[Read the story.]
Kalle Lasn's decision to shift gears in addressing corporate gluttony may be a brave departure from the usual left-wing strategies of boycotting and "whining." However, I question how well Lasn and his team have thought out the long-term effects of his Black Spot shoe-marketing campaign.
Author Naomi Klein was right in pointing out that Lasn's "anti-brand" is still a brand; it is simply the other side of the same coin. Lasn's main beef with corporate giants, such as Nike, is that they encourage people to see themselves only as consumers. From the beginning, Adbusters has been sharply critical of the narcotic effects advertising has had on our culture. Here, however, Lasn says that Adbusters has not encouraged people to buy nothing, only to not buy so much. So... are we not supposed to buy more than we need? Are we supposed to buy what we want, but only from brands that employ fair labor practices? Or are we supposed to dismiss the brand culture altogether?
Adbusters' new campaign seems to support the whole "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach. It encourages us to consume, albeit consciously. Advertising may indeed cause mood disorders, but I personally am getting a headache trying to reconcile why I should buy a branded product from an anti-branding brand.
When Bono realized music alone could not change the world, he began the much-publicized meetings with political figures to help resolve some of the world's most daunting humanitarian issues. Sometimes it's more effective to try to change a system by first engaging that system, by meeting the players on their turf. Lasn's campaign may indeed be a wake-up call to the corporate giants and the buying public they depend on. But what's going to happen to Adbusters' revolution against the consumerization of America once they've cashed in on it? One of the cool things about Adbusters was that they refused to play the corporate game. As an Adbusters reader, I can't say I'm thoroughly pissed off, just disappointed.
-- Jocelyn McCanles Hurst
The Black Spot sneaker will represent a new ideological elitism, a status symbol of purity of thought on global matters. If it's a good sneaker, one that lasts and can be used for activities other than flashing it at other folks of like mind, then it will have something to offer the masses who want middle-class icons on their feet that tell their neighbors they are moving up in the world.
I think one of the problems of consumerism is not just consuming more, but consuming "new." Items wear out, cannot be fixed, and, if they are to be replaced, version 1.2 must be purchased. Granted, clothes, highly fashionable ones, may be items purchased out of a pure desire to impress others, but durable clothes -- Levi's riveted jeans for example -- have a branding aura that cannot be diminished.
Give us goods that last, or ones we can repair for less than the cost of a new one, and you will begin to cut into frivolous consumption.
-- Peter D. Barry
To me the most telling phrase and perhaps the most chilling was when Lasn, speaking about Buy Nothing Day, said:
"But we never said it's bad to buy something, just bad to buy too much."
I can't think of a worse fate than having self-appointed committees telling us when we have bought too much. This has always been where the entire anti-globalization movement reveals its Luddite tendencies and loses the support of the wishy-washy middle.
As a consumer I don't want to support companies that leverage unfair labor practices to ensure lower prices, but I am even more resistant to the idea of people who wear secondhand crap telling me when I have enough clothes.
I was pleased to read later in the article that there is an understanding of the relative value of work that is related to the local economy. Perhaps if the movement were to evolve from the nanny scold who tells us all "no more" into a movement that actually is trying to work on improving labor rights and factory conditions in order to secure more Nike shoes for more people, they would become a credible force for change. Workers would be better off, companies would be focusing on manufacturing their products, consumers would get all the products they wanted, and activists would be able to point to real successes that have changed people's lives.
-- Anthony Johnson
I would applaud Adbusters if it sold a low-cost, black-spotted alternative to Nike footwear -- and sold it at cost.
I've long admired Adbusters for its important anti-branding, anti-consumerism messages, and I'd gladly pay $30 to $35 for no-name athletic shoes of decent quality.
Salon's article didn't clearly explain whether Kalle Lasn and his "nonprofit" organization plan to make money on the Black Spot shoes. But I find it hard to believe that they can't make a pair of sneakers for less than $65.
How disappointing it is to see Adbusters apparently sell out to the forces of fashion and greed which it purports to oppose.
-- Larry Miller