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The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism Paperback – December 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0226260129 ISBN-10: 0226260127 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (December 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226260127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226260129
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In his book-length essay The Conquest of Cool, Thomas Frank explores the ways in which Madison Avenue co-opted the language of youthful '60s rebellion. It is "the story," Frank writes, "of the bohemian cultural style's trajectory from adversarial to hegemonic; the story of hip's mutation from native language of the alienated to that of advertising." This appropriation had wide-ranging consequences that deeply transformed our culture--consequences that linger in the form of '90s "hip consumerism." (Think of Nike using the song "Revolution" to sell sneakers, or Coca-Cola using replicas of Ken Kesey's bus to peddle Fruitopia.)

This is no simplistic analysis of how the counterculture "sold out" to big business. Instead, Frank shows how the counterculture and business culture influenced one another. In fact, he writes, the counterculture's critique of mass society mimicked earlier developments in business itself, when a new generation of executives attacked the stultified, hierarchical nature of corporate life. Counterculture and business culture evolved together over time--until the present day, when they have become essentially the same thing. According to Frank, the '60s live on in the near-archetypal dichotomy of "hip" and "square," now part of advertising vernacular, signifying a choice between consumer styles. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


...provides an invaluable argument for anyone who has ever scoffed at hand-me-down counterculture from the '60s... a spirited and exhaustive analysis of that era's advertising... -- Wired, Brad Wieners --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Founding editor of The Baffler, Thomas Frank is the author of One Market Under God, The Conquest of Cool and What's the Matter With America? He is also a contributor to Harper's, The Nation, and the New York Times op-ed pages.

Customer Reviews

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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
in fact, Frank's point is that advertising did NOT necessarily co-opt counterculture. if he labors over anything, it's his assertion that the Creative Revolution in business practically preceded the existence of a widespread counter-culture movement. as far as his scorn, it was rather obviously directed only at the baby-boomers and historians with bad memories...the ones who insist that 60s youth culture was completely non-commercial, the ones who need to believe in The Man (especially the man in the gray suit).
i thought that the book was extremely engaging. frank is very insightful, and his writing is entertaining. i laughed a lot, and said, "Right, exactly!" so many times. i did not get any sense that frank had any real trouble with the conquest of cool or even consumer culture. he develops his thesis so precisely that there was no room for censure. as far as offering a solution--the book doesn't present any Problem to be solved. it's an examination of the relationship between commercial and counter culture. Most importantly, it's a rethinking of that relationship through the lens of the late 50s and 60s.
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37 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on November 25, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Thomas Frank has written one of the most important, and yet baffling, works on understanding the Megamachine and like others of his type (Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul), it will strike so close to home as to be actually uncomfortable to read and digest and still view the world as before. The thesis that Madison Ave. invented the counter-culture by co-opting the hip underground culture of the time is both brilliant and obvious; so obvious, in fact, that its very simplicity caused it to go unnoticed for years. That is the very essence of the Megamachine, the ability to absorb humanist and revolutionary trends, only to revise them in the very image of the machine and counter to their intended purposes. Only when up against another machine (fascism, Soviet Marxism, Chinese Marxism) does the Megamachine have to posit counter values. (i.e., Hollywood propaganda: "Why We Fight," Red Scare films, why Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as Dresden, were necessary for freedom, etc.)
I remember an interview with a rock star of the 60s who boasted that by publishing his music the Establishment was laying the very seeds for its own destruction. Nonsense. Nothing truly subversive would ever be allowed to pass through those hallowed commercial halls. Frank's book shows just how insidious the Megamachine is in its cultural hegemony.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By David C. Anderson on August 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
An excellent examination of consumer culture and the way that corporate America has tried to deal with, understand, and co-opt youth culture (or did youth culture co-opt advertising?) Frank gets to the bottom of it all in an always entertaining look at advertising from the Madison Avenue years through the sixties. His examinations of various ad campaigns - such as Volvo who insisted in their ads that their cars were ugly and at least not as filled with defects as the cars they used to make - are insightful and well researched. In fact, this book is a necessary primer for anyone doing research on youth culture. It helped to change the way that I think about these issues and has become a text that I refer to often.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Swartz on September 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Being familiar with Thomas Frank's cultural criticism of the 1990s (see his brilliant _One Market Under God_, along with the two _Baffler_ anthologies), when I saw the title of this volume I immediately assumed it was yet another expose of how the culture industry co-opts the trends and fashions of genuinely cool youth. I was completely wrong -- what Frank has done is far more fascinating.

In this volume, Frank goes back to the "template" of all modern stories of revolution, the 1960s, and takes a look at things from the point of view of the corporate executives. What he finds is shocking: executives weren't trying to co-opt the counterculture language of revolution, they were actually there first! They genuinely believed in shaking things up and continued to promote these ideas even when the public wasn't into them.

Growing out of his dissertation, the book is a little more dry than some of Frank's other work, but his brilliant prose shines through the academic form. Through meticulous historical research, excerpts from period documents and books, and interview with the players involved, Frank reconstructs the story of the generation, telling the tales of ad executives who quit The Organization to pursue their creative whims and the fashion planners desperate to kill the gray flannel suit. The result is a book that changes the way you think about the generation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tojagi on October 26, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading this book reminded me of a nightmare from my distant past. Way back in the 70s, my first car was an ugly Volvo passed down to me by my older hippie (soon-to-be yuppie) brother.

The dilemma the author addresses is a simple but important one: how does one enjoy the benefits of living in a prosperous, corrupt, and hypocritical society without feeling prosperous, corrupt, and hypocritical. It all changed in the late 60s. What was once called `white man's burden' suddenly became `white man's guilt'. Advertisers responded as they always have, by catering to people's needs. Give them what they want while doing their best to ameliorate the feelings of guilt. One of the consequences is that we have to face 158 different kinds of shampoo.

But there's another side to this story. Not all of us 80 million Boomers were so guilt ridden and socially conscious. For many the immediate response was revulsion over the hypocrisy of the counterculture. So for every anti-conformity ad during the period in question one can probably find as many instances of conformity-appeal, family values, American tradition and so forth. It's partially a class divide. Remember that over 70% of the population never gets a four year degree. And while this segment of society may not have anywhere near the amount of disposable income per-capita as their educated counterparts, they still represent a huge prize for corporate America. Consider the commercials that target the working class: Levis, Pick-up trucks, Marlboros, and the like.

The ad agencies changed in the 60s along with a young, gregarious, and affluent segment of society. This is not a startling revelation. But it's still a marvelous book. If you are my age you won't be able to help summoning up memories of all those idiotic, be yourself, and do-your-own-thing ads -- and of some other unpleasant memories, such as that ugly Volvo I used to drive...
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