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Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from The Baffler Paperback – October 17, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

In this thought-provoking collection of essays, editor Thomas Frank and other contributors to the contrarian journal the Baffler examine the unprecedented ascendancy of business as the dominating force in American life. If the closest historical parallel is with the Gilded Age and its all-powerful robber barons, Frank and his ilk clearly see themselves as the muckrakers out to expose the absurdities and abuses of big business. Today, however, advertising has come to permeate every aspect of our society, and corporations are in the business of manufacturing culture--what Frank calls the "Culture Trust." These essays analyze the ways in which this Culture Trust has co-opted the power of dissent by appropriating the language and symbolism of nonconformist youth culture, from hippie slang to grunge fashion; in other words, when the media markets rebellion, it becomes just another consumer choice. As evidence, the essayists explore the image of consumer as rebel pioneered by publications such as Details and Wired, as well as the preeminence of "revolutionary" business gurus such as Tom Peters. The result is a highly original book, a satirical and savage indictment of '90s consumerist culture.


You'd have to look back at the fights between New York intellectuals in the fifties to find the sort of verbal firepower unleashed here. -- Nation

[Frank is] ... perhaps the most provocative young cultural critic of the moment, and certainly the most malcontent... Although he has been to graduate school ... both his thinking and his prose hark back to a time when the radical left was something more in America than conferences and seminars attended by Foucault-steeped professors. Frank has thrown off the mandarin jargon; for him it's about wealth and power, haves and have-nots, loud and simple--it's as if he were channeling Herbert Marcuse and C. Wright Mills and Thorstein Veblen through a boom box. -- The New York Times Book Review, Gerald Marzorati

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (October 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393316734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393316735
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #783,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Stephen R. Laniel on July 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
I consider myself a die-hard leftist, and I agree with most of the conclusions that the authors of _Commodify Your Dissent_ come to. It reminds me a lot of Noam Chomsky, another leftist who reveals modern consumer culture for what it is.
The problem is that the left is remarkably short on solutions, or even the feeling that solutions are possible. _Commodify Your Dissent_ is a collection of essays whose premise is that the U.S. situation is hopeless:
* as many other authors have said, our main means of dissent - our writing, particularly irony - has been swallowed up by our enemies; it's now hip to be ironic, so advertisers adopt irony about advertising as their pose toward the world. So we can't use irony anymore.
* In the U.S., "identity" now means "what car I own and what clothes I wear." We define ourselves as consumers. Once again, we've moved so far in this direction that it's impossible to imagine a way out.
* The culture of business dominates American discourse. We look up to American business leaders as our new gods, and we assume that The Market will correct everything. Resisting The Market is futile, because it is infinitely more intelligent than any policymaker. Hence, leave the world to the Bill Gateses.
* Music is corporatized junk.
and so on, ad nauseum, for a couple hundred pages. After a while, we - or at least I - get numbed to it. Great, so the world has been utterly cheapened by corporations. Sure, corporations own the political process. And? What do I do about it?
_The Baffler_ has no suggestions, which in the end makes it a shrill mouthpiece of powerlessness. We've grown up on a steady diet of powerlessness. The left would assert that this is because the power structure *wants* us to think we're powerless; it helps them when few of us resist.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
A mix bag of 23 mostly provocative essays culled from the pages of The Baffler magazine, collected with the aim of critiquing the "new American cultural order." While a many of the ideas and theses presented will be old hat to thinking observers of popular culture, the essays are valuable in that they connect the dots in often highly entertaining (if sometimes overly snide and self-congratulatory) prose. The essays are separated into four sections: The Rebel Consumer, The Culture of Business, The Culturetrust Generation, and Wealth Against the Commonwealth Revisited. Of these, the essays in The Rebel Consumer and The Culturetrust Generation are probably the most lively, entertaining, and accessible to those who haven't thought about this stuff. Should be made required reading for all 9th graders.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Maginot on July 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This collection of essays provides a gutsy, incisive, and energetic critique of American consumer culture that surpasses and even ridicules the limp, flaccid, self-referential verbiage that academics try to pass off as a "radical", and "critical" examination of culture and power. "Commodify Your Dissent" is a series of critical essays, or "salvos" as the authors prefer to call them, that were printed in The Baffler during the 90's largely in response to the hypocrisy, and gluttony of the America's expanding techno-consumer culture. Using lucid, forthright language, direct examples, and actual critical thinking (not the mental self-gratification generated by tenured radicals) the authors demonstrate how corporate America has commercialized the concept of revolution and employed it along marketing and production guidelines that are-guess what-conformist and conservative. In the 90's culture, as these essays so aptly demonstrate, "free thinking, revolution" and "breaking the rules" really amounted to a double-speak ideology centered around buying more gadgets and helping companies to make more money, a process that was reinforced in words and letters by such "radical" cultural critics as Camille Paglia.
This book is bound to anger a lot of readers because, it's gutsy, direct, and ruthless in its battering of the misused tropes and recycled clichés that enable legions of consumers, workers, and managers to feel like they're breaking the rules when in fact they are merely conforming to and reinforcing them. I know it's a hard fact to face, but buying a recycled pair of bell-bottoms is not an act of rebellion.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Keith Braithwaite ( on December 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
There are few things less entertaining than the rich and sucessful whining about the dreadfullnes of it all, so one might imagine that this book would be a pain to read. Not so, it is a gem.
While it is certianly true that US citizens lead the world in having more of everything than they could possibly want or need and being *so* upset about it, the writers of The Baffler have a genuine gripe: that dissent has become one lifestyle choice amongst many, with a thriving support industry. The best sections of the book are the ads and market report promoting a dissent products and services company; all too credible.
This collection provides a very valuable insight into the Amrican psyche: I would heartily recommend it to any Europeans who were wondering just what is is that the Americans are complaining about all the time.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alessandro Bruno on November 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
Commodify your Dissent is a collection of essays from the Baffler magazine. The essays are social critiques of Mass Media and corporate and consumer culture. They have the sarchastic and hilarious style of H.L. Mencken and, like the latter's work, they end up exposing many false 'truths'. The quality of the writing is excellent, i became extremely envious. My favorite section was The Culture of Business and the critique of businees literature. there are also critiques of commercial grunge music, packaging of artists (one of my favorite essays, exposes pretentious writing for what it is), elites and youth consumerism. You'll learn and laugh. I enjoyed this book so much that I bouught other titles from Thomas Frank and subscribed to the Baffler.
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