NO LOGO: TAKING AIM AT THE BRAND BULLIES
By Naomi Klein
The impulse for No Logo, Naomi Klein’s attack on global corporatism, comes from her observation of ’90s trends in popular culture. Her approach, which mixes current economic statistics with media reportage and memoir, leads to a fresh take on some of the more familiar complaints about the growth of corporate rule that have recently been coming from the political left.
The book begins with the assertion that the expansion in corporate power over the last 15 years has been due to the managerial insight that profits come from marketing an image rather than producing things. From here Klein goes on to examine the ubiquity of the corporate image in modern culture (No Space), the influence of corporate hegemony on democratic institutions and individual rights (No Choice), the labour market trends that have shifted employment away from career to contract (No Jobs), and the various kinds of anti-branding activism that have sprouted up to challenge corporate rule (No Logo).
Klein’s argument, with which I am in sympathy, has two main limitations.
The first is generational. Klein, who is not yet 30, defines the issues largely from the perspective of youth culture. This makes sense both because of the emphasis brand marketing places on the youth market, and the fact that most of the resistance she describes (culture-jamming, “Reclaim the Street” parties) is youth-oriented.
Still, what’s happening with the kids is only part of a larger story.
The second limitation has to do with the concept of the “brand,” which Klein defines vaguely as “the core meaning of the modern corporation.”
Using branding as such an umbrella concept is misleading, and leaves out a number of sectors of the economy (natural resources, agriculture) that are, as Klein admits, “unbrandable.”
Branding is only part of the critique that, it seems to me, Klein wants to develop. It is the political fetishizing of the market and the growth of unaccountable, supragovernmental institutions that is the larger target. The market doesn’t work as a political model since even in its ideal form there is nothing democratically responsive, or responsible, about it.
Giving in to the forces of branding means “selling out,” but it’s no surprise that Klein has trouble squaring youth revolt with ironic consumerism and branded non-conformity. The reason why the revolutionary spirit (I smile as I say it) has been so easily co-opted by corporate images in our day is that they both express the same moral values of individual self-interest.
The oft-repeated complaint that the Woodstock generation “sold-out” is, for example, absurd, since ’60s radicalism was only self-indulgence anyway. By the same token, why is Klein surprised that during the political correctness debates in the 1980s, campuses “were being sold out from under their feet”? Who did she think was doing the selling? Does she really believe that a scramble of job-seeking was being driven by altruistic ideals of social justice?
In any event, if you read No Logo the chances are you’ve already made up your mind about the issues it deals with. Some tougher editing would have helped Klein focus her argument more sharply, but all in all this is a lively and relevant interpretation and critique which helps bring the anti-corporate message up to date.
Review first published February 12, 2000.