Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter are (I think) men of the left, and they write from within the Canadian cultural milieu, which can be its own kind of crazy, but they are both quite sensible and have written a fascinating analysis of the ethos of countercultural consumption. Their book is called Nation of Rebels, and it is this month’s book-of-the-month choice.
The thesis of this book is that in our culture “rebellion against the Man” is actually “the Man.” Put another way, the counterculture is the mainstream. Having it your way is not the lonely path of the Bohemian outcast but is rather an old ad campaign for Burger King, in which the rakehell customer in question asks the guy in the paper hat to hold the pickle.
The scenester always marches to a different drummer, and hence it is a marvel that we all manage to keep in step. That is the thesis, and they provide heaps and mounds of illustrations. This is an astonishing and eye-opening book. Critiques of mass culture are sold in mass-marketed paperbacks.
“It’s not that the system ‘co-opted’ their dissent, it’s that they were never really dissenting” (p. 158).
“Rebellion is not a threat to the system, it is the system” (p. 175).
In previous years, I have learned quite a bit along these lines from Thomas Franks (Commodify Your Dissent, The Conquest of Cool), and he was an influence behind this book, and on this topic it is all to the good. Highly recommended.