Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Canadian Counter-Culture Consumers, and More

The new LA Weekly is up online and Mathew Duersten reviews the recent work by two Toronto philosophers on the "depths" of consumer culture. The article also includes this amusing episode about a lecture gone "to the dogs"at UBC (where my cousin's husband is a research fellow).

The fact that the authors admit that, in their, uh, advanced 30-something age, they were duped by the countercultural rallying cries of their youth leads them to conclude: “The rebellion against aesthetic norms is not actually subversive.” It’s a thesis certain to enrage. In fact, it already has — but not in the U.S. (at least not so far). Reaction to the book in Canada, where it goes under the somewhat more strident title of The Rebel Sell, is described by Potter as “uniformly bad” — and not because they tweak Michael Moore and their fellow Canuck, Culture Jam author Kalle Lasn, for advocating an uncompromising (and unrealistic) “smash the marketplace” attitude over less-sexy changes in institutional laws. Heath and Potter recently appeared at a lecture at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, chiding their countrymen good-naturedly for their organic-vegetable obsession, which they cast as “a remnant of ’60s technophobia” and a misguided attempt at anti-corporate “ethical consumption” — not to mention a bit smug and aristocratic. Heath and Potter maintained that growing them or buying them does not really strike a blow against consumerism; it just creates a market for more expensive vegetables — thus exacerbating competitive consumption rather than reducing it.

Turns out the Vancouverites didn’t like that one bit. “The very idea of organic vegetables as ‘yuppie food’ generated more heat in Vancouver than it did the U.S.,” laughs Andrew Potter, referring to this kind of countercultural obsession with “micro-issues” that take attention away from simpler solutions — namely, separating politics from the counterculture entirely. “We argue that ethical consumption is not a substitute for political action,” he says. “Only legislative action is.”

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