Started reading The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture. These extracts came up a while back. The book is basically a "Counter Culture Considered Harmful" argument, going through various ideas of rebellion and conformity.
Proved to be more interesting than I expected. Didn't think there'd really be enough material for a whole book; but it actually goes into a bit of depth on the political/philosophical origins of the idea that consumer rebellion threatens capitalism; the game theory and economics behind rules in general and so on. Still not really enough for a whole book , and gets a bit repetitive by the end. Certainly does provide a thorough and entertaining demolition of some of the arguments of Naomi Klein and the culture jammers.
Tends to be a bit weaker when it goes beyond that though. Doesn't exactly use straw men, but there definitely seem to lath-and-plaster men around. Jean Baudrillard and the earliest academics may have imagined that enough symbolic rebellions would literally bring capitalist society to a state of collapse, but it seems unlikely that Klein and the others take it so seriously.
One of the arguments is that it is rebellion, rather than conformity which drives chains of consumerism. If everyone was a conformist happy to wear identical grey flannel suits, there would be little pressure to fuel the capitalist machine by constantly buying new clothes. However, because of the sartorial rebels who insist on non-conformity, there is instead a constant pressure for fashions to change: even would-be- conformists are then gradually forced to follow or become figures of ridicule.
However, it's not just hippies, punks and rappers driving fashion: dandies, hipsters, zoot-suited beboppers, teddy boys and medallion men all innovated fashion to some degree; generally without intending to destroy the system: Beau Brummel and Madame de Pompadour probably had little intention of overthrowing the establishment.
Furthermore, even if it's not going to bring down capitalism, countercultures and subcultures can be helpful in other ways. People may drive Priuses as an irritating form of elitism, but that doesn't change the fact that those particular wankmobiles do produce less CO2 than a humvee.
Also, the authors themselves point to a perceived higher social status as a key generator of happiness. In that case, the more subcultures the better, as everyone can regard themself as having a superior status to those in the other subcultures: a businessman, a hippy and an art-lover in the same room can all regard themselves as comfortably superior. Thus the existence of a diversity of subcultures rather than a monoculture can combine to make life better for everyone.
Other weaknesses: despite detailed references at the end of each chapter, there are quite a few howlers, misconceptions and highly debatable assertions presented without any real justification. Also tends to overestimate the Power of Cool: at one point they provide a long list of all the expensive designer gear they've bought, but it doesn't mean we're all suckers; there's a load of empty dot-commish hype about the "creative workers" motivated solely by cool. I think they also overestimate the impact of these counterculture ideas on "distracting" from reform. They give examples of the anti-trade activists who oppose beneficial trade; but I think they're more motivated by misunderstandings of trade to be a zero-sum game.
Even so, an interesting read: brisk, not too long, and a few good points. Worth a look.
Dropped in at the Whitechapel gallery, where they've got two free exhibitions.
Pierre Klossowski was pretty weak: awkwardly posed semi-erotic drawings, apparently made to illustrate a book. Hans Bellmer upstairs was a lot more powerful: pictures and sculptures of made up of sinisterly disjointed body parts.
What I'm Reading 2
Toward the End of Time by John Updike. Near-future semi-SF, about a retiree in a Massachusetts in 2020, in an America slowly recovering from the Sino-American War ; coming to terms with age and death. Not much SF-y type stuff, and what there is glimpsed dimly from within his regime. Like the idea of FedEx as a protection racket turning into a government though.
Lots of discussion of impotence: must be among last of the pre-Viagra novels; these days all the major novelists shag till they drop. The book was published in 1997, Viagra was approved in 1998. Bet Updike's regretting it now.
Decided to get a new filter coffee machine. My last one was a second-hand one, from a prominent brand: broke a while back, but finding the cafetiere I use instead a nuisance.
As usual though, I decided to get a cheap "Cookworks" rather than an advertised named brand, After all, it's not that complicated to make a filter machine. Didn't go for the cheapest model though, paid a hefty £15 for this (review).
Not very happy with it though. It works, but seems to leak a tablespoon's worth of water onto the hotplate each time. Despite washing it and running it through with water several times, there also seems to be a faint smell and taste of plastic to the coffee.
Maybe I should have gone for an expensive branded one instead. Or maybe I've been brainwashed into thinking that this one is inferior.
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