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Hello, I'm Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity Paperback – April 1, 2006

2.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When nonconformity has become not only cool but also consumable, and everyone is told they are special, what happens to our definitions of rebellion and individualism? Are our real rebels against "conformist nonconformity" now the "neo-traditionalists" who exchange their individualism for membership in a community that offers meaning in backward-looking ideologies? These questions are pertinent but hardly original, and Niedzviecki's approach doesn't refresh the cultural debate. Niedzviecki (We Want Some Too) details lively examples from pop, consumer and counterculture—e.g., backyard wrestlers who assert their uniqueness while participating in mass culture; the "philosophy" brand of health and beauty products that sells its lotions with "moral maxims." But he molds these cases to fit his often predictable arguments: celebrity culture has been confused with individualism; the "semi-collapse" of traditional culture has led some to rebel by embracing orthodoxy; marketers have exploited ideals of individuality; and political activism is often just a way for protestors to "affirm their specialness." Falling short of a richer, more contradictory and more provocative analysis of these cultural items, Niedzviecki only grazes the surface of many of the issues Christopher Lasch (The Culture of Narcissism) and Thomas Frank (The Conquest of Cool) have already explored with depth and complexity. (May)
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" . . . Niedzviecki is just like you -- a savvy cultural critic . . . part disillusioned memoir, part rant, part astute criticism . . . " -- Michael Leaverton, SF Weekly, May 2006

" . . . because of mass media’s infiltration into all aspects of our lives, everyone thinks they’re Special." -- Bookslut.com

"A blend of cultural analysis, reporting and memoir, Hello, I'm Special is full of sharp and funny observations..." -- Salon.com

"Equal parts Jerry Seinfeld and Thomas Frank... .Niedzviecki... gives us everything that makes his brand of literary genius so... 'special'." -- Tikkun Magazine

"Hal Niedzviecki... is one of the wisest, funniest and most acute cultural critics writing today." -- Naomi Klein, author of No Logo

"Niedzviecki holds a scalpel to this social monster with analytic precision that evokes Malcolm Gladwell . . . " -- Adrienne LaFrance, WBUR Boston, April 2006

"Niedzviecki's examinations yield fertile insights, without sounding overly pretentious." -- Gerry Donaghy, Powell’s Bookstore, May 2006

"Using case studies... the book links society's emphasis on celebrity to everything from anorexia to exorcisms." -- 7x7 Magazine

"Who will bear the burden of being dazzled by the wondrous presence of our countless wondrous individuals?" -- Paul Reidinger, San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 2006

"Witty and wise, part journalist, part theorist, Niedzviecki takes up two long-running American themes – conformity and individuality..." -- San Francisco Chronicle

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 259 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers (April 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872864537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872864535
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,204,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. McFaul on October 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
I love infotainment reads, and this book is a good example of C+ quality in this genre. As I see it, this book sets out to characterize individuality as a value central to modern life, and does a great job of providing the reader of evidence of this again, and again, and again. By the last third of the book, it became a chore to hear the same argument rehashed with little elaboration.

The greatest downside to this book was that Niedzviecki implies throughout that valuing individuality as highly as he believes contemporary culture does is a bad thing, but absolutely fails to convince the reader on this point. Individuals interviewed by the author offer allusions to their "feeling lonely/disconnected/etc.," and this is the sum total of the evidence that the author is willing to supply to prove the negative effects of contemporary trends.

I think that the most effective thing that this book could do to improve itself is bring in empirical evidence and theory from psychology. A great wealth of discussion about the effects of media consumption on behavior, imitation, reward and punishment, etc. exist in psychology, and tying these lines of thought into "Hello, I'm Special" would have made this book better. The book, as it is, is pure journalism pretending to be cultural theory. (Here it is an ideal read if you like to say "hey, I could write this malarkey!" to yourself and close friends).

Up until the last forty or so pages, I was amused and getting a little bored. At about this point in the book, Niedzviecki decides that going without the conveniences of our cushy modern lives and actually "suffering" like real bushmen is the remedy to the problem of modern existence!
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Format: Paperback
Hal Niedzviecki is the guy who bums a ride with you and then criticizes the way you drive, tells you when to turn, and tells you where to park. He is the guy who walks into your kitchen and asks to be shown what you are cooking, and then makes unhelpful suggestions as to how to improve your recipe. He's the guy who crashes your party and makes snide comments about your taste in music, and how he was into it 'before they went all mainstream'. In short, he is a know-it-all ironic hipster killjoy.

The thesis of "Hello, I'm Special" isn't entirely clear: there is a vague sense of Niedzviecki complaining about the ubiquity of pop culture and how 'just being yourself' has been commercially appropriated, propped up sloppily by largely irrelevant quotations from academic figures like Foucault. Basically, anybody who tries to do anything 'different' is snidely and rather pettily criticized and scrutinized, from progessive Catholics, to Found Magazine founder Davy Rothbart, and the very people who trustingly gave Niedzviecki feedback. In fact, I am on his list of bumbling bourgeois wannabes simply by virtue of writing a review on Amazon (and no, this is not my attempt at earning 'glory' or 'fame'. I simply don't want anyone else to endure this book.).

Despite protestations in the introduction (following a lengthy retelling of his disaffected wealthy suburban youth, druggie days, various print accomplishments, and so on) that the book is not about him, the book is steeped in the context of Hal Niedzviecki: *I* received an email from so-and-so; participants in an alternative publishing event that *I* coordinated said; *my* friend did this; *I* think; *I* believe, etc.
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Format: Paperback
Mr. Niedzviecki begins with an interesting subject: main stream culture has co-opted rebellion. The anecdotes and the witticisms are fine when he tones down on the condescension, but the book suffers from deep flaws.

He leaves terms such as pop culture and rebellion ill-defined. However, I gathered that main stream culture is something that the reader does not be a part of. Once he lays out his argument that the main stream has co-opted rebellion, his arguments loop endlessly between the wish to get away from pop culture and the inability to do anything that does not lead back to being pop culture. Instead of trying to find a third path out of his binary sorting of "pop vs rebel", his definitions broaden until his narrative becomes diffused and nearly directionless at points.

At several points, he touches on historical writing on individuality and masses, but fails to capitalize on these opportunities to deepen his argumnt or break the loop that he has built.
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Format: Paperback
Going into this, "Hello, I'm Special" appeared to be a valuable exploratory of the self-centeredness that has taken root in today's American culture, from athletic shoe snobbery to "buy this to prove you are different" marketing to million dollar lawsuits against companies that didn't expect you to use their products stupidly. In part, Niedzviecki does do that here, and gets in some pertinent jabs.

Unfortunately, he then goes off the deep end, insisting that (1) you are just a phony if you try to express your sense of individualism the same way others express theirs, and (2) that the only true individualist is the person who escapes social conformity overkill by living in a small town or out in the hinterlands. Both assertions are bunk.

Yes, one has to chuckle about people who claim to thrive on following their own vibe...then wear the same style clothing, drive the same cars, or visit the same websites as other "non-conformists." But that doesn't make them phonies or fakes, that makes them spirited people who may be a bit misguided as to how they define "individuality." The bigger offense is the self-satisfied, condescending attitude that Niedzviecki takes toward such people in this book. No, owning an iPod or driving a Mini Cooper or trying out for a pre-packaged "reality" show doesn't make you smart, hip, OR a true non-conformist. But neither does beating up on those who are just trying to find a way to feel comfortable in their own skin while the rest of the world wants them to be something else.

Likewise, if the author thinks he will escape pressures to conform by moving to a small town, he clearly hasn't lived in a small town, or lived their long enough. Frying pan, meet the fire.
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