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Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture Paperback – December 14, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

So-called rebellion not only perpetuates the market economy, it's the economy's biggest driving factor. So argue Canadian philosophy professors Heath and Potter; in their world, you can't "sell out" or be "co-opted," because you're already participating in the market, where rebellion is just another word for relentless innovation, fashion and cool. With sharp humor, the two make a solid case for consumerism being motivated by competitiveness rather than conformity, while pointing out the hypocrisies and shortcomings of "alternative" lifestyles, like the fascination with ancient non-Western medicine as somehow nobler and purer than modern science. Their theoretical underpinnings range from critiques of Freud to French postmodernism, and they layer their philosophical arguments with personal experience (though the use of "I" without identifying the writer as either Heath or Potter becomes irritating). The authors tear into veterans of the '60s counterculture repeatedly, and blaming the "all or nothing" approach of would-be radicals who drop out for holding back progress. The arguments are familiar, but Heath and Potter's sustained scrutiny of the premises from a market perspective freshens them.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Although a more fitting title for this book might be Why Counter Culture Becomes Consumer Culture, the authors adeptly and succinctly sum up 200 years of consumer culture. Within the first few chapters, this book enlightens us enough to accomplish its goal while being quite an infectious read as well as inspiration to forge ahead to analyze how average lifestyle decisions affect the big picture of capitalism. (The book should not be read without some note taking and, later, examining many of the references to books, movies, and music.) Heath and Potter seek to make us realize how our lifestyles and spending habits reverberate throughout every facet of our lives. The lesson is, if one wants to participate in the consumer culture, continue with the current lifestyle, but if one desires to be a genuine rebel, move to the forest and become a hunter-gatherer like our ancestors (and Ted Kaczynski). Ed Dwyer
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; First U.S. Edition, Later Printing edition (December 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006074586X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060745868
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By California reader on January 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
A brilliant, witty critique of the counterculture and how it has diverted our energies from pursuing effective political solutions to our social problems and redirected them into silly, self-indulgent, self-defeating gestures of pseudo-rebellion. Very similar to what Thomas Frank and his crew of wits at The Baffler are saying, only more incisive and analytical. Heath and Potter are masters of lucid exposition (for example, I've never read a more elegant description of the Prisoner's Dilemma than theirs) who use Thorstein Veblen's economic theories to pull the whole lid off the notion of commodified "dissent".

My only quarrel with the book is that 1) it is light on prescription (the authors content themselves with brief, general calls for more regulation to control the worst excesses of corporate behavior); and 2) it doesn't always address the strongest arguments against corporate hegemony (the authors are content to argue that Walmart isn't so bad, because it offers low prices and friendly service, but they don't mention anything about its underhanded business practices or its devastating effect on local economies).

Nevertheless, this is the most persuasive and thoroughgoing critique I've yet read on the sad fraud that is the counterculture.
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110 of 131 people found the following review helpful By Gigi on January 8, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A good book to consider in tandem with this one is James Masterson's "The Search for the Real Self." Masterson's thesis is that those with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders have never really had support for the development of real, authentic, core selves. It's but a small leap from there to Christopher Lasch's "The Culture of Narcissism." The idea is that many, and perhaps most, Americans today have that pervasive sense of emptiness, a lack of self.

One of the authors of "Nation of Rebels" admits to having been a punk rocker rebel in a prior phase of life. He then goes on to say that that phase was, he realized upon reflection, an example of the false rebellion that the book talks about. But then, disturbingly, it becomes apparent as one reads the book, that Heath and Potter assume the same lack of self in all members of todays "nation of rebels." In other words, all consumption is based upon false, status, pseudo-rebellious tendencies.

The problem here is that the authors assume that no one buys a BMW in order to have an exciting driving experience, but only to impress the neighbors. They assume that no one buys a home theater in order to simply enjoy movies, but only to have the latest "thing." They would assume that no 20 year old would quit college simply because it wasn't right for him or her, and that the only conceivable reason would be a false sense of rebellion against parents, society, or whatnot.

In other words, they truly seem to believe what they posit early in the book: that real, authentic selves do not exist. In anyone. Talk about psychological projection outward from their own inner circumstances on a doozy of a scale!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Randall K. Cohn on January 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
The critical reader should note, of course, after recovering from the unbalancing effects of having all of her liberal sacred cows slaughtered and turned to jerky, that the authors of this insightful book are -- call to arms for the progressive movement to roll up its sleeves and focus on legislative and policy solutions rather than vague and self-defeating cultural dissent aside -- professors of philosophy, who have written an effective work of cultural criticism, but they fail (nor does it seem to really be their intention) to offer much in the way of specific practical solutions themselves.

this is, perhaps, largely because they understand that if they wrote a policy-heavy manual about how to make the practical (and, as they acknowledge, largely undramatic) reforms to the market to better reflect principles of social justice and sustainability, their major intended audience -- all those who are self-identified as members of the 'counterculture' -- would almost surely never bother to pick up the book.

the intention is noble and important. and i believe the authors understand the paradox -- they must speak to all of those ex-punks and vaguely political hipsters, all the artists and musicians and hippies and bicyclists, all the zinesters and skaters and anarchists and transformationists, and acknowledge the feeling that has made all of those people commit so much energy towards staking their "individualist" ground against the homogonizing forces of stooge governments and the marketing machine -- and, before offering legislation in earnest, convince them to come back to the fold and find it in themselves to see the social contract not as a restraint on their individual spirits, but as the mechanism by which the practical progress we are all wishing for might actually be achieved.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Justin Bean on March 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
Nation of Rebels is one of those books that left me thinking 'wow, everything I know is wrong'. If you can excuse the hyperbole, what I mean is that this book, which is clearly written and pleasurable to read despite tackling complex economic and philosophical issues (from Marx and Bourdieu to Freud and Hobbes), severely challlenged the foundation upon which I had built my understanding of the intersection of politics, culture, globalization, and capitalism. One must have an open mind coming into this book, and it helps to know the arguments made by the present countercultural elite (such as Naomi Klein in No Logo), although the authors do an excellent job of setting up their position by explaining the opposition.

The authors make excellent use of popular culture, from American Beauty and Fight Club to Star Trek, to explain the implications of their argument. What is the authors' argument? In simplest terms, the authors argue that what we consider 'counterculture' is little more than a harmful illusion that has detracted from worthwhile political activism in the name of individualistic, utopian-fueled ballyhoo. Since the sixties, especially in the UNited States, rebels, activists, and leftists have opted out of direct political activism because, according to the countercultural critique, the entire 'system' is corrupt and therefore activism cannot take place within it, but must take place without it. The authors explain beautifully why this thought process of so damaging to making actual societal change, and that the efforts of the left to make the world a better place (which is what we claim as our mission, right?) has ultimately been misdirected.
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