clap clap blog: we have moved

Thursday, October 09, 2003
Just wanted to highlight a few things from that Salon article I linked to in the long piece below.

Kalle Lasn isn't scared of the U.S. PATRIOT Act. "America has become a bit of a monster," says the punchy, 60-something founder of Adbusters, the anti-consumption magazine based in Vancouver, B.C. "Some of the things the U.S. is doing, in Israel, in Canc?n with the WTO, I just can't take it any longer. It's gotten to the point where I almost think I've become a terrorist."

Yeah, dude--you're a terrorist. You're totally right. Good catch on that one.

"We got tired of all the lefty whining and the boycotting. It wasn't making any difference," he said. "Quite apart from how many percentage points in market share the Black Spot sneaker can take away from Phil Knight -- that's of course the ultimate goal but may be a long time coming -- in the meantime, we can go a long way toward uncooling the Swoosh, which is losing momentum fast."

"I have a grandiose plan," Lasn said. "My dream as a culture jammer is that a small group of people with a limited budget could have the power to choose a megabrand we don't like for valid reasons and uncool that brand, to show that we the people as a civil society have the power to keep a corporation honest. Now that would be something that would actually redefine capitalism."

"Uncooling"? Sweet merciful crap. Do you take yourself seriously, man? Have you read any of the other major works in your field--No Logo, The Conquest of Cool? The whole point is that corporations have taken over "cool." You "uncool" Nike, something else is just gonna spring up, and it's a hell of a long shot as to that company being more ethical than our friends in the Pacific Northwest. You can't do "cool." And anyway, it's not really cool--it's just mainstream. It's the default. And that's a lot harder to unseat.

Adbusters, which has a circulation of 120,000, bills itself as the "Journal of the Mental Environment." The magazine's philosophy is that advertising encourages people to see themselves primarily as consumers, and its parodies reveal the "truth" behind slick corporate logos: the environmental and human costs of consumption, the abuses of corporate power, and private monopolization of public airwaves.

OK, I won't just mock this one, although that "truth" business obviously bugs the hell out of me. Instead, try this. I think we can all agree by now that just about everyone in Nike's target market knows about Nike's labor conditions, right? So what effect has that had?

At its Sept. 22 shareholders' meeting in Portland, Ore., Nike stockholders celebrated their first protester-free gathering in several years. The footwear company registered a record $10.7 billion in revenue in its 2003 fiscal year, and its stock price increased 40 percent, to a high of $62.50 in late September.

Yeah, that's working real well. And you want to know why?

Citing research on the 3000 marketing images most people consume every day, as well as studies linking advertising to an increase in mood disorders, Lasn said rage against the toxic cultural clutter epitomized by Nike ads is going to launch a new kind of revolution.

"Twenty-five years ago we woke up to the fact that the chemicals in our food, water and air, even a few parts of a billion, actually will give you cancer," he said. "That was when the modern environmental movement was born. Once people make that connection between advertising and their own mental health, that could be the birth of the modern mental health environmental movement."

Oh yeah--because consumerism and advertising has no demonstrable negative effects. What've you got--some vague study that ads make us angry? So does public transportation. So do our parents. Big whoop. It's a long goddamn way from giving our kids cancer.

Look, I like Naomi Klein. I think she makes some great points, and her arguments against omnipresent advertising is a more sensible one--basically that there's a lot of people who don't like ads being so pervasive, and that since market forces seem to place them everywhere, it would be nice if the government could work to create some optional ad-free spaces, or at least stop the spread of ads. She's anti-consumerist, sure, but she recognizes, I think, that people do often genuinely like the things they get. She also seems closer than others to realizing how ineffective ads actually are, and that you can't really take what admen say as a guide to what actually happens.

Then again, it looks like all that anti-sweatshop activity is having some effect:

But Marsha Dickson, director of Educators for Socially Responsible Apparel Business, says the Black Spot campaign is naive in light of efforts that have been made by Nike and other members of the Fair Labor Association, a coalition of industry, university and nongovernmental organizations that issued its first public report in June.

"While the tracking charts clearly show that much work remains to be done," said Dickson via e-mail, "the bottom line is that Nike, Reebok and Adidas are really acting as leaders. If a campaign such as [the Black Spot sneaker] is needed, it should focus attention to the thousands of clothing manufacturers and retailers that are not participating in the FLA. We know nothing or very little about how these companies treat the workers that make their products."

Seems sensible. But what does Mr. Adbusters think?

"I grew up in a time when cynicism didn't exist, that hidden assumption that nothing can change, that you better get used to capitalism, and that cultural revolution is not even possible. I don't quite see it that way. I am old enough to have seen a number of cultural revolutions. I believe another one is coming up."

Oh yeah--cultural revolutions. Hey, wait a minute--you mean that cultural revoluton? The one that sent intellectuals and creeping capitalists to "re-education camps"? Well, probably not. Anyway, the point is that revolutions are rare, and non-destructive revolutions even rarer; just ask Hannah Arendt. They're especially unlikely when you regard yourself as impotent to do anything besides fight ads with ads, or sneakers with sneakers. What the FLA is doing is what, more or less, should be the actions of citizens of a democratic republic with a grievance the government can redress--organize, pressure, and try and change. Not "tweak." Not "piss off." Change.

Although, y'know, reading the history of the Chinese cultural revolution, it does have some creepy parallels to the apparent goals of my friends on the far left. But I guess that makes a certain amount of sense. "Ideological misdeeds"--brr.