe is that this distinction is precisely what drives the real estate market, what creates the value in these dwellings. People buy these lofts because they want a piece of Klein’s social status. Naturally, she is not amused. They are, after all, her inferiors—an inferiority that they demonstrate through their willingness to accept mass-produced, commercialized facsimiles of the “genuine” article.


Klein claims these newcomers bring “a painful new self-consciousness” to the neighbourhood. But as the rest of her introduction demonstrates, she is also conscious—painfully so—of her surroundings. Her neighbourhood is one where “in the twenties and thirties Russian and Polish immigrants darted back and forth on these streets, ducking into delis to argue about Trotsky and the leadership of the international ladies’ garment workers’ union.” Emma Goldman, we are told, “the famed anarchist and labour organizer,” lived on her street! How exciting for Klein! What a tremendous source of distinction that must be.


Klein suggests that she may be forced to move out of her loft when the landlord decides to convert the building to condominiums. But wait a minute. If that happens, why doesn’t she just buy her loft? The problem, of course, is that a loft-living condominium doesn’t have quite the cachet of a “genuine” loft. It becomes, as Klein puts it, merely an apartment with “exceptionally high ceilings.” It is not her landlord, but her fear of losing social status that threatens to drive Klein from her neighbourhood.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:04 AM on December 12, 2004


Aarrrrghh! Busted! Single malt scotch!
posted by foozleface at 2:11 AM on December 12, 2004


freedryk: You're correct - the author's analysis of Fight Club is off. Tyler blows up the consumer goods tying Jack to society, and at no point afterwards do Jack or Tyler ever attempt to reenter consumer society in any sense. There is no attempt to be 'cool' - they live in squat in the industrial district where they constantly have to live with "that fart smell of steam." The only things they buy are the things they need to live - they build their own bunkbeds, make their own explosives, and eventually grow their own food.

While I wouldn't go so far as to say that Fight Club's answer to consumerism (explosives, and lots of them) is 'better,' the motives and actions of the characters within the movie are at least consistent and sincere.
posted by Ryvar at 2:21 AM on December 12, 2004


See my first ever MeFi post on the article this book was based on.
posted by Quartermass at 2:21 AM on December 12, 2004


Ahh, the anti-marketing dollar, big market there.

/hicks
posted by Space Coyote at 2:30 AM on December 12, 2004


freedryk, I think you've missed the point of what he is saying. You wrote:

"And I think he mistakes the primary motivation behind brand rejection. I'm sure some people reject brands in order to distinguish themselves, but I personally feel awful about every brand I own. Indie bands are not the driving engine of consumerism; Wal-mart is. You think those people buying 5 VCRs on Thanksgiving are trying to make a statement about individuality? You think I'm using linux cause it's hip? It's UI hell! But it's free, and it works well enough. That's the true force behind anti-consumer movements: the increasing conviction that we are being ripped off. If Linux can run things like Google, why am I paying for Windows?"

I think this paragraph addresses what you are saying nicely:

"Because so much of our competitive consumption is defensive in nature, people feel justified in their choices. Unfortunately, everyone who participates contributes just as much to the problem, regardless of his or her intentions. It doesn’t matter that you bought the SUV to protect yourself and your children, you still bought it, and you still made it harder for other drivers to opt out of the automotive arms race. When it comes to consumerism, intentions are irrelevant. It is only consequences that count."

It doesn't matter if you shed a tear every time you drink at Starbucks. What matters is that you are drinking at Starbucks. He wasn't trying to say that "indie" brands are the driving force behind consumerism at all. They would just be more brands among the many. His point is that if you hold yourself to be "against consumerism" or "fighting the Man", and consume accordingly, you are merely following along with the consumerism you are claiming to hate. You say that the true motivation behind the anti-consumer movement is the increasing conviction that you are being ripped off, and thus buy cheaper things that work? He woudl respond that you are the perfect consumer: you have chosen a better, lower-priced product over one you find to be lower quality at a higher price, with the added bonus that maybe you feel like you're thumbing your nose at the Big Companies (not saying you do, just an example). Isn't that capitalist behavior in a nutshell? Something comes along that's better and cheaper, so people buy it. That's how the market works.

As for your Fight Club argument, I have no comment, as I don't remember that movie well enough. I only remember that I didn't think it was as great as every other person on Earth seems to think it is...
posted by Sangermaine at 2:32 AM on December 12, 2004


You want to be free of consumerism? Live in a Buddhist monastery.

Note: I'm not judging consumerism. There is nothing wrong with an abstract idea, the problems only arise when people take things to the extreme in either direction.
posted by pemdasi at 2:34 AM on December 12, 2004


Ryvar: There is no attempt to be 'cool'

Fight Club, the club within the movie, is all about being cool. The members are participating because they want to be part of something cool, and new. Also, outside of the fictional world, the movie itself is a brand.
posted by Chuckles at 2:40 AM on December 12, 2004


Tyler/Jack in fight club are NOT trying to be cool. Well, Tyler isn't, at least. He starts using jack, then fight club, as a means to further his ideology. I don't think he cared why people were following him and doing what he said, just that they did.
posted by pemdasi at 2:42 AM on December 12, 2004


Fight Club, the club within the movie, is all about being cool.

It is to Jack and the other members (not, as pemdasi points out, to Tyler) - but as Tyler points out to the guy who own's the bar, Fight Club is "free to all"

Owner: "Free to all, eh? Ain't that somethin'."
Tyler: "It is, actually."

My point being, of course, that there's no consumerism involved in Fight Club the in-movie phenomenon - unless you count the medical bills.
posted by Ryvar at 2:47 AM on December 12, 2004


owns, not own's. Sorry, just rolled out of bed here.
posted by Ryvar at 2:48 AM on December 12, 2004


Some peopler really genuinely resist consumerism - they want to support their local neighborhood grocer than the big supermarket, want to see their money go to a good cause. But then the idea of "buying with social responsibility" becomes co-opted by big brands who air ads about how they are "socially just" because they help out in their communities. Wal-Mart itself capitalized on this. I've seen Wal-Mart ads that talk about the way its workers and even higher-ups are actively involved in community service.... and of course there is merchandise whose selling point is fair treatment of the workers that made the product - whether this is tea, coffee, pastries... Now, they don't exactly give you any details on how they help out anyone out, except maybe in a few words of a booklet.... For all you know, they could just be fabricating the whole social justice thing to market it to socially-aware consumers. And that's what it comes down to. Our own hatred of corporations who exploit their workers is marketed by to the consumer by that very same corporation, that meanwhile has done very little to change any of its business practices.
posted by gregb1007 at 2:57 AM on December 12, 2004


I agree with the thesis of the article-- that we're all trapped in an arms race of consumerism where even anti-consumerism becomes productized. But the conclusion of the article suggests that legislation (taxing advertising) is the solution (or at least a big part of it) seems rather ludicrous, if for no other reason than Big Business has access to the best politicians money can buy, and Big Business is watching you...
posted by Ironwolf at 3:02 AM on December 12, 2004


So here is Frank’s claim, simply put: books like No Logo, magazines like Adbusters, and movies like American Beauty do not undermine consumerism; they reinforce it.

Wrong. books, magazines and movies like these force the consumer to think about what he is consuming and why and at what environmental/human cost. To think about and be critical of the thread-count and composition of the fabric of society is not the same thing as rejecting a sweatshop produced blanket when you are cold.

This article is fallacy laden and contrived. The author does absolutely no justice to the true and grassroots elements of organic information passed from one disgruntled citizen to another.

I know of nobody who bases their critical perceptions of mass society off of a mere two Hollywood blockbuster films and a handful of vogue "leftist" publications. Healthy criticism of the always "somewhere else", inhuman system we inhabit springs from individual inspiration that wishes to be shared. To think about the effects of what is happening to us is not a leftie ideal, it is a human ideal. It only so happens that those who describe themselves as left of center are the only ones with the cojones to remind the rest of us that we all are in fact one. Despite it all. Our genes are all witheringly similar.

You may think it's dumb. You might even think I am full of shit. But it's true. The solution is to think and criticize. Then we can forge the solutions.

I mean all of us can certainly come to an agreement that shit's just plain fucked up right? Therefore, why bitch about the methods in which we get sentience, once again, involved in the placement of things we call life?

Again, this article sucks (You have steve at linnwood and his kindly excerpt to vouch for that). But read it for yourself to see why.
posted by crasspastor at 3:08 AM on December 12, 2004


The solution is to think and criticize

Yes, fine. But movies like American Beauty aren't critical or thoughtful in the right way. They turn anti-consumer culture into a consumerist subculture. The authors aren't arguing that anti-consumerism is impossible; they're saying that standard anti-consumer culture tends to be self-defeating and pointless. I thought the excerpt about No Logo that Steve_at_Linnwood posted was great and sums up the article perfectly... what's wrong with it?

I also don't get why they talked about Fight Club. Maybe they'll go into it in the full book? Guess we'll have to buy it and see.
posted by painquale at 3:41 AM on December 12, 2004


Great article, and good on you both, Quartermass and squeak. A double post, evidently (?), but, if so, the url has changed, so it's a useful one. I have to agree that I don't really see the anticonsumerismconsumerism in Fight Club, but if we are looking for a place to put our peg on the irony scale, I could mention that Tyler's mad bzz-ness skills in terms of franchising and embedded agents (the "hidden persuaders") is something that would put most multinationals to shame.
posted by taz at 4:02 AM on December 12, 2004


painquale, the authors of this essay have confused the important issues quite a bit.

As far as Naomi Klein, she has done some superb reporting from Iraq. She is hardly to be only judged on a single excerpt from a mere early example of her ongoing body of work. Lest we forget, nuance exists whether we like it to or not.

Your own senses are the answer. No thanks to Naomi Klein, Adbusters and Fight Club, you will still have to think for yourself eventually. Why shouldn't Naomi Klein be any different?

Klein is a jounalist and activist. It is the job of people who do that kind of thing to get you to think.

Hence the "solution".
posted by crasspastor at 4:09 AM on December 12, 2004


As far as Naomi Klein, she has done some superb reporting from Iraq.

Please tell me what that has to do with the part I excerpted.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:14 AM on December 12, 2004


Having superbly reported from Iraq or not does not affect one's status as a hypocrite on the topic of consumerism.
Please note that I have nowhere made any claims to anti-consumerism on my own part
posted by Ryvar at 4:16 AM on December 12, 2004


Mr. Linnwood, it was written right in front of you. Here is what I wrote again:

She is hardly to be only judged on a single excerpt from a mere early example of her ongoing body of work. Lest we forget, nuance exists whether we like it to or not.
posted by crasspastor at 4:19 AM on December 12, 2004


Also, did you catch this clever turn of phrase I made even further above?

To think about and be critical of the thread-count and composition of the fabric of society is not the same thing as rejecting a sweatshop produced blanket when you are cold.

What could it be that you are disagreeing with me about Mr. "America" Linnwood?
posted by crasspastor at 4:29 AM on December 12, 2004


Also, did you catch this clever turn of phrase I made even further above?

No I didn't, but then again it is 6:30 AM. I'm glad you are happy with yourself for being so clever.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:36 AM on December 12, 2004


Ryvar: On that I cannot remark. Naomi Klein seems to me to be a perfect living example of a standard of living that many of us long for. Pride in the idealism of the unknown. Written in posh lofts one can say they have earned.

I'd go with Klein's currency to pay for such a place any day.

Here's this neat line from Robert Lewis Stevenson I found today (via metafilter of course!)

The shadows and the generations, the shrill doctors and the plangent
wars, go by into ultimate silence and emptiness; but underneath all
this, a man may see, out of the Belvedere windows, much green and
peaceful landscape; many firelit parlours; good people laughing,
drinking, and making love as they did before the Flood or the French
Revolution; and the old shepherd telling his tale under the hawthorn.
posted by crasspastor at 4:42 AM on December 12, 2004


The Amish arguably _earn_ where they live also, I'd wager you won't find many people wishing to be in their position, however.
posted by pemdasi at 4:48 AM on December 12, 2004


I'm not sure what you mean, pemdasi. Are you referring to the lack of technology bit?
posted by taz at 4:57 AM on December 12, 2004


Very moving. I'm certain I would weep if I found poetry at all worthwhile in even the slightest respect.

I don't.

Neither do I find Naomi Klein's lifestyle, occupation, or opinion on consumerism worthwhile in even the slightest respect.

My laptop says "Dell" but the reason I bought it because I searched eBay for a laptop with a >500MHz processor with at least a 14.1" TFT screen capable of 1024x768. It was the cheapest one ($285) that met those requirements. I have here on my desk a GYBE CD, which is apparently an indie band. I don't think much of their philosophy or the cult of personality one is supposed to buy into when purchasing said CD - I think it represents the most immature aspects to be found in the liberalism I generally support. I bought it because it sounds good.

My clothes are from JC Penny's so that I could avoid looking at the terminally obese/ugly sub-human monstrosities that inhabit Walmart while I picked them out.

My personal belief is that my own lifestyle - that of brand/counter-brand immunity - is possessed of something far more revolutionary than the Naomi Kleins of the world could ever hope to lay claim to. I do not care what my choice of computers, media, or clothing say about me because I hate my fellow humans far too much to bother considering their opinions. I just go with what gets me the most of what it is I want with my dollar and there are no other considerations. In this aspect of life, at least, I would honestly prefer a communist society in which there were no competing brands - just specifications.
posted by Ryvar at 5:02 AM on December 12, 2004


Awfully poetic Ryvar.
posted by crasspastor at 5:04 AM on December 12, 2004


Well the article directly states that the author doesn't think that Naomi Klein etal. are hypocrites (and for what it's worth, I don't think that they are) but rather that they have missed Thomas Frank's point about the inescapable power of the consumer-based society. That's a pretty specific framework that others in this thread seem to be broadening for reasons that have nothing to do with the article.

Keep in mind that these are not value judgments, just observations.

Using Frank's thesis as a filter, Naomi, Adbusters, etc. are can be seen as creating a different kind of consumption based on negative (or positive, according to your personal point of view) views on what one buys or doesn't. It doesn't stop consumption, it simply gives it a different criteria. It creates the Rebel Consumer or non-consumer. Remember those black dot "no logo" sneakers? Perfect example. And Ryvar is another perfect example, he doesn't shop at Wallmart to avoid being associated with Wallmart shoppers. He avoids also avoids "cool" brands because he doesn't want to be associated with the cool people. He consumes based on his own criteria. But he consumes.

It's this desire for differentiation that fuels late capitalist consumer society. We no longer live in a mass consumption society, that went out with Ford-Taylorism. Today's consumption is all about being ahead of the curve or ignoring the curve to such an extent that by falling so far behind it, you are actually two steps ahead of those that are ahead of the curve. Believe me, it's unavoidable.

That said, if Adbusters teaches someone to consume more responsibly in a political and social sense, in my opinion, that is definitely positive. But don't believe for a minute that people will stop consuming. Or that capitalism won't horn into this style of consumption in the most souless way possible and ultimately corrupt it.

It's all unavoidable, unless, as someone already mentioned, they go and live in a Buddist monastery in Tibet.
posted by sic at 5:16 AM on December 12, 2004


"I hate my fellow humans far too much to bother considering their opinions."

Unless they think you look like a slob who shops at Wal-Mart
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:20 AM on December 12, 2004


Musta bought them cranky-trousers on special at JC Penny's, huh, Ryvar?

Hey, I hated the consumer cesspool that is North America so much I left it permanently more than a decade ago (only to land -- and the irony is almost as delicious as sweet sweet Pepsi Blue -- in a place that's even more nakedly avaricious and grasping. But at least I don't speak the language well enough to be as incessantly annoyed by it).

Do I win something?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:22 AM on December 12, 2004


Also, Naomi Klein kicks ass. That is all.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:23 AM on December 12, 2004


Biggest Idiot award?

;)
posted by sic at 5:24 AM on December 12, 2004


And Ryvar is another perfect example, he doesn't shop at Wallmart to avoid being associated with Wallmart shoppers. He avoids also avoids "cool" brands because he doesn't want to be associated with the cool people. He consumes based on his own criteria. But he consumes.

You missed my point. It's not that I do not wish to be associated with Walmart shoppers, it is that they are so visually repellant that I honestly get sick to my stomach looking at them/listening to them fight constantly. Strictly as a matter of personal choice I do not wish to look at the anus of American demographics they represent - I don't particularly care whether people associate me with them or not, because I'm not interested in what other people's opinions about me are. Acceptance, as I've made pretty clear in MeTa at several points, is not one of my goals in life.

Likewise I'm not concerned with whether I'm associated with cool people/brands or not - see also: acceptance or the lack thereof isn't one of my goals.

You are right about one thing, though: I consume. I consume because if I were to stop consuming I would die or commit suicide due to boredom. I, again, don't really care what that makes people think about me.

My point was that there is a third way between brand and anti-brand: realizing that the human race is so utterly worthless that the argument and by extension acceptance are topics not worth engaging at all. Take what you need and if you can afford it what you want, but stop worrying about how your possessions reflect on you. The majority of people who cannot see beyond possessions to the person underneath are, as I've said, not worth knowing.
posted by Ryvar at 5:27 AM on December 12, 2004


Dude.

The whole thesis is the joke of 'be different, just like all the other different people'. That's all there is to it.

Consumerism is fine. Mindless consumerism isn't. I hate iTunes and other DRMed crap, so I buy stuff off Magnatune that I don't really need to buy. Is that defining my political beliefs by consumption? Of course. So?

(I'm just really feeling extremely defensive about the hatchet-job on Naomi Klein, so my brain is refusing to think beyond seeing red.)
posted by Firas at 5:28 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


She is hardly to be only judged on a single excerpt from a mere early example of her ongoing body of work. Lest we forget, nuance exists whether we like it to or not.

Er, no, but the article isn't judging her as a human being, it's judging her writing in relationship to anticonsumerism. She may be a great person and a great journalist, but that's not what the article is about.
posted by Bugbread at 5:29 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


Ryvar: yes, you are the ideal that the article is about, but I say the need to share support for 'a brand' is a political act in its essence, and a longing that all humans share.
posted by Firas at 5:31 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


Ryvar: I hate my fellow humans far too much to bother considering their opinions

Well, then... why are you bothering to contribute to this public discussion?
posted by MotorNeuron at 5:35 AM on December 12, 2004


I think people are also missing/ignoring the central tenet of Ryvar's posts, which is valid: There are positively brand aware consumers (folks who buy a Volvo because of the cachet of buying a Volvo), and anti-brand aware consumers (people who avoid buying a Volvo because of the cachet of buying a Volvo, or make the purchase "ironic"), and then the third group: consumers who buy brand goods and couldn't give a good goddamn what brand they are.

I don't know how relevant that point is to the discussion, but I'm relatively sure it's more relevant than shopping at Walmart or hating people.

Also (and this goes for Naomi Klein as well), the parent article and some of this discussion is looking at things in black and white: if a person buys a single thing due to brand, they are a brand consumer, just like everyone else who makes decisions based on brand. I think it's more useful to think of the spectrum, from highly brand motivated to low brand motivation, neutrality, anti-brand motivation, etc. Just because someone buys or doesn't buy a single thing due to brand doesn't shoot them to the end of the spectrum, it just nudges them in a particular direction.
posted by Bugbread at 5:37 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


I think the point about Fight Club is that it's against branding and buying stuff (etc - I haven't seen the whole thing), yet the movie itself is a brand people bought into.

books, magazines and movies like these force the consumer to think about what he is consuming and why and at what environmental/human cost.

And buy something different? Or continue buying the same thing, but feel guilty? Either way, they're still consuming.
posted by cillit bang at 5:38 AM on December 12, 2004


Biggest Idiot award?

Lifetime achievement.

My point was that there is a third way between brand and anti-brand: realizing that the human race is so utterly worthless that the argument and by extension acceptance are topics not worth engaging at all.

There is a fourth way as well, of course. (There is in fact a multitude of ways, which is the truth missed by the kind of reductionist manichean thinking that leads us all time and again into 'fork!' 'spoon!' shouting matches.) That is, as Ryvar says, neither the way of the consumer nor that of the adbusterizing anticonsumer, but it doesn't depend on the kind of misanthropy he displays. (One wonders, tangentially, if he finds others so repulsive, why he would bother to spend time disputing things like this with them, but each to their own.)

Buy only what you need, and only, when possible, what is not in fact advertised. Seek out products grown, manufactured or built as locally as is possible. Patronize service-based companies that are not part of any larger corporate entity. Support artists by paying them directly for their work where possible. Steal corporate entertainment whenever possible, and redistribute it.

Or not. Like Ryvar, I don't really give a shit, but I manage to steer it between the ditches of total misanthropy most of the time.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:38 AM on December 12, 2004


I see that I've repeated what some others have said, kinda. Fast mover of a thread.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:40 AM on December 12, 2004


Firas: That's a good point, and a nice tangent off away from my self-righteousness, so let's take it.

I would concede that by sticking to the Magnatune brand over iTunes, you are committing an overtly political act - and a good one at that. Your purchase is a choice to go with an alternative because you believe that a higher principle is at stake (DRM) as opposed to a choice to go with an alternative because of how that choice might reflect on you. I totally agree with that because you're not just buying songs, you're helping to purchase a future in which your fair use rights are treated with respect. That is entirely different from buying into a brand or an anti-consumerist brand purely for the sake of how those things alter how others so you, or influence your own self-image.

One wonders, tangentially, if he finds others so repulsive, why he would bother to spend time disputing things like this with them, but each to their own.

Humans, including me, are social animals, and in this medium you come with off buttons.
posted by Ryvar at 5:42 AM on December 12, 2004


How others SEE you. Sheesh. I cannot type worth beans today.
posted by Ryvar at 5:43 AM on December 12, 2004


this arcticle reminded me of people i see at the bar i hang out at....

many working class types, artists, students and such.
everyone wants to be 'not-cool'. as in "we're not the cool jock guy/cheerleader who used to intimidate me 5-15 years ago in high school."

And yet, if you are truly different, maybe not wear all black, or something knit by the girl who lives down the street, or the new super cool no one has heard of this local band, well then by god you're not cool.

It's always made me laugh. These people, who claim to reject cool, reject the mainstream, merely create their own mainstream without realizing it. True, they shop locally, think globally, but 'cool' and marketing play just as much a part of thier lives as the kind who needs to run out and buy the latest Jordan's.

Personally, I think a lot of people are missing the point here, maybe because the article's critique and mefi's audience overlap just a tad.

Personally, I dont give crap about brands, but I do care about quality. I've been friends with the ceo of BP/Amoco and several guys who worked at Blockbusters to get free movies. Status, position, indie, mainstream are all bullshit.

also, dont dink and post at 6 am
posted by efalk at 5:50 AM on December 12, 2004


the point of american beauty wasn't the consumerism or anti-consumerism of the characters ... it presents the rebellion of the main character as being as illusionary as his wife's more traditional consumerism

the real point was the plastic bag going around in circles in the wind ... that there is beauty and worth in our sanitized, comformist, suburban culture

rebellion's been co-opted to make money for decades ... i'm amazed people still fall for it
posted by pyramid termite at 5:51 AM on December 12, 2004


I also see the point in what (I think) Ryvar is saying - allowing consumerism to define you in any way (even via anticonsumerism) is still a reaction to brand. In other words, the wealthy spendthrift who is so self absorbed and dismissive of anyone else's opinion that they would never, ever buy an item simply based on its brand value or cachet, and the hermit who has rejected all of society's alluring materialism may have more in common in terms of being "outside the circle" than anyone who consciously buys to make any kind of statement at all.
posted by taz at 5:52 AM on December 12, 2004


I have to agree with Pyramid Termite regarding American Beauty, and pretty much everyone else regarding Fight Club. As good or bad as the article is, I think the author completely missed out on important parts of both movies. American Beauty is not about subverting the system, it's about someone trying to subvert the system by doing things almost completely defined by the system (buying sportscars, lusting after teenage chicks, and smoking pot are part of the system). And in Fight Club (within the context of the movie), after the narrator loses his house and gives up consumer society, he pretty much stops consuming beyond his base needs (and even then, raises his own food, steals supplies for making bombs, etc.)
posted by Bugbread at 6:05 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


also, pyramid termite is quite right about AB, I think - though I would say the plastic bag was not about the beauty, etc. of suburban culture, but the beauty of a mind willing to find/see beauty. Just my interpretation.
posted by taz at 6:05 AM on December 12, 2004


"Having superbly reported from Iraq or not does not affect one's status as a hypocrite on the topic of consumerism." -- Ryvar

Not trying to start a fight here, but I don't understand this argument. Cannot a hypocrite produce a valid argument? It seems like you're saying Klein's lack of consistency absolves anyone from considering her arguments on their merits - isn't this a substitute for thinking?
posted by Ritchie at 6:06 AM on December 12, 2004


jinx, bugbread! But, by Ryvar's definition (if I'm not misunderstanding), the Fight Club ethos is equally consumer/brand driven in the sense that the ultra-aggressive rejection of that influence ends up defining everything about the protagonist(s) existence, which could be argued as an extreme form of brand submission.
posted by taz at 6:13 AM on December 12, 2004


Ritchie: A hypocrite certainly can produce a valid argument, which was exactly my point.

I was responding to this: As far as Naomi Klein, she has done some superb reporting from Iraq. She is hardly to be only judged on a single excerpt from a mere early example of her ongoing body of work.

My point was that Klein's a fine reporter when it comes to Iraq, but completely seperate from and apart from that issue, the author of this article makes a good case when he pegs Klein as a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to consumerism.
posted by Ryvar at 6:15 AM on December 12, 2004


But, by Ryvar's definition (if I'm not misunderstanding), the Fight Club ethos is equally consumer/brand driven in the sense that the ultra-aggressive rejection of that influence ends up defining everything about the protagonist(s) existence, which could be argued as an extreme form of brand submission.

True, but the issue at hand (at least in the article) isn't extreme forms of brand submission that result in a complete disappearance of support for brands, but brand submission that results in people just supporting "alternative" brands.

That is, a person who chooses to avoid major brands and instead "shops indie" is just supporting different brands, and is therefore pretty much self-contradictory. The Amish, however, support no brands, and there is no self-contradiction there.
posted by Bugbread at 6:20 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


taz: I hadn't really thought about it in quite those terms, to be perfectly honest. In Fight Club we watch Tyler/Jack completely reject mass-market consumerism. But rather than respond as most do with a form of anti-mass-market consumerism (which is what the author of the article seems to accuse Naomi Klein of), they start growing their own food, live in a house that is falling apart, steal human fat from liposuction clinics to make soap which they sell for money, etc.

I don't feel that I can - or at least am not willing to - respond with quite that level of extremism (especially the bit about blowing up skyscrapers in an effort to destroy the American economy).

What I can do, however, is prevent myself from operating on terms of brand/counter-brand in any capacity whatsoever except where it directly meets my needs, wants, and (as Firas pointed out) principles. My approach is, and you nailed it, that of a "spendthrift who is so self absorbed and dismissive of anyone else's opinion that they would never, ever buy an item simply based on its brand value or cachet."

I have not, and will never understand the concept of luxury cars nor why anyone in their right mind would ever purchase such a thing. I am, for whatever reason, completely colorblind to whatever impulse it is that keeps Lexus afloat.
posted by Ryvar at 6:30 AM on December 12, 2004


That is, a person who chooses to avoid major brands and instead "shops indie" is just supporting different brands, and is therefore pretty much self-contradictory. The Amish, however, support no brands, and there is no self-contradiction there.

Bingo.
posted by Ryvar at 6:35 AM on December 12, 2004


Bugbread, Yes, in terms of the thesis of the article, you're right - Fight Club doesn't seem to support it. If anyone comes across the book and can illuminate the authors' position for us, it would be appreciated. But as far as this thread is concerned, I was really more expanding on the ideas brought up here.

Ryvar, we may not be agreeing about things (in fact, I don't really personally have much of a position on this whole thing - I just find it all intriguing), but what you've said did actually port some ideas for me, so it's all good.
posted by taz at 6:38 AM on December 12, 2004


I find it amusing, maybe supremely ironic that he makes a reference to the Trench Coat Mafia. Columbine was a horrible, horrible event -- but the kids in that particular group had absolutely nothing to do with it; they didn't like the two of 'em either. That didn't keep 'em from getting kicked out of school anyway, of course...

Why ironic? Because it's quite a powerful brand, this Mafia, and even Google has trouble finding anyone else who's aware that it's a completely false bogeyman.
posted by effugas at 6:38 AM on December 12, 2004


Some luxury cars have pretty nice navigation systems and noise cancellation on the car audio. I could live with that. I could give a damn if it's a luxury brand, though.

In fact, it seems like there may be a contradiction in there, Ryvar. What if a luxury car provides you the features you want, and other cars don't? Would you avoid it because it's a "luxury car"?
posted by Bugbread at 6:40 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


Why ironic? Because it's quite a powerful brand, this Mafia, and even Google has trouble finding anyone else who's aware that it's a completely false bogeyman.

I think you're overextending the word "brand" by quite a bit. Until there are official, licensed Trenchcoat Mafia goods owned by a single person or company, it isn't a brand.
posted by Bugbread at 6:41 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


Some luxury cars have pretty nice navigation systems and noise cancellation on the car audio. I could live with that. I could give a damn if it's a luxury brand, though.

In fact, it seems like there may be a contradiction in there, Ryvar. What if a luxury car provides you the features you want, and other cars don't? Would you avoid it because it's a "luxury car"?


No, and I was kicking myself over this as I reread my post. Some amendment is in order to clarify my meaning:

"My approach is, and you nailed it, that of a 'spendthrift who is so self absorbed and dismissive of anyone else's opinion that they would never, ever buy an item simply based on its brand value or cachet.'"

Tack on a sentence at the end: "Nor would I avoid an item simply based on its brand value or cachet."
posted by Ryvar at 6:45 AM on December 12, 2004


sangermaine: His point is that if you hold yourself to be "against consumerism" or "fighting the Man", and consume accordingly, you are merely following along with the consumerism you are claiming to hate.

Well, that depends on what you mean by "consume accordingly"; it's quite possible to consume accordingly and genuinely subvert (or at least, oppose) consumer culture. As we contirbute to consumer culture by "buying indie", so we can influence consumer culture by buying rationally: Choosing our clothing for usefulness and durability, cooking from scratch, cleaning with simple products, finding joy in spending time on activities and people we care about rather than on things or on paid activities, etc. It's not an all or nothing proposition.

Regarding the Amish, it's worth pointing out that their current way of life is heavily dependent on American consumer culture. You don't need to spend much time in Amish regions to figure that out.

Regarding Fight Club, I find it difficult to understand why thinking, discerning people think that the movie is a critique of consumerism in any really penetrating way. I'd invoke a corrolary of Truffaut's Maxim ("It's impossible to make an anti-war movie because movies will always make war seem exciting"). It's probably impossible (and at least, very difficult) to make a commercially successful anti-consumerist movie, because movies will inherently make consumerism seem glamorous. It would be a bit like getting off crack by switching to powdered blow that's been tinted with food coloring.

Fight club the film is a brand, much as Chuck Palahniuk has become a brand: If someone tells me they "really love Chuck Palahniuk", it gives me a really big clue about that person. It tells me that they probably define themselves -- at least in part, and in proportion to their enthusiasm for the Fight Club or the Palahniuk brand -- in terms of their opposition to something they'd describe as "consumer culture." (Aside: It's interesting to me that that "consumerism" has come to so neatly mask Fight Club's "maculinist" / "male-isolationist" ethos...)

Here's the thing: If you define yourself by opposition to something, then you are defining yourself in the terms of that thing.

As a kid, I was very, very skeptical about civil disobedience, for exacly that reason: I felt that disobedience, per se, was a decision to do something against something else, which meant that you were still defining that you did by what you opposed. I used to say that the highest form of civil disobedience would be to ignore the law. I no longer think it's anywhere near that simple, but I still think it's and important thing to remember.
posted by lodurr at 6:57 AM on December 12, 2004


But, Ryvar - and I'm really, really not trying to start anything personal with you on this - you keep presenting what you do as an argument, as opposed to ideas about the whole question. I'm pretty sure I could beat you out in any consumerblind evaluation, especially since I've been living in a country where, unless I pay special attention and try to parse all the ads, they just pretty much completely bypass me anyway, and even in my previous life I was never a brand consumer at all). But what I do or don't do has little to do with the subject, really, and it would be silly for me to present my habits as an antidote or an argument. It would really be more like bragging that I am not guilty of this one particular sin.
posted by taz at 7:03 AM on December 12, 2004


Ryvar writes: My personal belief is that my own lifestyle - that of brand/counter-brand immunity - is possessed of something far more revolutionary than the Naomi Kleins of the world could ever hope to lay claim to. I do not care what my choice of computers, media, or clothing say about me because I hate my fellow humans far too much to bother considering their opinions. I just go with what gets me the most of what it is I want with my dollar and there are no other considerations.

Nobody said that choosing what you consume based on the opinion it will cause other people to form about you is the only basis of consumerism. You also write that

I consume because if I were to stop consuming I would die or commit suicide due to boredom. I, again, don't really care what that makes people think about me.

Being convinced that you'd be overcome by boredom if you stopped consuming (or rather, consumed a lot less) seems to reflect the success of a pretty ordinary, modern consumer capitalism. Perhaps in a certain "Rebel Sell" demographic this kind of statement will make you unpopular - though I'm not so sure about that - but that's beside the point. Brands and anti-brands are means used to get people to consume, not an end in themselves. The point isn't whether you buy X or Y because of what it makes people think of you - it's just that you keep buying. You may not be the rebel consumer, but you're still a consumer - the more the better.

Nobody's said much about the central conclusion of these authors that individual consumer choices are not the solution for problems created by consumerism - political choices are. Strikes me, for one, as very plausible.
posted by paul! at 7:03 AM on December 12, 2004


even the Grateful Dead sang the praises of four-wheel drive.

That's bullshit... but the rest of the article isn't markedly different than what people like myself have been saying for years. Adbusters exists in order to sell magazines. To see them launch a line of sneakers is cynical beyond belief not because it's unexpected, but because it's so goddamned transparent.

Whether you do something because "it's the in thing" or out of opposition for "the in thing", you're still letting "the in thing" control your behaviour.
posted by clevershark at 7:06 AM on December 12, 2004


I think the consumerism in Fight Club is the audience purchasing a wish fulfillment fantasy of radical masculine identity. That's what Adbusters is selling - a new cooler self.

On preview - what lodurr said.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:07 AM on December 12, 2004


Oh, and to make this whole thing completely circular, "Rebel Sell" is published so that many copies will be sold :-) although it seems like an interesting and fairly well-written book, and that I might get a copy myself.
posted by clevershark at 7:10 AM on December 12, 2004


BTW, Ryvar, you seem to be awfully proud of your transcendence of the petty brand/anti-brand dichotomy. Maybe you're the forerunner of a new truly emancipated class of meta-rebel consumers. You'll change the world by not caring what people think about which brand you buy. Vive la revolution!
posted by paul! at 7:13 AM on December 12, 2004


I'm new here - do I fit in by offering Ryvar a kick to the head while everyone else is doing it?
posted by fleetmouse at 7:16 AM on December 12, 2004


... do I fit in by offering Ryvar a kick to the head ...

No, but you will annoy some people (not me) by pointing out an incipient pile-on...

I actually think that if the (consumerist) world is to be changed, it will be changed largely by not caring what people thinkg about which brand we buy. But we're only human, so that's probably a pretty long slog off.
posted by lodurr at 7:21 AM on December 12, 2004


I hope I'm not being interpreted as kicking Ryvar in the head, because I found a lot of what he's said here very useful seed for thought; if I've challenged him, it's only because he's someone that I think something of, otherwise I really wouldn't have engaged him.
posted by taz at 7:25 AM on December 12, 2004


lodurr I think you might have answered your own question:

Regarding Fight Club, I find it difficult to understand why thinking, discerning people think that the movie is a critique of consumerism in any really penetrating way

It's probably impossible (and at least, very difficult) to make a commercially successful anti-consumerist movie, because movies will inherently make consumerism seem glamorous.

People may have liked Fight Club for its ability to make anarchist, urban-Amish, violently anti-consumer living seem glamorous. I think it had more to say about the perils of taking nihilism beyond a certain point than it does about consumerism - but as garbage out of Hollywood goes, it was probably a good deal better than we humans really deserve.

paul! wrote: Brands and anti-brands are means used to get people to consume, not an end in themselves. The point isn't whether you buy X or Y because of what it makes people think of you - it's just that you keep buying. You may not be the rebel consumer, but you're still a consumer - the more the better.

This is wildly inaccurate. Brands and anti-brands are a means not to the ends of 'keep buying', they're a means to the ends of 'keep buying us.' I hope you can spot how crucial a difference that is. As to the charge that I'm still a consumer - hell yes. I certainly never claimed otherwise. I am the very model of a free-market capitalist consumer, doing his best to resist the mental pathogens that are marketing, branding, and counter-branding.
posted by Ryvar at 7:29 AM on December 12, 2004


To those still hung up on the Fight Club analogy, how are "Fight Club" (in the story context) and "Project Mayhem" not brands in and of themselves?
posted by clevershark at 7:32 AM on December 12, 2004


They have no products for purchase.
posted by Bugbread at 7:34 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


bugbread: Is The Catholic Church a brand? How about The Republican Party? How about al Qaeda? As far as I'm concerned, they're all brands, and they all have something "for sale."

"Brand" is really an idea -- a way of understanding these consumable complexes of ideas that we've previously understood as "products" and "services"; a relatively new way. It's a way of packaging different consumptive behaviors together into a (theoretically) mutually-reinforcing complex: If you buy the Nike brand, you're buying a complex of Nike products, all suitably swooshed; you identify with sports figures who are sponsored by Nike; you feel friendlier toward other people who display the swoosh; etc. That's the theory, at least; obviously it's truer for some brands than others, and not as true for any commercial brand as the brandmeisters would like -- Nikeism isn't a religion or even a [sub]culture, and probably never will be. But Catholicism is. Googleism can be. Republicanism can be.
posted by lodurr at 7:45 AM on December 12, 2004


Eh, his definition of "consumerism" is a bit off. This notion that all acts of consumption are a mechanism for defining one self is either trivially true (humans have been after distinction since our cave-dwelling days) or almost always false (most acts of consumption are not conscious or rational acts--and this has always been true).

What is really going on when people pay exorbitant amounts for a specific brand is the process behind Plato's "noble lie." Advertising doesn't work because it fools people into believing Corporation Y's product X is cool--it works because people believe that Corporation Y has the authority to decide what is and what isn't cool. Consumerism, then, is not giving in to "false desires" but rather elevating consumption from the realm of pure choice into a mechanism for recognizing the authority of others. The problem with consumerist societies isn't that they prey on the human need distinction but rather their distinctly repressive nature.

(Think back to the 70's and 80's when people were encouraged to buy "American" cars. This is the real nature of consumerism, IMO, not what MTV or The Gap does when they try to sell a lifestyle to people. And in this sense consumerism very much is an ideology. People too often forget what the first "brands" really were--the coat-of-arms of kings and tribal leaders.)

Even his analysis of "American Beauty" is a bit off. Purchasing the car, for example, might be construed as a way for the protagonist to distinguish himself but it is most definitely not an act of obedience.
posted by nixerman at 7:47 AM on December 12, 2004


BTW, Ryvar, you seem to be awfully proud of your transcendence of the petty brand/anti-brand dichotomy. Maybe you're the forerunner of a new truly emancipated class of meta-rebel consumers. You'll change the world by not caring what people think about which brand you buy.

I'll ignore the jibe and point out that before marketing really swung into high gear over the course of the last century nearly everybody behaved as I do now. My problem is not with the fact that there are shirts on sale - hell, that's life, and I'm glad that there are. My problem is that there are people who will change their opinion of you based on whether you shop at Target or Hot Topic. We as a species have been brainwashed by the lowest form of life on earth: marketing executives.

I hope I'm not being interpreted as kicking Ryvar in the head, because I found a lot of what he's said here very useful seed for thought;

Not at all. I've enjoyed debating with you and everyone else here - the only person who seems to be commenting in bad faith is paul!, and given my attitude towards people I'm not especially concerned about this fact.
posted by Ryvar at 7:49 AM on December 12, 2004


(I do enjoy arguing purely for the sake of arguing, however)
posted by Ryvar at 7:52 AM on December 12, 2004


Lodurr:

The Catholic Church is not a brand. The Republican Party is (as far as I know) not a brand (not sure about that, as I don't know if they have official products or not). Al Qaeda is not a brand. They don't have anything (to my knowledge) for sale. I can't get official Catholic Church candles, or official Republican Party bumperstickers, or official al Qaeda...well, anything, really.

Sure, if you want to make the words "brand", "idea", "concept", "organization", and "meme" mean pretty much the same thing, go to town with it. But that expansion of the meaning of the word means that whenever I talk with you, I'm going to have to adjust everything I say to match your personal definition, which is kinda unwieldy. And then make up a new word to replace the old word, which is also unwieldy.

But, considering the word "brand" the way you phrase it, then: Brands can be very good things, and overall I am in support of them.
posted by Bugbread at 7:59 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


To those still hung up on the Fight Club analogy, how are "Fight Club" (in the story context) and "Project Mayhem" not brands in and of themselves?

clevershark that's the basic misunderstanding. Brands are not symbols. There's a big difference between the symbol of the Christian cross and the Nike brand "swoosh." Brands are fundamentally a way of conferring legitimacy (they are about power) while symbols are meant to contribute meaning (they are metaphysical shorthand). You could ask what a symbol means (eg the American flag and the fifty stars) but only what a brand conveys. Another way to look at it: brands are almost an end in themselves (you aren't supposed to look beyond the brand) while that is not true for most symbols.

This probably doesn't make much sense but I'd recommend doing a bit of investigation into the philosophy of propaganda which is very closely related to brands.
posted by nixerman at 8:06 AM on December 12, 2004


Maybe I'm just hopelessly, optimistically myopic, but I happen to enjoy Adbusters in both a casual and philosophical sense, but never thought, at least until the latest issue, which prompts this comment, that the "point" was to not buy anything. Some above have mentioned this, that the actual point is to reinforce a socially constructive economy based on more than Advertising Cool. I take it as a testament against a philosophically cold, heartless economy reinfored, yes, by our actions, and yes, a part of which ironically are the magazines and books themselves. Does that invalidate their content? I think not. Can it mean different things to different people? Sure. Did I just take a cue from Rumsfeld without thinking about it? Maybe so.
posted by odinsdream at 8:10 AM on December 12, 2004


Some luxury cars have pretty nice navigation systems...
My 50 year old car (with peeling bondo and a view of the road through the rust holes in floor) also has GPS and mapping displayed on a 15" LCD (also good for DVDs). That is, when I bring my laptop and gps.
posted by 445supermag at 8:12 AM on December 12, 2004


As Mark Edmundson of the Univ of Virginia said last week on Book Notes: the best piece of writing on living with simplicity is still Thoreau's Walden Pond.
posted by Postroad at 8:13 AM on December 12, 2004


This mefi® thread was a pleasure to spend a bit of Sunday Morning consuming. Thanks gang.
posted by srboisvert at 8:13 AM on December 12, 2004


While we're thanking people - nixerman, those were some beautiful posts.
posted by Ryvar at 8:17 AM on December 12, 2004


bugbread: The Catholic Church is not a brand. The Republican Party is (as far as I know) not a brand...

I would have to disagree, insofar as these are organization that want to sell you something. Even if it's an ideology instead of a T-shirt, they still spend a lot of money and effort in selling you, plus it's not hard to picture the logos (sorry nixerman - they still seem like logos to me) that they use in pursuit of their goal. They are marketing to influence you, just like almost everybody else.
posted by taz at 8:20 AM on December 12, 2004


bugbread - cults are certainly brands - the way Scientology defends its brand is not much different than the way Disney defends its brand - unendingly and litigiously.

Cults like Catholicism, Scientology and the Republican party are, much like Project Mayhem and Fight Club, selling new selves (souls?) to people shopping for identities.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:22 AM on December 12, 2004


most acts of consumption are not conscious or rational acts--and this has always been true

Wha?
posted by trharlan at 8:24 AM on December 12, 2004


bugbread: But that expansion of the meaning of the word means that whenever I talk with you, I'm going to have to adjust everything I say to match your personal definition, which is kinda unwieldy.

No, not really: I'm using the term "brand" in the way that branding professionals use it. To them, al Qaeda is a brand, and so is the Republican Party. I've heard branding folks and other marketing professionalsuse the term that way many times. (That they don't say the same of the Democratic Party is regarded as a failure on the DNC's part.) It's a term of art in advertising and marketing.

That's what I mean when I say that "brand" is a modern idea. It's a modern way of understanding these things, that's suited to capitalist ethos. The Catholic Church is a culture complex, yes, a religion, yes, but it can also be understood as a brand. That understanding would be profoundly incomplete, it's true; and that's the key problem with brands. The only parts of our lives that brands can capture and understand are the parts that are economic; to that end, brand-meisters want to drive emotional attachment to brands -- so-called "lifestyle branding" -- to extend the reach of the brands. Ironically, this works most effectively with anti-brands, like that big national natural food chain that everyone talks about and people swear by but that I can't remember the name of.... [irony /]
posted by lodurr at 8:28 AM on December 12, 2004


Ryvar, thanks.

And again, I'd just like to point that insisting the only "real" way to be anti-consumerist is not to consume is simplistic and wrong. (And of course it doesn't actually resolve the contradiction. I could easily insist even those who consume nothing like the Amish are still consumers because they are letting their (non)consumption define who they are. I guess everybody is a consumer even those who don't consume anything!).

The real problem with omnipresent adverising, brands, and consumerism in general is not the selling of "distinction" and "identity" (this is a means, not an end) but the emphasis on blind obedience. It is ultimately about ideology, legitimacy, authority and power.
posted by nixerman at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2004


... the best piece of writing on living with simplicity is still Thoreau's Walden

pre-emptive snark/anti-snark: Yes, Thoreau could only afford to do it because somebody paid for it. That doesn't mean it's devoid of insight.
posted by lodurr at 8:32 AM on December 12, 2004


I thought the Trenchcoat Mafia bit way overly cutesy, and contributed to the idea that the guy's at least sort of a hack at heart. It's an interesting article, and it was good to post it, but the Trenchcoat Mafia reference makes him a variation on David Brooks, who also likes to throw out references to classic sociology and org theory along with the pop culture talk.
posted by raysmj at 8:39 AM on December 12, 2004


You can buy Amish-made products on the Internet from practically any part of the planet, at any time of day.
posted by raysmj at 8:42 AM on December 12, 2004


I actually think that if the (consumerist) world is to be changed, it will be changed largely by not caring what people thinkg about which brand we buy.

If I get you right, you believe that the social prestige of brands is not just a device used to sell products, but actually the very basis of consumerism itself. If this factor were to become less important, people wouldn't consume so much, or so badly. But social prestige is only one of many devices used to convince people to buy a certain brand, and brands are just one of many devices used to convince people to buy, period.

Me: Brands and anti-brands are means used to get people to consume, not an end in themselves. The point isn't whether you buy X or Y because of what it makes people think of you - it's just that you keep buying. You may not be the rebel consumer, but you're still a consumer - the more the better.

Ryvar: This is wildly inaccurate. Brands and anti-brands are a means not to the ends of 'keep buying', they're a means to the ends of 'keep buying us.' I hope you can spot how crucial a difference that is.


Of course brands are part of a way of getting you to buy a specific product, and not just to buy things in general. What capitalist is going to waste resources on trying to convince people to buy stuff in general, even from competitors? That's not the point.

We started out discussing how people who see their consumer choices as opposed to the excesses of consumerism can end up just getting co-opted. The issue remains: if you actually believe that a culture of excessive and careless consumption is a problem, what do you do about it? Ignoring brands when you buy products is a way of sapping the power of brands themselves, but will it lead to a solution to these broader problems about consumption? I'd lean toward the conclusion reached by the authors of the book: it's just another individual consumer choice solution, and it will never work to resolve the problem of mass overconsumption.

(I'm not really sure, though, from what you say, that you even care about this issue. That's no insult, it's just genuine uncertainty.)
posted by paul! at 8:43 AM on December 12, 2004


Subcultures based on the rejection of mainstream branding (or criteria of coolness) identities form their own systems of brand identity (or criteria of coolness). News at 11.

Really, who didn't know that?

I would think that being utterly brand-agnostic would work as anti- or at least non-consumerist, if you could find a place where the multitude of brands were all arrayed before you--otherwise simply where you went would determine what was available. You would then be forced to choose based on your (subculturally influenced, probably to a strong degree) preferences. But it wouldn't be for a particular brand.
posted by kenko at 8:46 AM on December 12, 2004


those who consume nothing like the Amish are still consumers because they are letting their (non)consumption define who they are. I guess everybody is a consumer even those who don't consume anything!).
nixerman,
the Amish are consumers because they buy things. They tend to buy less toys than the rest of society, but they make money and spend it (a lot goes to buying land, each son needs a farm of his own when he grows up). You seem to be implying that having a philosophy makes you a consumer, I don't think that word means what you think it means.
It is ultimately about ideology, legitimacy, authority and power
What the hell are you trying to communicate here?
What is it? Consumerism? Legitimacy of what? Nice statement unless you think about it.
posted by 445supermag at 8:47 AM on December 12, 2004


Something that's lost in a lot of this thread is that many of the the "high concept-end" (e.g., AdBusters) are former (or current) advertising industry creatives. They have lived, slept, eaten and breathed "brand culture" at a deeper and more profound level than most of us can understand, for a significant portion of their lives. The visual design creatives are probably the most strongly inculcated, since so much of visual design training these days is pop-cultural, and also since they start younger (most of the writing creatives and accounts people I know fell into the business after realizing that they weren't "qualified" for much else).

I don't say this to condemn them, but to provide one explanation for the approach: They are attacking consumerism in the terms of consumerism because those are the weapons they understand. Whether they are effective or not is a separate issue; I think the bulk of them believe in what they're doing, and I think some of them actually have a negative impact on the reach and scope of consumer culture.

As for the fight "against" consumerism, I think that's probably mistaken, as long as the fighters believe they'll actually defeat anything. I don't think we can literally defeat it any more than we could literally adopt Marxism. (Or Libertarianism.) But people fighting against it may be the only way that it gets moderated. Aesthetically, I would prefer individual brand agnosticism, but realistically I don't think that's a practical path to moderating the affect of consumerism in our society.
posted by lodurr at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2004


hmph, I'm so cool I'm having deja vu.
posted by TheSpook at 8:57 AM on December 12, 2004


bugbread - cults are certainly brands - the way Scientology defends its brand is not much different than the way Disney defends its brand - unendingly and litigiously.

Ok. Point taken, and I concede that the Republican Party and the Catholic Church may well be brands, in that a goodly portion of their efforts go into raising/receiving money based on their particular image.

much like Project Mayhem and Fight Club, selling new selves (souls?) to people shopping for identities.

Here, unfortunately, I'm lost again, as I certainly cannot accept the use of the word "sell" to mean "promote" or "provide". I may be out in left field on this, but that seems far too much of a stretch of the word "sell".

Speaking of big stretches:
I could easily insist even those who consume nothing like the Amish are still consumers because they are letting their (non)consumption define who they are. I guess everybody is a consumer even those who don't consume anything!

Er...um...no. A consumer is someone who consumes (or, in the case of humans, a person who purchases). It is not a person who makes decisions based on consumption. A person who does not consume is not a consumer, any more than a herbivore is a carnivore in that they let their non-carnivorous nature define who they are. If that logic were allowed, depressed people would be happy, atheists would be theists, and darkness would be light, in that they define themselves in terms of their opposition.

445supermag is on the money in pointing out that the reasons the Amish are consumers is that they consume, not because they make decisions based on consumption.

Regardless, I think we're starting to flounder here. Unless everyone is actually thinking in terms of absolute and total self-reliance, everyone will consume, and hence be a consumer. The more interesting issue is the core issue of "consumer culture", which is defined partly by advertising, branding, etc., than consumption itself.
posted by Bugbread at 8:58 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


Consumers are people who consume. Consumer culture is one in which people define themselves by their consumption. Most people won't be able to get very far in a modern society without being consumers, but opting out of a consumerist culture is still possible.
posted by kenko at 9:03 AM on December 12, 2004


Nixerman, wow (name recognition, branding), very clear writing. Western Europe is massively consumeristic, by the way. One of the stores I shop at (actually the world's largest retailer after W-mart) has employees sporting "How can I help you better consume?" shirts. But we don't take the game as seriously, I think. Store openings, hours and products are all closely regulated, even parking and checking-out are way different (bag your own groceries, buy the bags). I think people here just feel lucky to be able to sometimes buy good products for low prices (not groceries, but stuff like heating irons, furniture, textiles, furnishings, electronic equipment, sporting goods). Perhaps somehow we're less wary and grown-up (but rapidly catching up) about these branding games. The kids here haven't quite yet developed the cynicism that some of us back in the States have after seeing Coke and Pepsi fight over funding their highschools.
posted by faux ami at 9:05 AM on December 12, 2004


I don't get all this brand agnosticism business. Is there any difference between expecting individual indifference to brands to change anything important and expecting individual consumer choices against brands to do so?

To my mind, if there is such a difference, it runs in favour of the argument for conscious, anti-brand consumption: at least in that case people's choices are theoretically oriented toward using consumer power to promote less harmful business practices.

But does anybody here besides me take seriously the authors' case that political action is the only realistic way that the problems with overconsumption might be addressed, and that individual consumer choices will never do it?

As for the fight "against" consumerism, I think that's probably mistaken, as long as the fighters believe they'll actually defeat anything.

How about the fight against ever-increasing, reckless, destructive, pointless mass overconsumption?
posted by paul! at 9:11 AM on December 12, 2004


paul!: I wouldn't so far as to say social prestige is the basis for all of consumerism - but I'd say that in our modern world it is a very, very big factor. My problem is that emphasis on social prestige or counter-culture's definition of social prestige (as an inevitable backlash to the mainstream definition) when making a purchasing decision has lead to people making purchasing decisions that are not necessarily in their own best interests.

My argument is not whether or not consumerism is a major concern, but rather that my purchasing decisions should be solely based on my own self-interest, and not take into account Nike's - or anybody else's - thoughts on the matter.

Of course brands are part of a way of getting you to buy a specific product, and not just to buy things in general. What capitalist is going to waste resources on trying to convince people to buy stuff in general, even from competitors? That's not the point.

You'll have to excuse me, I thought you were making a Brave New World-style argument when I initially read your post. Sorry.

As to the rest, I'm not really convinced that there even is a reasonable solution in a larger sense. All I can do is act in a way that, if everybody else were to do it, would bring the system crashing down to its knees. I'm content with being a drop in what I see as being the "right" bucket, because delusions of being anything more than that are best saved for movies like Fight Club.

on preview, lodurr wrote: I don't think we can literally defeat it any more than we could literally adopt Marxism.

My personal grudge is against marketing and branding, but that sentiment applies. I can't defeat it, but I can live in a way that, adopted en masse, would.
posted by Ryvar at 9:12 AM on December 12, 2004


But does anybody here besides me take seriously the authors' case that political action is the only realistic way that the problems with overconsumption might be addressed, and that individual consumer choices will never do it?

I don't, and let me explain why:

Once an organism has reached a certain level of sophistication and stocked up enough resource it expend energy and time learning to modify its environment in ways that help it earn orders of magnitude more resource per unit of effort expended. When humans do this we call it farming. When corporations do this we call it bribing congressmen.

My point is that overconsumption is good for the corporations of America, and they have a much firmer grip on America's politics than the body politic does (remember Senator Hollings of the successor to the DMCA and how his top three contributors were media companies?). The odds of any constituency managing to change the rules in ways that prohibit, prevent, or even provide incentives against overconsumption within the United States are effectively zero.
posted by Ryvar at 9:24 AM on December 12, 2004


Paul! wrote:

I don't get all this brand agnosticism business. Is there any difference between expecting individual indifference to brands to change anything important and expecting individual consumer choices against brands to do so?

To my mind, if there is such a difference, it runs in favour of the argument for conscious, anti-brand consumption: at least in that case people's choices are theoretically oriented toward using consumer power to promote less harmful business practices.


I think the reason you don't get the agnosticism is that you're looking at the issue from the point of promoting less harmful business practices. Agnosticism will, true, not affect that at all.

I think the standpoint of agnosticism is more in letting needs and product strengths stand on their own, without the baggage of brand image or cachet. I suppose in an amazingly idealistic way, if everyone were totally brand agnostic, there would be far far less advertising in this world (as it would be a big waste o' money). However, I doubt many brand agnostics really think that their approach will completely pervade society.

Instead, I think it's more like the idea of being in a river. Some people get swept down the river. Some people fight against the current. Brand agnostics just say, "fuck this", and get out of the river. It's not going to change the course of the river, but that isn't their goal.
posted by Bugbread at 9:28 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


To my mind, if there is such a difference, it runs in favour of the argument for conscious, anti-brand consumption: at least in that case people's choices are theoretically oriented toward using consumer power to promote less harmful business practices.

The difference is roughly that between opposing bad practices, and promoting good ones. That's the key point of the lead article, as I see it: Opposing bad practices does not necessarily promote good ones, because "OppositionTM" can (and will tend to) be branded.

Brand agnosticism, as an approach, seeks to reward the producers of goods or services by buying their products. It's actually a market-rationalist idea (I like it anyway), inasmuch as it is based on the idea that market forces will tend to eliminate useless expenditures, and that the promoters products and services which succeed based on value will no longer need to spend money and effort on branding.

Here, I think "brand agnosticism" has gotten conflated with the idea of moderating consumption. They're not the same, you're right. Brand agnosticism doesn't really imply that branding is wrong -- just that we don't trust it. So it doesn't inherently do anything to curb consumerism. I know a lot of people who are just as consumerist as they always have been, but now instead of flaunting their brands, they brag about how cheap they got their stuff (whether at Walmart, KMart, or Tar-jay).

I remain convinced that lasting improvements to our overconsumption problem can't come from "anti-branding"; they have to come from fairly fundamental changes in our way of life. Consumerism is deeply intertwined with modern capitalism: One can't survive without the other. Consumerism won't die, or even change, easily, and if it's changed by opposition, chances are it will just pop up elsewhere in a new form -- such as an anti-brand.
posted by lodurr at 9:30 AM on December 12, 2004


bugbread nails it.
posted by Ryvar at 9:31 AM on December 12, 2004


The odds of any constituency managing to change the rules in ways that prohibit, prevent, or even provide incentives against overconsumption within the United States are effectively zero.

Sadly. But still....
posted by lodurr at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2004


In a "friendly" fascist culture, by definition, there is no useful distinction between (state) propaganda and (corporate) marketing. The American Taliban's crucifix may as well have a trademark. The American flag may as well have a trademark (and when a flag-burning amendment is passed, it could be adjudicated on the basis of brand dilution).
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:45 AM on December 12, 2004


I think I would have a much easier time digesting anything that Ryvar was saying if it didn't all come out sounding like angsty teenage 'rebellion' in it's purest, most confused form.

Basing your life-direction on the idea that humans are worthless is ridiculous, immature, and totally unproductive. If you truly believe that why not just off yourself, and get it over with? I hope you don't really believe it.

And I can't for the life of me understand what is revolutionary about simply 'not giving a shit' about what people think about what you buy. Keeping informed options in mind for your cash (which we all spend, as we all need to survive, and that's the wonderful thing about capitalism- living ain't free.) is probably one of the few ways that you can actually justify your spending habits in a positive way. realizing that the money you spend goes to larger causes is important, as I'm sure a lot of you know. Buying indie may be trendy, and this author has some good points, but I can't see the relevance of totally discounting people's efforts. I would rather see someone make class-conscious decisions, and consumer-culture-conscious purchase for reasons of fashion than see someone continue to shovel money into the mouth of bad business for any reason. I think in this case the ends do justify the means.

I also wish that all the people who consider themselves to be 'revolutionaries' would fucking drop the whole holier than thou bit. What I'm especially sick of is the separation of me versus they. That's useless, and it does nothing to help our situation. Especially lumping people in under canopies of weight and appearance. Referring to the 'worthless masses' as fat, money spending slobs, and slovenly wal-mart patrons, does absolutely nothing for us. It perpetuates only one kind of thinking and if you think about it, it's one that's already fairly well marketed. Equating capitalism with 'fat capitalists' and consumerism with 'fat slobs' is not working toward any kind of revolution, it's drawing lines between people, and looking out only for those that look physically similar to you. That's fucked up.

Bottom line: If there's to be any hope, community is important. And realizing that we're all human is important, and once we've realized that, then we'll hopefully stop using such divisive language. And people can write as many books as they want decreeing that anti-consumer culture is just as much a branding as Nike or McDonalds, and in many ways they would be right.. but where would they be leading us? If the end goal is "buying whatever the fuck I want, for the best price I can get it, and not giving a crap about what anyone else thinks, ever, because they're stupid, and I'm not." then I have no use for them.

We could all use a little humility, and spend less time talking about the wonderful choices we've made in life, and more participating with those around us to actively make things better for ourselves, and everyone else.
posted by paultron at 9:47 AM on December 12, 2004


Me: much like Project Mayhem and Fight Club, selling new selves (souls?) to people shopping for identities.

bugbread: Here, unfortunately, I'm lost again, as I certainly cannot accept the use of the word "sell" to mean "promote" or "provide". I may be out in left field on this, but that seems far too much of a stretch of the word "sell".

A cult works by providing an identity in exchange for obedience and conformity (or money, or both in many cases). That's how Project Mayhem worked.

Then Fight Club the movie sells the new identity to the audience by proxy in exchange for money for admission to the theater or copies of the DVD.

Sure it's a stretch but there ya go - the audience is consuming product to live out an anti-consumerist fantasy lifestyle, which is the whole point of the original article.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:48 AM on December 12, 2004


I agree with others who have said that the author's conclusion - changing the tax code - is not the greatest answer to the dilemma of a rampant consumerism.

The most powerful critiques of consumerism will probably always be religious. Money is the root of all evil, etc. Like it or not, a figure like Osama Bin Laden probably offers the most compelling, authentic, and truly effective oppositional force against an unfettered consumerism, which, ultimately is what America represents to much of the world. As Osama said in his most recent dispatch from hell:

Meaning that every dollar of al-Qaida defeated a million dollars by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs.....As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars

(Interesting not only in the economic damage he claims to have created, but also the economic damage he points out Bush has created...Is Bush the ultimate anti-consumerist?)

As the evil and nihilism of Osama is an end result of anti-consumerism run amock (not far from the Fight Club's conclusions) it does make sense that an intelligent consumerism as others have outlined in the thread is perhaps the sanest response to the dilemma of wanting to oppose a consumerism that many feel has gone too far.

Also, remember that consumerism is the mother of invention that ultimately brings much good to the world as well.

Metafilter is a beautiful place without a consumerist ethos, and Mathowie a saint for letting me join for a simple $5.00 fee, but one could surely not discount the consumerist underpinnings of the whole system....i.e. we could not be writing to one another without the Apple computers and the millions of other brands and companies that allow the internet to exist in this advanced state
posted by extrabox at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2004


I can't defeat it, but I can live in a way that, adopted en masse, would.
Actually, the article saying the opposite. What tends to happen when any demographic is substantially large, even if that demographic is anti-consumer, they become an attractive market to advertisers. Any market that reaches a critical mass is an opportunity.
Instead, I think it's more like the idea of being in a river. Some people get swept down the river. Some people fight against the current. Brand agnostics just say, "fuck this", and get out of the river. It's not going to change the course of the river, but that isn't their goal.
Except, you can't get out of the river entirely. Consumption is a necessary evil unless you personally produce everything you consume. The criteria you use to decide which products to buy, whether it is price, brand or corporate politics, defines where in the river you are. In other words, you have limited direct control over where you are in the river without changing your, but still participating in, consumption. If you are reading this, no matter how anti-consumer you think you are, it is likely that you are still in the top several percentile of consumption in the world.
posted by sequential at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2004


I think you guys have gotten rather too hung up on arguing the toss over the movie references made in the first linked article. Which probably means they were a bad idea on the part of the authors - but I do think it's worth having a read of the Q&A on the authors' site, which I found to be a lot more interesting reading when I first came across this a few months back. I think they make an interesting case, but this is definitely one of those things that wingnuts will love to selectively quote from.

BTW, a few people said things along these lines...

rebellion's been co-opted to make money for decades

The authors' thesis is that "co-optation" doesn't exist...

In our view, there is no such thing as co-optation. What countercultural rebels call co-optation is in fact just competitive consumption, instigated and exacerbated by the rebels themselves. This is why rebellion of this sort has become one of the major forces driving consumer capitalism in the past 40 years.
posted by pascal at 9:56 AM on December 12, 2004


Well, I'm sort of snickering now, mostly at myself, after reading faux ami's comment. When I first moved to Greece, I was moved to outrage on almost a daily basis at how lazy and dismissive everyone was - if you went to the bank to try to make any transaction, they seemed completely bored with the whole venture, and tried to convince you that either it couldn't be done, or that maybe it could... if you came back at another time. If you tried to buy something from any store, it seemed like the main impulse of the person "serving" you was to prove that you were really just a huge pain in the butt... and maybe you should come back at another time. This was quite a culture shock for an American used to everybody kissing and otherwise tenderly moisturizing their ass for a 50-cent sale, even though I have to absolutely state that I was not being the ugly American in any sense, and I've never been anything like that - either while I was still in the U.S. or after moving here.

Anyway, in the years that have passed, I've become much more flameproof, and the general standards of dealing with customers in Greece have also changed, so that these days, consumer relations seem almost hunkydory, from my viewpoint. But, in the meantime, I got into the habit of avoiding or bypassing regular big shops/institutions as much as possible, and have spent the last few years very happily having almost nothing to do with major shops. I can honestly say that almost every cent I have spent in the last 10 years has been at small family shops in my neighborhood, and I feel almost sanctified, except for the the fact that it was just the general unpleasantness and my own anger that drove me to deal only with the small shops where my continued patronage (and sweet disposition) does not go unnoticed. I'm just delighted that so many of the small shops still exist in this world where I live at the moment, and that I've had the chance to spend so much time in a situation that still offers this.
posted by taz at 10:01 AM on December 12, 2004


The American Taliban's crucifix may as well have a trademark. The American flag may as well have a trademark (and when a flag-burning amendment is passed, it could be adjudicated on the basis of brand dilution).

Well, yeah, that sounds cool and deep and all, but what does it mean? "May as well"?

A cult works by providing an identity in exchange for obedience and conformity (or money, or both in many cases). That's how Project Mayhem worked.

Yes. But it's not "selling" unless it's for money. Bartering, perhaps, at best. And anyone could have set up their own Project Mayhem. It was not exclusive (unlike Scientology, which would be a better object for discussion of branding). A brand cannot be a brand if it isn't exclusive. It is one of the most important qualifiers of the word "brand".

Then Fight Club the movie sells the new identity to the audience by proxy in exchange for money for admission to the theater or copies of the DVD.

Well, yes, if we talk outside the context of the movie, I totally agree. I thought we were limiting it to a discussion of the context within the movie. Speaking of which, I think the article in the FPP would have made a more cogent (if blindingly obvious and therefore redundant) point about Fight Club if it had talked about the movie as a movie, instead of looking at the story of the movie.

Actually, the article saying the opposite. What tends to happen when any demographic is substantially large, even if that demographic is anti-consumer, they become an attractive market to advertisers. Any market that reaches a critical mass is an opportunity.

True, it may be an opportunity, but, if the target of advertising steadfastly ignores it, it is an unobtainable opportunity. A person may be an opportunity for a date, but if they are a nun, it isn't going to happen, no matter how much you (the advertiser) try.

Not agreeing, per se, but I believe that's the logic behind the standpoint.

Except, you can't get out of the river entirely. Consumption is a necessary evil unless you personally produce everything you consume.

Sorry, I wasn't explicit enough about the example. The river, in that example, was advertising, not consumption. So you can be swept away by brands, or fight brands, or ignore brands. I wasn't trying to address consumption itself. Er, besides which, it was just an off-the-cuff example to explain the mindset of brand agnosticism. It's not meant to perfectly encapsulate it, so be gentle with it.
posted by Bugbread at 10:01 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


The American Taliban's crucifix may as well have a trademark.

Well, yeah, that sounds cool and deep and all, but what does it mean? "May as well"?


Remember the outcry over the "piss Christ" and the subsequent action by the state to prevent "misappropriation" of the use of the crucifix in public art?
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:05 AM on December 12, 2004


Marketing and branding exist because they have proven to be effective ways of making money. What is the purpose of their defeat, to protect your self or to protect others? Once you know that they exist only to make you buy things in a way that is not in your best interest, you are already equipped to nullify their power over you. However, what are the possible responses of the brands? They have to be called something and plenty of people will still hooked by advertising. They could relabel as generic, but that is already being done. Companies can merely label some of their product as a name brand (and sell it for a premium) and label another portion generically, effectively playing both sides.
Consumerism can lead to a shallow-minded society with a bad environment. But humans are tool-users, most people have just migrated from tool-maker to tool-buyer, and consumer products are "tools". That is they expand your capabilities, though some of these new or expanded capabilities are rather esoteric. I think therefore that the drive towards consumerism is genetic and is only dangerous because the negative aspects seem remote. Stone age peoples could have chopped down forests to make their version of the modern McMansion, but the lack of wildlife would have had a direct negative impact on them.
posted by 445supermag at 10:07 AM on December 12, 2004


Reading this reminded me of Adam Greenfield's "Ikeaphobia and its discontents", which admittedly took a different tack but also delivered a scathing critique of Fight Club culture.

And since I didn't see a response to it from anybody else, crasspastor:

I know of nobody who bases their critical perceptions of mass society off of a mere two Hollywood blockbuster films and a handful of vogue "leftist" publications.

Lucky you ;) I've run into far more than my fair share, and they generally annoy the heck out of me. That's right, there are people in this world, far too many of them, who view their anti-consumerism as a status symbol, and in large part that's what Potter and Heath's book looks to be about. Think of that Onion story a year or two back (now locked behind their for-pay archives... grr), "Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn't Own A Television", and you'll get the idea.

So while I have no doubt that there truly are people who believe in fighting consumerism and the manipulation of the masses by advertising and other means, I also know from experience that there are people for whom it's just an rebellious adolescent fad that they'll grow out of. They're rebels without a clue and they are to, say, people like Jean Kilbourne what teenagers with candles and spellbooks are to ancient Celtic nature religions.
posted by ubernostrum at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2004


Remember the outcry over the "piss Christ" and the subsequent action by the state to prevent "misappropriation" of the use of the crucifix in public art?

Yes, but trademarking it would ensure that only certain parties / companies could profit from its use, correct? Even if "blasphemous use" were outlawed, anybody could set up a rosary store and sell crucifixes for profit, meaning it wouldn't be a trademark.

And I'm still unsure what "may as well" in that sentence means. Is it saying "It has effectively, though unofficially, been trademarked"? Is it saying "Trademarking it would cause no-one any harm or discomfort"? Is it saying "I personally wouldn't mind it being trademarked"?

Basically, could you rephrase that sentence into one that directly states instead of implying its meaning?
posted by Bugbread at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


I think I would have a much easier time digesting anything that Ryvar was saying if it didn't all come out sounding like angsty teenage 'rebellion' in it's purest, most confused form.

Basing your life-direction on the idea that humans are worthless is ridiculous, immature, and totally unproductive. If you truly believe that why not just off yourself, and get it over with? I hope you don't really believe it.


That's a dumb question, no offense. To any secular person, there is no possible consequence of continuing to live worse than the known consequence (oblivion) of killing yourself. If you truly believe in the absence of an afterlife, that your personal universe is removed from existence utterly on the event of your death, then the only sane goal is to not die. Suicide, then, is the ultimate act of irrationality.

Feel free to explain to me why it's ridiculous, immature, and unproductive, though - rather than just making blanket assertions. Setting my own standards for humans - standards I do not, by the way, live up to nor pretend to live up to - is purely my perogative. It's not a decision I have to justify to you or anybody else, frankly.

Most people I have met in my life disgust me, including myself, usually for intellectual reasons - but not always. It is difficult to walk into a Walmart at any given time and not receive a full litany of the 'other' reasons on glorious display. Furthermore, just because this is a root cause of my decisions and way of living my life and you happen to disagree with that root cause does not (or should not, at least, if you are a rational creature) necessarily negate that way of living one's life. There are, as others have pointed out on this thread, other reasons to arrive at the same conclusions I have.
posted by Ryvar at 10:23 AM on December 12, 2004


Taz, I deserved the snicker. I'm going back to the States for the holidays and know that I'll be barraged by exactly what you said: easily facilitated, heavily-promoted shopping, signs, suggestions, SUVs telling me where to buy SUVs on their bumpers. Here, shopkeepers have no problem telling you to go somewhere else if you're in a huffy hurry waiting behind 5-deep customers while the saleswoman chats about the customer's new baby. People park in the one-lane road while buying their baguette. Customer support on the telephone will literally hang up on you if you're rude to them. There just aren't the same shortcuts that we have in the States, seriously, it's quite linear, but at the same time it's lovely and liberating. You have so much time to think about other things and, honestly, your whole mindset eventually morphs. Now, I'm worried how I'll react to just how easy it is to do everything in the States, and that includes consuming and "Hi, my name's Tracy, how can I help you? :) ) Basically, I was just trying to hedge against knee-jerk reactions that Europe consumes a lot, too... but Americans deserve to know this liberty that you and I are talking about.
posted by faux ami at 10:32 AM on December 12, 2004


Reading this thread, I haven't really seen anyone mention the quality of purchased goods. I don't think it would be too much of a generalization to say that the higher quality of stuff the big brand makes is one of the factors that makes that specific brand popular and/or desirable. Someone mentioned luxury cars. One reason why I would buy a BMW instead of a Yuogo is because the BMW does not fall apart after the first 10 miles. Likewise, I would spend a 100 dollars on a Leatherman knife rather than 5 for some locally made shit they sell at the gas station because I actually like to be able to use the knife more than once.
posted by c13 at 10:46 AM on December 12, 2004


what ryvar said, but a little calmer and without the angst.

also, there's rather a lot of confusion, straw men and biased assumptions in the article - is anyone really out to "destroy consumerism"? or do they perhaps want to make the world a better place? if the latter, and they think making a non-sweatshop trainer is way to do so, what's wrong with that? and what's wrong with being in a cultural elite that happens to set trends (living in lofts, for example) rather than "buying in" to follow them? etc etc.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:52 AM on December 12, 2004


c13 - the idea is to assess the quality yourself. brand doesn't come into it.

buy what you need of the quality you need at the price you can pay - "brand" does not appear in this equation.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:54 AM on December 12, 2004


Well, c13 has gone ahead and spoken about the unspeakably taboo: there are sometimes (often) good reasons for people to buy according to brand. I got a Samsung monitor instead of some non-name brand one because I know of the quality of Samsung's monitors, while I don't know the quality of this non-name ones. People involved in these discussions don't generally like to admit that there are a number of good reasons for brand support, though.

On preview: Andrew, the way I determine "quality" is based on past performance and reviews. Since you can't "test drive" a monitor for 2 years to determine if it has sufficient quality to last 2 years, you have to rely on past performance and reviews, and the fact of the matter is that brand name is pretty much the only way to do this. I can find out that Samsung makes good monitors, and that buying one would be a good choice. How would I do this without using brand information?
posted by Bugbread at 10:58 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


bugbread: there's a difference between brand as durability-reputation and brand as lifestyle-choice/self-image-statement.
posted by Ryvar at 11:03 AM on December 12, 2004


more exactly, if you rely on brand to make your decisions, you pay a premium. effectively you're paying for someone else to do the quality control for you. and depending on how people play the game, the premium can be huge. and the quality may not even be there. and you may be paying for stuff you do not need.

take mountain bikes, for example. i've been looking at them recently. at different price points, you pay for different "levels" of components. but the truth is that if you know about bikes, and know what you want, you probably don't need all the things you're paying for. in my case, i really don't care about the difference in performance between different shimano groupsets after a certain point. nor do i need rear suspension or disc brakes. what i would like is a decent, well-damped front fork. and frames tend to be the same across a wide range of prices. so i'll probably make a deal with a shop to buy a "cheap" model with upgraded forks. the brand will be whoever makes the most comfortable frame geometry at a reasonable price. i'll end up with a bike that's a "random" brand, not particularly fancy by american tastes, and right for me.

can you make the same argument about a bmw or even a knife? do have a clue about either?

[on preview - there's a difference between using a brand as identification to assess quality (just as you might use serial number) and using it as a blind yardstick. i'm not saying refuse to use the information available.]
posted by andrew cooke at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2004


I didn't see this mentioned already, but I skimmed the comments pretty fast, so forgive me if I'm repeating.

I like the thesis, but I think all of his ideas are contradicted by the fact that he's selling a copy-right book through a major publishing house to support his ivory tower lifestyle in the University/Cathedral. Doesn't that just make this a double redacted attempt at the same anti-marketing dollar?
posted by clubfoote at 11:10 AM on December 12, 2004


Yes, but trademarking it would ensure that only certain parties / companies could profit from its use, correct? Even if "blasphemous use" were outlawed, anybody could set up a rosary store and sell crucifixes for profit, meaning it wouldn't be a trademark.

What constitutes blasphemous use under a friendly fascist state? Who decides that?

When state and corporate interests collude, the meaning of a trademark or "protected work" becomes diluted to whatever is politically expedient, as is the case with the crucifix and flag.

Brand dilution becomes a political crime (an act of "blasphemy"), as opposed to an economic one.

Despite people trashing Adbusters, Fight Club and the like, culture jamming is their purpose of existence, to remind us of the political message behind each "swoosh".

Those in this thread who got hung up on the product purchases that are involved in this political narrative were missing the point entirely.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:12 AM on December 12, 2004


Ryvar, Andrew,

Apologies. I misinterpreted the original statement to be that brands were not at all needed. I stand corrected that the statement is that brands can be useful to some degree, but should not be relied on entirely. With that, of course, I heartily aggree (my parallel to your bike story is my own computer, which went from purchasing an NEC to building my own as I became more familiar with the product).

Of course, it has to be said, with little information to work with, there isn't a whole lot except brands on which to rely for quality information, especially for products in fields you aren't interested in or for cheap products. My fiancee knows less than jack about computers, so she wouldn't even know the right questions to ask, or whom to ask, to get a good product, and when presented with the option of a shot in the dark, feels (understandably) more secure buying an NEC than a MisterComputero. (er, well, now she asks me, but you get the idea).
posted by Bugbread at 11:13 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]




where did you read that the author objected to copyright, major publishing houses or an academic lifestyle? by the end of the article he's even explaining why people don't opt-out, and there's no condemnation in sight.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2004


Ho! Faux ami, my snickering really was just about myself - but I see that you understand completely what I'm talking about. No need to go into that further, but you and I do understand what kind of consumers we were brought up to be (by our society at least) and how a whole lot of kicks in the rear can finally alter that... and then, how unwilling we will ever be to give that new life pattern - if we can at all manage to hold on to it.
posted by taz at 11:16 AM on December 12, 2004


pascal, either i miss your point, or you misunderstood me, because those quotes seem to agree with what i said.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2004


Leaving aside socialization issues -- i.e. forgetting for the moment about whether you're going to impress anybody with with your choices -- it comes down to how you choose to meet your needs, and the extent to which that reinforces the world you'd like to live in. I try to make a compromise I'm comfortable with; I buy from local businesses and producers if I can, and if they have something that meets my needs for a price I'm willing to pay, I do so. Sometimes I can't do this for reasons of availability, time or price. (Rarely for reasons of quality.) But there are depths to which I won't sink, and socioeconomic trends I won't support with my dollar. I will never choose Wal-Mart, for example, because I don't like what they stand for in terms of business practices and the effect that they have on communities.

You can choose to say that "social awareness" is itself a marketable commodity, and to an extent, you're right. But the fact that it is a marketable commodity doesn't negate its worth, any more than the fact that you can buy orange juice from a major brand deprives it of vitamin C. Or ony more than the fact that a good book -- if it is a good book -- is made bad by the fact that it makes a living for the author. That last remark for is for clubfoote. A true thing is not made untrue by being printed in a book that costs money.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2004


What constitutes blasphemous use under a friendly fascist state? Who decides that?

Presumably the state?

When state and corporate interests collude, the meaning of a trademark or "protected work" becomes diluted to whatever is politically expedient, as is the case with the crucifix and flag.

So you're saying...what? Damn, why must you be so obtuse? The word "trademark" loses its meaning when interests collude, so they may as well trademark it? Well, hell, if that's the case, then, yeah, go ahead, trademark it. If the word "trademark" in that case has been so diluted as to mean that anyone can use it for their own purposes, then it's become a pretty meaningless term, and they can do whatever they want with it. They can also Easter Bunny the crucifix, or Perambulate it, or even Corinthian Column it.

Brand dilution becomes a political crime (an act of "blasphemy"), as opposed to an economic one.

We're still talking about "brands" which weren't "brands" before, like crucifixes and flags, right? In which case, since they weren't brands beforehand, they were never economic crimes, and, with the new definition of trademark, are, apparently, still not economic crimes.

So something which was not a trademark will be called a trademark, but not treated like a trademark. And this has to do with anything in this topic how?
posted by Bugbread at 11:21 AM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


argh. no, sorry pascal - i have no idea what i was talking about on my first link! sorry (i think i'm confused about two different articles i've read today - neither directly before posting). sorry again. what a mess.... ignore me. :o(
posted by andrew cooke at 11:21 AM on December 12, 2004


andrew cooke: Those quotes are from the authors of the article I understood you to be criticizing. That was certainly my impression. My apologies if that was wrong.
posted by pascal at 11:23 AM on December 12, 2004


ac: Ah... all sorted then. OK : )
posted by pascal at 11:24 AM on December 12, 2004


"but they are still consuming, so they are hypocrites" is fucking stupid. it's a false argument to say that. it's garbage to assert that the only authentic stance against rabid consumerism is the total cessation of consumption.

you need food. without it you will die. you do NOT need Blargfunkel's Original Shit-Dipped Asscake three times a day. in fact, you don't EVER need it. no matter what the message blaring at you from the Buyovision says.
posted by quonsar at 11:24 AM on December 12, 2004


My biggest problem with this article is that it is based on relativism. It's saying, "since you anti-corporate hippies are still buying things, and still trying to signify your membership in a group through the stuff you buy, you're no different than the George Babbitts of the world." As though buying something from one source and buying something from another source, or being in one group as opposed to another were exactly equivalent.

There is in fact a measurable benefit to supporting ethical businesses. They're better for the consumers, better for the workers, and better for the economy.

Unless they're extremely naive, people who critique consumerism are trying to get you to think about which of the various evils your dollar has to support is the lesser, not telling you that you can escape consuming things, or that you don't signify things about yourself with what you buy. The over all message is that there is a place for ethics in consumerism, and for accountability in capitalism.

What is this article trying to say, then? What is its purpose, if not to tell people not to bother distinguishing between companies they like and companies they don't, because it makes you a hypocrit?
posted by Hildago at 11:30 AM on December 12, 2004


Well, andrew cooke, Shimano is also a brand, and it happens that they make high quality reliable equipment. And they do it consistently enough so that people associate their brand name with quality and reliability. The word "trust" comes to mind. Now then, if I want to buy a bike, I'll probably go with a better known brands, not because I want to look cool or whatever, but because I don't really care to read a hundred volumes of bike catalogs and product reviews. I don't want to become Bike Consumer Reports, I just want a bike.
posted by c13 at 11:31 AM on December 12, 2004


more exactly, if you rely on brand to make your decisions, you pay a premium. effectively you're paying for someone else to do the quality control for you. and depending on how people play the game, the premium can be huge. and the quality may not even be there. and you may be paying for stuff you do not need.

take mountain bikes, for example. ... i'll probably make a deal with a shop to buy a "cheap" model with upgraded forks. the brand will be whoever makes the most comfortable frame geometry at a reasonable price. i'll end up with a bike that's a "random" brand ... can you make the same argument about a bmw or even a knife? do [you] have a clue about either?

People implicitly accept these inefficiencies when they use brands to help them satisfice. You pick the one that suits your needs in a reasonable amount of time, not necessarily the best, as that would require an unreasonable amount of time. The premium you're willing to pay is how much you value the time.

I did a lot of research when I bought my car, for example, but that's because cars are expensive, and saving a few hundred or thousands justifies the time spent on research.

Yesterday, though, I bought a multi-format memory card reader for my computer. I bought a Lexar because they are a major name brand in flash memory whose products i've used without difficulty, bypassing the PNY reader, which is a brand I've seen but know little about. The Lexar works fine and I'm happy with it even though the PNY might have worked just as well (hell, it could have been made in the same factory) and was $10 cheaper. I see the extra $10 as insurance I won't have the hassle of taking the product back.

I have no particular interest in learning everything I need to know about flash memory readers to pick the "best product for me" to save $10 or even $20, even when that's a third or half of the price. Because if I did that, I'd have to do that with every small purchase I make, and I'd never have time to do anything else.
posted by kindall at 11:35 AM on December 12, 2004


Hildago, I don't quite understand you. Are you saying it's possible to escape consuming things? Even things like underware, milk, shoes and such?
posted by c13 at 11:37 AM on December 12, 2004


hildago: what the authors are saying is not that ethically/environmentally sound purchasing is bad, but rather that it does not fix the problems it is intended to fix, and that the real solutions to these problems lie with The State.
posted by pascal at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2004


Ooops... I meant to say "see question 4 in the Q&A I linked earlier."
posted by pascal at 11:44 AM on December 12, 2004


So something which was not a trademark will be called a trademark, but not treated like a trademark. And this has to do with anything in this topic how?

Try to abstract your thought processes a little. Any commodity becomes a political entity in a corporatist state, not an economic one. A crucifix, flag, swoosh, logo or any branding has been demonstrated to be the equivalent of a trademark in that respect.

Ad hominem criticism of Naomi Klein, Adbusters, Fight Club et al as a rail against the "elite" seems to me to betray a lack of actual understanding of the larger political issues involved when money changes hands for goods.

On preview: what sequential said, with the added consideration that understanding the effects our purchases have is probably the best we can managed in an advanced capitalist economy, to dismantle the corporatist political system currently in place (unless we're happy living in a by-definition-fascist state).
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:48 AM on December 12, 2004


Did anyone else notice the poor editing, by which I mean that American Beauty and Fight Club weren't capitalized in at least one place? I hope the book isn't as bad in that regard.

/nitpick
posted by beth at 12:15 PM on December 12, 2004


Try to abstract your thought processes a little. Any commodity becomes a political entity in a corporatist state, not an economic one.

What do you mean by "commodity"? What do you mean by "political entity"?

A crucifix, flag, swoosh, logo or any branding has been demonstrated to be the equivalent of a trademark in that respect.

I can't really address this without clarification on the above points. Except to point out that a swoosh, logo, or brand is not the "equivalent" of a trademark, swooshes, logoes, or brands are trademarks, regardless of "that respect".

Ad hominem criticism of Naomi Klein, Adbusters, Fight Club et al as a rail against the "elite" seems to me to betray a lack of actual understanding of the larger political issues involved when money changes hands for goods.

In what senses were the attacks ad hominem? And what deeper understanding of what larger political issues are you referring to?

On preview: what sequential said

I actually understood what sequential said, and I agree with it.

with the added consideration that understanding the effects our purchases have is probably the best we can managed in an advanced capitalist economy, to dismantle the corporatist political system currently in place

Probably true, if that's the goal. However, nothing so far seems to indicate that this is the goal.

(unless we're happy living in a by-definition-fascist state)

Where the heck did that false dichotomy come from? Either dismantle the current corporatist polical system, or veer off into definition fascism? What about the third option, maintaining the status quo, or the other myriad of options?
posted by Bugbread at 12:17 PM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


unless we're happy living in a by-definition-fascist state

rampant consumerism is hardly fascism.
posted by TetrisKid at 12:17 PM on December 12, 2004


Actually, the article saying the opposite. What tends to happen when any demographic is substantially large, even if that demographic is anti-consumer, they become an attractive market to advertisers. Any market that reaches a critical mass is an opportunity.

Ahha, but that's not if everyone lived in such a way that truly is resistant to an advertising based consumerist culture. Of course to have a significant chunk of the population live and think that way would be some version of a utopia, and as we all know, utopias have this habit of not working. Mostly because they require utopian people and those just don't exist. (Or if they do exist they don't exist in large numbers.)

Despite people trashing Adbusters, Fight Club and the like, culture jamming is their purpose of existence, to remind us of the political message behind each "swoosh".

No, their purpose is to make money, plain and simple. There might be a secondary goal, which I will accept to be true in Adbusters' case, of making us understand that how we spend our money is probably the most important free speech we have these days. Although honestly the fact that so much slickly produced, obviously for-profit, anti-consumerist media has been appearing recently can't help but make me feel a little cynical about the motives involved.
posted by aspo at 12:26 PM on December 12, 2004


bugbear, hi. You seem to have a problem (this isn't sarcasm/snark) with "brand" being applied to things that can't be purchased. But would you agree that, for instance, local news channels can be "branded," that is given some quality that makes them easier to pick out among a crowded news media? Also, how would/would not you take this apart?
posted by faux ami at 12:28 PM on December 12, 2004


If every "market" became fully commodified (no more paying a premium for brand names), that would be a step in the right direction. Adbusters doesn't promote that direction, since their "not brand" is a brand, as the authors of the book claim. They do promote, however, less consumption, which is the other half of the solution. I don't read the mag much anymore however because it became far too self important, its pages filled with ironic metawankery.
posted by MillMan at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2004


Milliman: one interesting point that the authors make is that "less consumption" does not solve anything: unless you keep the money you would have spent under your mattress, _someone_ will be using that money to buy things - your bank makes its living by lending your money to other people who by definition are going to spend it.
posted by pascal at 12:49 PM on December 12, 2004


Bugbread, but no worries, everybody seems to get it wrong.
And I'm somewhat overstating my case. I should probably specify, to the extent that I can, my view of what a "brand" is: a name owned by a single person or corporation, which cannot be used by other persons or corporations except with explicit consent, assigned to goods, services, or other intangibles, through which profit is meant to be received.

Dunno, that was off the top of my head. So CBS would definitely be a brand, Metlife would be a brand, etc. The crucifix would not be a brand, in that it is non-exclusive (If I want to make and sell crosses, I can. If I want to make and sell Nikes, I cannot).

I think I placed too much emphasis on the "things" part, whereas what I meant was the "purchase" part, and even that indirectly. And the most important bit, the bit that makes a brand a brand: differentiation. Something that anyone can use freely (the cross, the flag, etc.) to me just cannot be a "brand", which is just the tip of the iceberg of why I don't get what AlexReynolds is trying to say. (Note that I'm not saying that any individual symbol cannot be a brand. I realize that this particular cross or flag can be trademarked and used for brand recognition. I'm just talking about general symbols, as I gather that's what AlexReynolds is alluding to).

A minor thing I realize, typing this out, is that I've got a little niggling frustration with people using trademarked logos and brands interchangeably. Nike is a brand. The swoosh is a trademarked logo, used for branding, but not "a brand". But that's just a little aside.

Regarding the comparison of "selling" redemption or salvation: If you're the Church o' Scientology, then you are definitely selling something, in that you are taking money for something, incredibly intangible as it may be, and you are quite exclusive, and I fully agree that you are a brand. However, in the Project Mayhem digression, they are taking no money, nor intending to make ancillary profits elsewhere, so they aren't selling something, they are "selling" something, meaning promoting or providing. Brands sell, they don't "sell".

On an offtopic kilter: how common is this Adbuster magazine y'all speak of? How frequently does it come out? And what the heck do they fill it with each issue? I tried to gleam answers from the website, but I couldn't seem to find that kind of information in it.

Also extremely surprised that there is an adbusters.jp. Not so surprised to find out that it's extraordinarily small scale.
posted by Bugbread at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


If I want to make and sell crosses, I can. If I want to make and sell Nikes, I cannot

and if Nike wants to make and sell NikeFix{tm} "Run With The Lord" crucifixes, they can. then they can sue worldwide christianity for brand dilution.
posted by quonsar at 1:09 PM on December 12, 2004


And what the heck do they fill it with each issue?

It's page after page of people wearing clothes and eating food with overlays of statistical graphics and slogans.
posted by fleetmouse at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2004


People too often forget what the first "brands" really were--the coat-of-arms of kings and tribal leaders.

Just a quibble/speculation-- would the first brands have actually been searing hot irons differentiating one group of cattle from another?
posted by aperture_priority at 1:18 PM on December 12, 2004


Big Business is watching you and he has determined from the strong interest in this not-particularly-revelationary story that most Metafilter participants are aged under 30 and are still desparately trying to fight off their own unremarkableness.
posted by DirtyCreature at 1:22 PM on December 12, 2004


Something that anyone can use freely (the cross, the flag, etc.) to me just cannot be a "brand", which is just the tip of the iceberg of why I don't get what AlexReynolds is trying to say.

I gave two examples of how these cannot be used freely in all cases.

Selling a cross in a gift shop and displaying a urine-soaked crucifix publicly are not equally protected acts of (political) speech.

Brands (symbols) are "protected" because these commodities (def. goods exchanged for cash) are really political objects -- entities -- which get leveraged to achieve political ends.

In a fascist state, there is no distinction between a corporation's act of marketing a brand or symbol and a state propagandizing or evangelizing one particular political viewpoint. Is this not clear enough?

A minor thing I realize, typing this out, is that I've got a little niggling frustration with people using trademarked logos and brands interchangeably.

See colloquialism.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:23 PM on December 12, 2004


hildago: what the authors are saying is not that ethically/environmentally sound purchasing is bad, but rather that it does not fix the problems it is intended to fix, and that the real solutions to these problems lie with The State.

I read it as saying that, since a reductivist view of the argument they're opposing is "consuming = bad", that simply consuming different, 'alternative' things is also bad. Which is absurd, since nobody in their right mind is making that argument. If the problem you're trying to fix is that people don't make ethical decisions when consuming, then doing it yourself is certainly a step in the right direction. Or, at least, I don't see how they've successfully argued that it isn't.

I'm deriving this from the following quotes:

"What we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction. People consume in order to set themselves apart from others... The problem is that all of these comparative preferences generate competitive consumption. "

"Many people who are, in their own minds, opposed to consumerism nevertheless actively participate in the sort of behaviour that drives it."

I think the authors are setting up a straw man. They use Naomi Klein as an example of how trying to consume outside of the mainstream ends up backfiring, but I don't think Naomi Klein's reasons for buying a loft are necessarily the same reasons that I don't buy from WalMart.

If the argument is that people who don't buy from certain popular sources are merely participating in the process by redefining the mainstream, I can admit that that might happen on the large scale (since it's self-evident) but I fail to see how that affects individual consumers on a small scale. In other words, who gives a fuck? If I am not guided by the unwarranted desire to be rebellious, but by ethics and personal preference, what does it matter if I happen to be buying the same things that everyone else is buying? Good for them, for finally coming around to my way of thinking.

On the other hand, if their argument is just that people who buy certain things to fit in are reinforcing mainstream consumerism, then that's nothing we didn't know already. They are that way by definition, and it takes an effort to separate hypocritical conformists from regular conformists in the first place. Just don't make the mistake of saying that the very act of discriminating between sources (for any reason, valid or invalid) is a reinforcement of the status quo, because that's a plain old fallacy.
posted by Hildago at 1:30 PM on December 12, 2004


"Something that anyone can use freely (the cross, the flag, etc.) to me just cannot be a "brand", which is just the tip of the iceberg of why I don't get what AlexReynolds is trying to say."

I gave two examples of how these cannot be used freely in all cases.


My point is not "all cases", it's "by anyone". To my knowledge, no permission is necessary to make or sell crosses or flags. I'm talking about exclusivity of use, and you're talking about range of use. Brands are defined by their exclusivity, not their range.

Selling a cross in a gift shop and displaying a urine-soaked crucifix publicly are not equally protected acts of (political) speech.

No, they are not. But what does that have to do with them being trademarks or brands?

Brands (symbols) are "protected" because these commodities (def. goods exchanged for cash) are really political objects -- entities -- which get leveraged to achieve political ends.

???

On what evidence do you have it that this is the reason brands are protected? Or that they are political objects?

In a fascist state, there is no distinction between a corporation's act of marketing a brand or symbol and a state propagandizing or evangelizing one particular political viewpoint. Is this not clear enough?

Yeah, sure, that's clear, but what does a theoretical fascist state have to do with this discussion?
posted by Bugbread at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


And what the heck do they fill it with each issue?

It's page after page of people wearing clothes and eating food with overlays of statistical graphics and slogans....

Hm. It sounds just like Playboy - except without the clothes.
posted by taz at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2004


People too often forget what the first "brands" really were--the coat-of-arms of kings and tribal leaders.

Just a quibble/speculation-- would the first brands have actually been searing hot irons differentiating one group of cattle from another?

No, they were the marks on the sides of crates (made with hot irons, probably) transported as cargo on ships. The people loading and unloading them were largely illiterate so you needed the brands so you could say "put those with the other boxes with the tiger on them."
posted by kindall at 1:50 PM on December 12, 2004


Actually, random googling seems to indicate that "[t]he first recognized brands were actually the early marks printed by Romans on tiles to sign their production."
posted by Bugbread at 1:54 PM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


This is a terrific thread, much better than the first linked article. What I don't like about the article is the use of the movies as authoritative. American Beauty was a decent movie, but to me it was really about the father and the daughter and the daughter's pal's interpersonal relationships and only very remotely about conspicuous consumption. And Fight Club was a half a great movie and half a complete wreck. I completely lost interest when they had the grief chant over Meat Loaf's character.

Naomi Klein isn't published by AK press, but she isn't published by a mega publishing house either, unless that Picador company is a trojan horse for deflecting criticism. Noam Chomsky sells books too, but I don't think anybody who reads them is going to be impressed by any argument that he is a tool and a hypocrite and just in it to sell books.

Much better target for this kind of snarking: individual self righteous artists like "Rage in the Machine" (employees of Sony) and Neil Young (employee of Time-Warner-AOL).

I love the Rage and Neil, by the way. And Sony and Time& did not pay me to say this!
posted by bukvich at 2:11 PM on December 12, 2004


Bugbread, Right. If I recall correctly the first "brands" were painted onto shards of pottery and sealed in a jar that would ship with trade products. This way the sender could tell the reciever what should be in the shipment.
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:17 PM on December 12, 2004


"Repeat after me, 'We are all individuals. You are unique, just like everyone else.'"
posted by paramnesia at 2:29 PM on December 12, 2004


aspo: Adbusters is produced by a non-profit foundation.
posted by raysmj at 2:36 PM on December 12, 2004


BBBBACK to the article commenting right here right now..

Do you hate consumer culture? Angry about all that packaging? Irritated by all those commercials? Worried about the quality of the “mental environment”? Well, join the club.

Do you have a bad credit ? Angry about all the creditors befucking you ? Irritated by IOU notes ? Worried about the quality of your life ?

Well, join the club of the fishes who read all the sentence to find their preferred Bait. Also, I predict a good day tomorrow for Gemini,Cancer,Taurus and all the girls who will be nice to me, that kind of nice.

This isn’t because the authors, directors or editors are hypocrites. It’s because they’ve failed to understand the true nature of consumer society.

Ok, this is the reframe. Everthing we know is wrong, only you two are right and "got it". It's possible, unlikely. They'll explain us will they ? Let' see...

They give some explanation of what "critique of mass society" is according to how they understand and make of it. Rebelling against mass society, we are said, isn't the same are rebelling against consumer society, simply because rejecting conformation (being just one in the mass) isn't the same as rejecting consumption. Yet they assume consumption is the result of the desire of distinction. Apparently according to them, the consumer consumes to set himself apart from the others therefore a rebel-against-massification attitude fuels consumerism.

What ? Excuse me while I laugh at that because it's funny. I didn't know I consumed because of that. I know I don't give a flying fuck about what you're buying or what you have bought or what you have ; quite obviously I probably would like to have something you have..but that's NOT because you have it, it is because I want the object.

I also think that the majority of those who envy the rich don't envy the rich themselves, but envy their ability to have almost anything they want or object the comparatively rich person has ; to prove that, get a rich person that's dying from cancer..almost nobody will say the rich person is lucky or happy...even if they remain relatively envious of his ability to buy himself better drugs or cures (which I find disgusting, on a tangent)

While it is possible that PART of consumers are driven by envy of the neighbours (keeping up with the Jones) it is also possible that others are driven by hoarding desires (similar to obsessive compulsive disorders) while other shop because they find the object in some way useful and enhancing their lives (it remains to be seen how objective and measurable the enhancement is).

There's more on the article that I find not to sound about right...but I'm running out of time.
posted by elpapacito at 2:45 PM on December 12, 2004


Just a quibble, too, but since news channels can be branded, i.e. differentiated (so the sender can tell the receiver what's in the shipment), then so can singers and actors and writers, right? And since branding is a commercial idea, suddenly people are no longer merely people, but representatives of themselves in a commercial sense. Remember the Nathalie Merchant thread? - she lowered production costs and sent the money elsewhere for good causes - we had a really hard time unravelling that one cause we couldn't tell if she was a person just being nice or a packaged product trying to pull one on us. So, brands like Met Life with their Snoopy logo/mascot or Taco Bell and the Chihuahua do the opposite, making abstract, commerical things seem human, so that suddenly we're interacting with a cute swoosh, who couldn't possibly hire child labour or sell ridiculously priced shoes to wanna-be-cool infants.
posted by faux ami at 2:54 PM on December 12, 2004


Ryvar, thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment waaaay upthread. Also, thanks for putting your consumer philosophy out there and then sticking around to defend and elucidate it. That takes guts, in this n00b's opinion.

I guess my own problem with brands (all brands) is that they act as a crutch for companies otherwise too weak to survive the market. If capitalism (in the, in my opinion, debased form in which it currently exists) is to mean anything at all, it cannot become synonymous with 'strong marketing'.

I work for a retailer, in Australia, with one of the strongest brands in the country - mention the name and practically any Australian can start humming the ad jingle. From my position inside I sometimes wonder whether the company has anything going for it other than the immense strength of the brand (and me, he said modestly).

If this company is ever sold, the money paid for it will not be for the tangible assets like inventory, it will be for the completely intangible brand.

My point is, kick away the crutches of brands and let the market decide whether companies live or die.
posted by Ritchie at 3:06 PM on December 12, 2004


Ritchie:

I would tend to disagree with your stance that all brands act as a crutch for companies too weak to survive the market, though that may be true of megabrands. For smaller brands, though, I can think, for example, of Zalmantech, which makes cooling products for computers. I use Zalmantech because they have an exceptionally good reputation for their products, which, in my opinion, is richly deserved.

Actually, thinking about it more, I'm not sure your statement even makes much sense (I don't mean that as an attack on you). Zalmantech makes good products. If there was no brand, and each product was released with, say, a random product identifier code, saying "this video cooler is product 1729571", with no reference to the company, that product might theoretically do well after word of mouth got around. However, in the tech industry, where products change frequently, by the time "word got around", it would be too late, because it would be an outdated product. That is, let's say 10 people bought 1729571, 10 bought 985742, and 10 bought 238547. The 10 who were satisfied with 1729571 would spread the word, but people wanting new cooling units would need something more up to date, and so you'd have 10 people buying 87878, 10 buying 656565, and 10 buying 24242. That is, the market would ironically be bad at selecting for good products, and each new product would be guaranteed equalish sales, whether good or bad. Horrible companies in this non-branded world would do just as well as companies making good products. Or, you could say, they would all do equally bad.

Brands are, in some sense, the exact thing that can allow success for strong companies in a capitalist market, unless you're dealing with things that seldom change, like chairs or tables, where word can be gotten out in plenty of time for people to keep buying the product.

And woe-be-it to a company that produced a better model of their product. When you know the company, you can keep your eye on them for new models. If all products are brandless, everyone'll stick with the one they know, and the new one may never be noticed.

Really, what you're discussing is marketing, not brands. They often go hand in hand, but they are far from synonymous.
posted by Bugbread at 3:20 PM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


Also, I think the original article is pitting the wrong things against each other.

When I read parts of No Logo (admittedly didn't read through the whole), my first instinct was to rip the swooshes off my future Nikes, *not* to buy some countercultural shoe or whatever. Some of the 'forces' are not so much counter-consumerist as they are against the conquest of *brands*. The way most people are walking billboards for hundreds of products every week. And there were lots of bits about how the street is being taken over by mega-companies etc., and also how the counter-cultural forces have been co-opted by corporations.

So, thinking of Adbusters etc. as against 'consumerism' is not exactly a good understanding of the various anti-predatory instincts that those who are into this movement identify with.
posted by Firas at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2004 [1 favorite]


"Selling a cross in a gift shop and displaying a urine-soaked crucifix publicly are not equally protected acts of (political) speech."

Not sure Serrano's Piss Christ is a good example since focus of the debate at the time over Piss Christ wasn't about a cross in urine, it was about an artist who took a photograph of a cross in urine that ultimately was supported with public funds. The debate was, "How dare anyone use my tax dollars to fund this blasphemy!!!!" In my opinion both examples you gave were/are protected rights of speech.

I agree with what was written in the article, though I question the solution. To me it was nose on face the first time I did something "cool" waaaay before anyone else did and eventually others mimicked what I had done. It things like artists in Vancouver living in Yaletown before everyone else decided Yaletown was cool. Or about people protesting over Nikes sweatshop practices in Seattle while doning sneakers with blue swooshes. One of my favourite examples of "anti-consumerism" is at one time it was "un-cool" to shop at second-hand stores, later it became the "cool" thing to do. In one particular shop they started to hold "auctions" for prized second hand items like, adidas sneakers circa 1981 or a pair of Levis jeans with a small "L" on the tag for all those "cool anti-consumers".

Quartermass, I searched - honest. If I had found your fpp, I don't think I would have posted this. I have a mortal fear of being dragged into the grey ;)
posted by squeak at 3:43 PM on December 12, 2004


A nice quote from a rather on-topic essay by David Foster Wallace:
Izuzu Inc. hit pay dirt in the late '80s with its series of "Joe Isuzu" spots, featuring an oily, Satanic-looking salesman who told whoppers about Isuzu's genuine llama-skin upholstery and ability to run on tapwater. Though the ads never said much of anything about why Isuzus are in fact good cars, sales and awards accrued. The ads succeeded as parodies of how oily and Satanic car commercials are. They invited viewers to congratulate Isuzu's ads for being so ironic, to congratulate themselves for getting the joke, and to congratulate Isuzu Inc. for being "fearless" and "irreverent" enough to acknowledge that car ads are fridiculous and that Audience is dumb to believe them. The ads invite the lone viewer to drive an Isuzu as some sort of anti-advertising statement. The ads successfully associate Isuzu-purchase with fearlessness and irreverence and the capacity to see through deception. You can now find successful television ads that mock TV-ad conventions almost anywhere you look..."

Selling products by using anti-consumerism as a tool--television is amazingly good at this.
posted by hal incandenza at 5:12 PM on December 12, 2004


Bugbread I probably need to give it more thought. My objection to branding is primarily that it serves to bypass reasoning (but you're right in that I'm really referring to marketing, there).

Your preference for Zalmantech-brand cooling fans is based on reasoned assessment and experience, so removing your ability to select products based on that is, in a word, stupid. My bad.
posted by Ritchie at 5:18 PM on December 12, 2004


i thought this was a neat idea from axel boldt's political opinions and other thoughts :D
The idea behind a market economy is that the best product will eventually win, in a Darwinian manner. However, it does not work like that in the real world. Usually, the product with the best advertising campaign wins, which makes it very difficult for small companies to compete, even if they can offer better quality. It is in the best interest of a healthy capitalistic system to abolish advertising and replace it by simple informational messages about available products.

...

Advertising amplifies several undesirable aspects of human nature, such as greed, envy and discontent. It is also morally reprehensible since it uses tried and proven propaganda techniques such as omissions, half-truths and suggestive associations, but rarely hard verifiable facts.

...

It thus makes economical sense to avoid products which are heavily advertised. Buying such a product means financing things you don't want: radio ads, TV commercials, web banners, junk mail and billboards.
cheers!
posted by kliuless at 5:24 PM on December 12, 2004


In my opinion both examples you gave were/are protected rights of speech.

Actually Guiliani tried to come after the artist with legal action, and he very nearly succeeded. But I think my point got lost in the larger discussions going on; no matter.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:11 PM on December 12, 2004


Capitalism is consumerism. And consumerism has in the last half-century of necessity evolved to a higher form. Meta-consumerism, if you like. There are no clear choices in a marketplace jammed with a million products in every conceivable category … buying a car in modern-day America is never as simple as choosing between A or B. First you need to narrow it down to A or B.

The market is segmented into dozens of clearly recognisable / definable categories – from barely functional through luxury, from skoda through mercedes – and within each category are literally hundreds of alternatives. How to choose?

The average consumer has neither the time, nor the inclination, nor the ability to make a rational, informed choice – and this even assumes, given infinite time and infinite information, that one can be made at all. Different strokes for different folks, and all that … If we all unequivocally agreed on the best auto bang for your buck, we’d all be buying the same car, and there’d be no need to manufacture – or sell – or advertise – anything else.

Capitalism, under this model, would mean consistently devolving into a monopolistic state where the marketplace dictated the superior model and everything else withered on the vine, with perhaps only Ryvar buying the sole anti-Lexus in production just to spite us all (hope you take that in the spirit intended ;-))

Clearly, this isn’t happening. Some markets have clear monopolistic gorillas, such as MS in the OS space, but in others complementary or substitutable products (let’s randomly say razors, ice cream, toothpaste) fight to the death in a highly competitive environment. Yet gorillas still roam. (Yes, gorillas. Shaving, and brushing teeth, and eating banana choc-chip. I really gotta work on my examples ...)

In a society where you must transact multiple times every day in order to function, how can an individual make dozens or even hundreds of choices a week – thousands a year – without going completely insane from the sensory overload? At a pure economic level, the opportunity cost of making these so-called ‘informed’ decisions would be so high for such minimal additional benefit that they would verge on irrational.

Hence the evolution of a higher form of advertising. A consumer today can safely assume simply from their presence on the supermarket shelf (a brand in itself) reliability, durability, availability – ie that the product will actually shave, taste, clean – at an acceptable level. We know, and the manufacturers know - and they know that we know - that there is minimal difference between randomly grabbing an item within each category and making a considered choice. As a result, advertising on the basis of quality is largely redundant.

Globalisation and uniformity of the labour force / production technology have also made price and quality a minor distinction – in fact, price is now marketed as an indication of quality in and of itself, in a sort of subliminal reductive wink to the consumer – buy me because I’m too expensive for the plebs, and hence better, which you deserve, being the smarter consumer. Right? Or buy me 'cos I'm a cheap no-name, and identical to that name-brand over there - in fact we're knocked out in the same factory, but without the 30-second tv spots and fancy packaging and celebrity endorsement and therefore half the price and anyone who buys the luxury brand is clearly a moron who deserves to be separated from their oversized wallet. Right?

There is no longer a clear-cut superior choice in most markets, and no point in making a claim of superiority when other participants in the same market can do the same. How, then, are we to make a decision?

The answer cannot lie in the products themselves. It must lie in their perception – their packaging, their placement, their advertisment – and since the products themselves cannot be distinguished, they must be distinguished by defining not the product BUT THE CONSUMER of the product. Let me repeat that: advertisers - and hence manufacturers - succeed not by identifying their product, but by identifying their consumer, and speaking directly to them.

It is a brilliant reversal – define the consumer who chooses this product, and they will have no other choice than to buy it or risk rejecting their own aspirational pavlovian cravings. Shift the burden of selling onto the willing buyer, in order that they become the sole participant in a one-way market mirror. In effect, they’re buying and affirming their identity every time they pull out their wallet, and there’s no need to ‘sell’ the product at all. Identify them, and they will come – they have no choice. To paraphrase AC-DC, they’re already there, or at least they’d like to be.

Is there an answer? Andrew Cooke, kindall, hildago, sic + crasspastor (inter alia) have covered it well – consumption, and the consumer mentality that accompanies it, is unavoidable. Bugbread’s river parable is perfect. The system is in place, and you’re a part of it – whether you think you are or not. Advertising cannot succeed without a kernel of truth - something about that identification process, however artificial and morally reprehensible, defines who we are. If it doesn't speak to you, you won't hear it. The problem? In most cases the consumer identification process has absolutely nothing to do with the product attached to it. We are the all-singing, all dancing ...

Worse - even if you cry foul, other people will opt you in and identify you by your choices. In response to Ryvar's call-out, I drive a Lexus. Whether I mean it to or not, that tells you something about me. Just like the razors (Gillette) or toothpaste (Colgate Sensate) or icecream (local Italian 'home-made' gelato) I buy.

Just how far you’re willing to define me by this choice depends on you – personally, I bought the car ‘cos I ‘liked’ it more than the bmw / audi’s in the same price range. I liked the bmw exterior, kept getting told the bmw engine is superior, and there’s a certain cache in having the bmw keychain, but none of that really factored into my final decision. I can’t see the exterior when I’m driving. I know nothing about engines. However, I must admit to a certain weakness for the accompanying cache / girly approval, and that sorta disturbs me.

My first thought was that this stems from having grown up with comparatively bugger-all and envying those who had more - but this, in turn, must stem from the mass consumer materialism rampant from santa on up. Or is material jealousy some innate neanderthal darwinic survival motive which exists outside our culture, something that advertising cannot create but simply taps into? I need to go watch 'The Gods Must be Crazy' again.

Either way, it does illustrate the power of consumer identification with the product – I had to fight an inclination to buy a bmw because I thought others would approve of it more than I would. That says something about me, and something probably ungood. I feel somewhat redeemed by the fact that I went with the Lexus, but that opens out a whole other argument: what was wrong with my mitsubishi in the first place? The real answer is nothing … and I admire Ryvar for his ability to step outside the marketplace and make decisions purely in his own self-interest (though for the hating, not so much) – the deeper you go, the more suspect my motives become.

I like my car - it’s very comfortable, reliable, beats shit outta the mitsubishi for performance / handling, looks good inside and out, the sound system rocks, the after-sales service is superb, and I feel good every time I get in it (PepsiBlue, anyone?) - but like metafilter’s only a website, it’s still only an overpriced buggy to get me from A to B. So why do I still feel good about buying the damn thing when the price differential has nothing to do with the purpose I bought it for?

I think that’s mostly a circular kind of affirmation: that I can afford to drive a car like this means I am no longer a dirt-poor college student, and have moved on and become one of those people who can afford to buy a luxury (read: re-badged toyota) motor vehicle. I am now one of them, and this is a good thing for undefinable aspirational reasons that have more to do with my own deepset insecurities and need for self-affirmation than anything to do with the motor vehicle in the first place. Yet advertising completes the circle by speaking to my self-identification - like it or not, this car does say something about me, and advertising tries to identify what that 'something' is.

So now I end up back at the beginning, wondering why all these feelings are tied up with a material object sitting in my driveway. The real question: would I have bought the same car without the advertising? Would the same internal desire to overspend exist? I've tried, but I really think that's unanswerable. This essay sure ended up in a different place than I thought it would ...

*goes out and takes crowbar to lexus’ shiny bonnet*

Ok then. I’ve said waaaayyyy too much, right? I dunno, I just started typing and ended up here and I'm pretty sure I've used up my $5 already. Gotta work on that. *dons flame-retardant suit, ducks under desk*

Thanks, guys. I’ve realised I’m a sucker, but I’ve also realised that I’m ok with it. I'm attracted to a pretty girl for the same reasons that I chose my car. There's suddenly a realisation that people still buy stuff purely for function, not form, whereas I can't imagine buying it without both. Definitely a change from my grampa's generation. I've been brainwashed somewhere, I'm paying through the nose for it, and I'm happy. Food for thought …
posted by bookie at 9:23 PM on December 12, 2004


Actually Guiliani tried to come after the artist with legal action

I thought the problem Giuliani had was over Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibiting, " the holy virgin mary" (aka the elephant dung painting) - that he wanted to shut down the BMA or at least cut off it's funding and in the end he lost. Wasn't an attempt to pick you out, just one of the things that struck me in the comments (I was going to art school at the time and the Serrano/Maplethorpe/NEA stink was a big issue of the day for artists).

/derail
posted by squeak at 12:17 AM on December 13, 2004


great conversation. Seems like the authors of this piece combined a number of different issues into one thing. a) over-consumption - buying stuff we don't actually need. b)brand loyalty - paying attention to which brands have qualities you consider preferable. c) brand cache - paying attention to the 'image' of the brand or what it 'says' about you.

a is a problem everywhere; people buy stuff because they have extra cash (or credit) and things look fun or enticing and they do it without thinking. But it is culturally conditioned to some degree so can't be blamed entirely on the individual - 100 years ago, it would have been extravagant to own more than one shirt. Now it would probably be considered unusual to have fewer than five and quite normal to have 10 or 20.

b & c will overlap - I have a mac because I think form does play a role but that I have a mac will give other people an impression about what sort of person I am - one who thinks that form is important in its way. Usefulness is not the only criterion (my art yin-yang) - aesthetic taste isn't meaningless and superficial; it expresses care, reflection & awareness. But to me, anyway, b better come before c - you better know why you bought something, that you actually like it, and not just like it because you have the sense it's cool to like it.

Take the indie rock thing - if you like the band because it's cool to be into them, then you're missing the whole point. Like the bands that do something to you, that make you feel something. Seems like too much of the hip factor is trying to convince other people you're something you're not... which ultimately seems to be about scoring, which is kinda sad.
posted by mdn at 6:50 AM on December 13, 2004


"Listen, I'm so cool you could store meat in me for a month. I'm so hip I have difficulty seeing over my pelvis. I've had it up to here with hip, OK?" - Zaphod Beeblebrox


Y'know, I'd believe a lot more of the whole anti-mainstream/alternative/bohemian shtick a lot more, if it's denizens weren't often just as predictable as the "mainstream" they denounce. Not to mention exclusionary and judgemental. Or as a wise man put it:

Your rebelliousness is laid out for you like the portions of a TV dinner. You ape the powers that be with every clove-scented breath you take. You are nothing more than socioeconomic ectoplasm, a target market, a file folder at Central Casting. You exist as a parasite, because without an Establishment for you to oppose, you'd shrivel into cellular waste. Try as you may to avoid being absorbed by the mainstream, you remain trapped under its microscope, an amoeba with a nose ring.
posted by jonmc at 7:16 AM on December 13, 2004



posted by jonmc at 7:24 AM on December 13, 2004


What Fight Club and Rabbit, Run present, in a user-friendly fashion, is the critique of mass society, which was developed in the late 1950s in classic works like William Whyte’s The Organization Man (1956), Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers (1959) and Paul Goodman’s Growing up Absurd (1960).

How about Babbit, from 1922?
posted by ludwig_van at 4:06 PM on December 13, 2004


Y'know, I'd believe a lot more of the whole anti-mainstream/alternative/bohemian shtick a lot more, if it's denizens weren't often just as predictable as the "mainstream" they denounce. Not to mention exclusionary and judgemental.

Jon, no disrespect meant, but your distaste for the generalized idea of the "counterculture" is just as judgemental and predictable.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:08 PM on December 13, 2004


That said, if Adbusters teaches someone to consume more responsibly in a political and social sense, in my opinion, that is definitely positive. But don't believe for a minute that people will stop consuming.

i used to subscribe to Adbusters, and it convinced me to cancel my subscriptions to magazines. that saved X% of a tree right there. i also convinced my girlfriend to give up paper towels and napkins (i still haven't been able to get her off paper coffee filters).

consumerism is a logical extension of materialism, which (imo) is the major conflict of the human existence. you are not important; you are not unique; your borders are not discrete; you are not an individual. get over it.

re: jonmc's Jim Goad link, that was truly the dumbest thing i've read in months.

Socialists aren't elitists? Environmentalists don't drive cars? no, we aren't. no, we don't.

you have a strange definition of "wise." it's closer to "smart-alecky" or "look at me, i'm really different and 'out there.'"
posted by mrgrimm at 4:43 PM on December 13, 2004


Adbusters never had a revolutionary doctrine.

isn't it "reduce your consumption"? in an age where we're supposed to go shopping to support our troops, that's sounds like a revolutionary doctrine to me.

Rebel Sell sounds like every other rationalizer who wants to keep buying crap.

reduce, reuse, and recyle. it works. don't believe the haters.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:56 PM on December 13, 2004


i used to subscribe to Adbusters, and it convinced me to cancel my subscriptions to magazines.

Wow. It was so bad it put you off all magazines?
posted by kindall at 5:19 PM on December 13, 2004


Jon, no disrespect meant, but your distaste for the generalized idea of the "counterculture" is just as judgemental and predictable.

I was (and to some extent still am) a card-carrying counterculture (although there's about a billion self-proclaimed countercultres, many antagonistic to eachother) member. That's dosen't stop me or disobligate me from criticizing flaws, I see in them.

And Jim Goad is a fuckin' genius. Don't knock him 'till you've read more of his stuff.
posted by jonmc at 5:23 PM on December 13, 2004


Oh, mrgrimm, you missed my hello to you from NYC, buddy. :)
posted by jonmc at 5:29 PM on December 13, 2004


[Late revisit: Jim Goad may be a genius, or he may not, but he needs to get a doggamn clue about web-readability. That page hurts my head to look at it.]
posted by lodurr at 7:12 AM on December 28, 2004


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