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By TheophileEscargot (Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 08:42:40 PM EST) Reading, Museums, Consumerism (all tags)
Reading: "The Rebel Sell", "Toward the End of Time". Museums. Consumerism.


What I'm Reading
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.

Guardian review.

Museums
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.

Salon review.

Consumerism
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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You've torn your dress, your face is a mess | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Brands of functional goods... by Metatone (4.00 / 2) #1 Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 11:36:09 PM EST
do have a kernel of use in them, but getting hold of the information is pretty tricky.

As an example, my mother recently bought a new washing machine. Fortunately, she knows and independent washing machine repairer. Through his experience tending to the insides of all these machines, he has a pretty good idea which ones are solid and which ones aren't (at any given price point.) As such, he's able to say, usefully, Brand X is a better buy than Brand Y.

The internet has seen attempts to aggregate this kind of information for other goods, like coffee machines, but I don't know if it has been successful as I don't think the sampling sizes have been reached to overcome the outlier problem.

So, to deal with all those who will comment later, yes brands can involve "battered spouse syndrome" and often exist now mostly in symbolic territory, but they can still also be a pointer to quality of manufacture (or at least quality assurance) procedures.

Who by Dr H0ffm4n (2.50 / 2) #7 Thu Nov 23, 2006 at 03:25:25 AM EST
Who buys consumer goods without checking quality reviews first and just trusting brands or advertising?

Women in my experience.

[ Parent ]
Haqns Bellmer is ace by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #2 Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 01:19:59 AM EST
One of my favourite surrealists.

There are stories that some of the work was pulled from the exhibition for fear of offending the local Muslim community, though one gallery spokesperson said it was about space constraints and another said they were more worried about anti-paedo nutters vandalising them.

--------
It's political correctness gone mad!

Rebel Sell by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 04:21:08 AM EST
The best one-sentence summary I've read of this line of argument is still from Bruce Sterling: America will commodify your dissent, sell it back to you on DVD. One quoted in the article comes close though, “business is amassing great sums by charging admission to the ritual simulation of its own lynching.”

Just reading the linked article, it was better than I expected. It's a little strange they spend so much time emphasising that Fight Club revisits older critiques of capitalism without mentioning the reliance of Fight Club on the Boxer Rebellion of the early 20th as a template, ie underground boxing clubs organising as a secret society to overthrow symbols of modernity, capitalism, and in that case colonialism.

As I recall at the end of No Logo Klein calls vaguely for a revived socialism because of the inadequacy of consumer driven critiques of capitalism.

Maybe this book represents the logical end point and official mainstreaming of this branding process in their call for regulation by the state.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

Described in different terms by Desmond Morris by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #4 Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 01:19:24 PM EST
We are primates.

Primates are tribal.

Draw your own conclussions.

What about orang-utans? [nt] by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #5 Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 08:01:24 PM EST

--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
They are tribal. by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #6 Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 04:51:50 PM EST
But they are introspective.

OK, I should have said we are antropoids, or such other work that makes clear we are like chimps or gorillas.

[ Parent ]
You've torn your dress, your face is a mess | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback