Customer Reviews: Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from The Baffler
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Showing 1-4 of 4 reviews(3 star). Show all reviews
on July 15, 2002
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. Now _The Baffler_ - with the totally altruistic goal of helping us out - has told us again that we're powerless, has strengthened the case, and has done nothing to correct this impression.
_Commodify Your Dissent_ ends with one of the most shrill, paranoid, counterproductive essays I've ever read, bringing to a crescendo all the doomsaying that peppered the foregoing pages.
Nothing's wrong with being shrill and unproductive. I just thought it fair to warn people that they're getting more of what they're used to.
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on March 2, 1999
Agreed: one can no longer seem credibly rebellious merely by wearing certain clothes, enjoying certain bands, or otherwise embracing some aspect of youth culture. This shouldn't come as a shock for anyone over the age of eighteen. I for one am happy to see the crass commercialism of, e.g., John Lydon's ads for Mountain Dew, because they make it clear (even without the help of the Baffler's editors) that listening to albums is not in and of itself a significant political act.
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on November 2, 1999
Commodfy Your Dissent is meant to be a critique of American consumerism, as well as such things as cultural studies, which it appears to think of as just another version of the same. Well and good one supposes. At the same time, however, it is interesting to note that Commodify is written in a remarkably clear language, as many of the above readers note. The counterargument from the point of view of cultural studies would attack this clarity as lending itself to a reinforcement of consumerism, citing Adorno's attack on liberalism's insistence upon clarity in Minima Moralia perhaps. (That is why, for those who are unaware, academia today is filled with people who, apparently, can't write, as one of the above reviews demonstrates.) One might say that Frank is a person who failed at academia for exactly this reason, which might give a certain credence to the cultural studies argument. For myself though I regard this book as a hopeful sign, for I think of these academic arguments as rather beside the point; for too long a time the Left in this country has eaten its young, and this book looks like it may be a sign that that might be changing. For me a sign of a healthy society is not how many ideas are in play but how many ghettoes there are and how many people are in prison, and though academic "Critical Theorists" would say that that sort of thinking merely plays into the hands of the Right, I can't help thinking that way, which makes me a liberal I suppose. But all you have to do is look around to see that radical thought isn't doing much of anything these days. Tragic, I know, but there you are. Frank and the rest of the Baffler crew have I think taken a good first step: they have gotten out of the universities. We'd all do a lot better if more people did the same.
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on December 30, 1999
Commodify Your Dissent has some well-argued attacks on the economic situation in this country, the imbalance of wealth, and the plight of the poor. The "cultural criticism," however, left me with the sense of listening to a group of pretentious youngsters who feel they know better than the rest of us about "authentic" modern American culture, which for them consists almost exclusively of obscure punk rock bands. So rather than observing that the success of early 90's bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam may have had a good deal to do with their musical talent and creativity, the Baffler team chooses to whine about how crummy those bands are in comparsion to the unsung heros of the "real" Seattle music scene.
This sense of smug hipper-than-thouness combines with a bizarre fixation on the most obvsiously silly excesses of corporate and advsertising culture (Tom Peters' name is repeated incessantly), which most people either never take seriously to begin with, or soon see through. So we are treated to a walking tour of not just one but two corporate propaganda museums, where our fearless author finds -- gasp! -- lots of dumb and dishonest exhibits to grouse about.
In general, these dudes don't seem to grok that the best way to deal with the onslaught of advertising on TV and in popular magazines is -- gasp again! -- turn of the tube and read a book. It's as though they've OD'd on Advertising Age and can't see that there are simple ways for anyone to avoid this garbage.
Finally, name-calling and character assassination have nothing to do with serious criticism. The authors of this book would have done well to avoid epithets like "New Age freak" when referring to people they find fault with (in this case, Ariana Huffington). Of course, all that exhuberant anger and fun-poking is part of the undergraduate experience, but it's not the stuff of serious writing.
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