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Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture [Paperback]

Joseph Heath , Andrew Potter
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 8.91 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Product details

  • Paperback: 358 pages
  • Publisher: Non Basic Stock Line; First U.S. Edition, Later Printing edition (1 Jan 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006074586X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060745868
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.5 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 387,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

In this wide-ranging and perceptive work of cultural criticism, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter shatter the most important myth that dominates much of radical political, economic, and cultural thinking. The idea of a counterculture -- a world outside of the consumer-dominated world that encompasses us -- pervades everything from the antiglobalization movement to feminism and environmentalism. And the idea that mocking or simply hoping the "system" will collapse, the authors argue, is not only counterproductive but has helped to create the very consumer society radicals oppose. In a lively blend of pop culture, history, and philosophical analysis, Heath and Potter offer a startlingly clear picture of what a concern for social justice might look like without the confusion of the counterculture obsession with being different.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Same book... 21 May 2008
As far as I can tell, this is just the US release of "The Rebel Sell", so I wouldn't go for the two for one deal.

Nonetheless, it might be worth getting one of them. Here's a simple test.

Picture Naomi Klein in your mind. Do you now feel:

a) Unmitigated fury at the horrible lies this woman is telling about the wonders of the market system
b) All warm and fuzzy inside
c) Sympathetic to her goals, but suspicious that she's basically a bit of a poser

If the answer is c), go on ahead and buy yourself a copy. Odds are you'll find it refreshing, insightful and sometimes even funny.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Mr. G. Carroll VINE VOICE
Heath and Potter set out to square the circle on how consumerism and counterculture aren't mutually exclusive - how the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s become the yuppies of the 1980s. They put together a skillful argument in the early part of the book that counterculture is an extension of the bohemian artistic view of the world that has been around for centuries. In terms of class: the traditonal landed gentry whose riches are in heirlooms have been supplanted by the merchant classes and now with the knowledge economy there has been a rise of a creative class.

Heath and Potter take things further when they seek to disprove the fallacies that they see the counterculture has been built on. Many of their points are valid, however where it falls down is in its criticism is in its opposition to the 'appropriate technology' aspect of counterculture. This is where the Homebrew Computer Club came from, the community norms for successful web 2.0 pioneers like Flickr, the EFF, open web technologies and open source software. Their whole argument is that libertarian values on the web were responsible for the rise of spam. To me this was like saying that the laser printer and the laminating machine are responsible for underage drinking.

The laser printer and the laminating machine can be used to make fake IDs, but they can also be used to make notices in community centres and legitimate IDs that help utility company personnel reassure vulnerable consumers that they are the real deal.

Nation of Rebels is a facinating well-researched read: its authors Heath and Potter are masters in the art of rhetoric, however I wouldn't take everything at face value in the book.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Witty 21 Jan 2005
By California reader - Published on Amazon.com
A brilliant, witty critique of the counterculture and how it has diverted our energies from pursuing effective political solutions to our social problems and redirected them into silly, self-indulgent, self-defeating gestures of pseudo-rebellion. Very similar to what Thomas Frank and his crew of wits at The Baffler are saying, only more incisive and analytical. Heath and Potter are masters of lucid exposition (for example, I've never read a more elegant description of the Prisoner's Dilemma than theirs) who use Thorstein Veblen's economic theories to pull the whole lid off the notion of commodified "dissent".

My only quarrel with the book is that 1) it is light on prescription (the authors content themselves with brief, general calls for more regulation to control the worst excesses of corporate behavior); and 2) it doesn't always address the strongest arguments against corporate hegemony (the authors are content to argue that Walmart isn't so bad, because it offers low prices and friendly service, but they don't mention anything about its underhanded business practices or its devastating effect on local economies).

Nevertheless, this is the most persuasive and thoroughgoing critique I've yet read on the sad fraud that is the counterculture.
108 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book, but within limits 9 Jan 2005
By Gigi - Published on Amazon.com
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A good book to consider in tandem with this one is James Masterson's "The Search for the Real Self." Masterson's thesis is that those with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders have never really had support for the development of real, authentic, core selves. It's but a small leap from there to Christopher Lasch's "The Culture of Narcissism." The idea is that many, and perhaps most, Americans today have that pervasive sense of emptiness, a lack of self.

One of the authors of "Nation of Rebels" admits to having been a punk rocker rebel in a prior phase of life. He then goes on to say that that phase was, he realized upon reflection, an example of the false rebellion that the book talks about. But then, disturbingly, it becomes apparent as one reads the book, that Heath and Potter assume the same lack of self in all members of todays "nation of rebels." In other words, all consumption is based upon false, status, pseudo-rebellious tendencies.

The problem here is that the authors assume that no one buys a BMW in order to have an exciting driving experience, but only to impress the neighbors. They assume that no one buys a home theater in order to simply enjoy movies, but only to have the latest "thing." They would assume that no 20 year old would quit college simply because it wasn't right for him or her, and that the only conceivable reason would be a false sense of rebellion against parents, society, or whatnot.

In other words, they truly seem to believe what they posit early in the book: that real, authentic selves do not exist. In anyone. Talk about psychological projection outward from their own inner circumstances on a doozy of a scale! To that extent, as brilliant as this book is, I suspect that the authors are playing at being deeper, more serious social activists, and are playing at being Canadian philosophy professors, in the same exact way that one of them once played at being a rebel.

The second limitation of the book is the assumption that the authors make that "progressive" politics are a given. If you disagree with that premise, as conservatives, moderates, and many of the countercultural-type liberals that Heath and Potter are attacking in this book would surely do, then the authors have nothing for you. The book collapses into a battle between the authors as Ralph Nader-like diligent old-style liberals, and the standard liberal of the Clinton or Kerry variety. As such, the true audience for this book becomes, in all likelihood, the conservative reader-as-voyeur, as such standard liberal icons as Marcuse, Ellul, Mumford, Laing, Baudrillard, Foucault, and on and on are cleaned and gutted with profound gusto.

I sense this is an important book, and is a bomb thrown into a crowded room. I'm not sure what the results are, or what they will be further down the road. I look forward to how other readers respond.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good on the left and right 29 Dec 2004
By Mike E. Wright - Published on Amazon.com
Brilliant critique of counterculture ideology and how it actually feeds, strengthens, and most importantly, lies at the heart of capitalism rather than subverts it. The two philosophy professors use theories from Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class and Peirre Bordeau's notion of aesthetic value and taste as well as citing a variety of contemporary media examples such as Fight Club, American Beauty, and Naomi Klein's NO Logo. Their main argument is that the values of counterculture that were and still are seen as subversive to the evils of capitalism and that see capitalism as evil in itself are really the cause of so many of the evils in the market system. By automatically seeing anything mainstream as coercive, conformist, and just for the "masses," anti-consumerism is nothing more than a reworking of anti-mass society. Thus counter culture is nothing more than anti-mass society, where sub-cultures continually emerge and get taken into the mainstream, only to be "thrown away" by those who cannot stand to like anything many other people like. New genre's and "groundbreaking" work is continually occuring as this counterculture ideology drives this prisoner's dilemma in a race to the bottom. Wealthy capitalist nations reach a stage where basic, necessary goods are provided and what becomes important is positional goods that provide status. The problem with positional goods, of which status is one (based upon different criteria, e.g. the city you live in, sartorial tastes, restaruants, employment, etc) is that they are a zero sum game. Food can be produced to feed everyone, but what gives one thing status, or cool, proportionally makes something else, not cool. The fact that one restaurant is hot makes another one not, precisely because people are seeking diferentiation. And for a moment they have it, whether it be new music or cars, its confers a status of cool upon the consumer because they have "gotten it" whereas others are just conforming with the masses. They use music as a perfect example of non-mainstream conferring status upon the listener. Hal Niedzviecki searches for the ultimate "unco-optable" music, which he finds in Braino, with "staccato blasts that unnerve the scattered chattering poseurs and scare the unprepared," and later he admits it to be just "awkward, painful noise."

This critique seems so far left it is right. It attacked many of the ideas I have become to unknowingly embrace just because they were leftist and a bit rebellious. The counterculture values make it easy to seem rebellious to the wrongs of the system while at the same time having fun. But this book takes a very practical approach, and while I disagree with some of their arguments about the ills of advertising, I agree with their take on countercultre theory. While they do address the pharmaceautical industry and some of its problems, I don't think they consider the impact advertising has had on the drugs they sell. I think the enormous rise in the sale of pharma's drugs coinciding with their ability to advertise and their gigantic increase in advertising is somewhat detrimental to their disregard of the affects of advertising. I have not read Naomi Klein's No Logo, but this book seems to do a very balanced job of discrediting it. They make Klein out to be a pretentious liberal concerned with status and a much more fervent driver of competitive consumption than most of the people she may blame for being "branded."

The book also offers some more practical solutions to problems they argue are market failures that can be corrected. They offer many reforms that many reject because they just do not seem rebellious enough and are only reforms, whereas counterculture is concerned with subversiveness, and many times, dissent for the sake of dissent,which Heath and Potter call deviance. Some of the reforms include eliminating advertising as a deductable tax expense (or cut the deduction back), reducing the deductions for entertainment, and pollution credits and penalties. The broader idea is to internalize many of the costs that are now externalized. For example, many negative externalities such as pollution, for which everyone pays, are not incurred by the consumer of a product. This is a market failure and can thus be corrected by government regulation.

This book is by far the best of 2004 (and a latecomer it is) and should be read by those on the left seeking a critique of many of their views and on the right because the traditional dichotomy on these types of issues is just not relevant anymore. There is more room for agreement than people admit.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars bold and important, but imperfect 13 Jan 2005
By Randall K. Cohn - Published on Amazon.com
The critical reader should note, of course, after recovering from the unbalancing effects of having all of her liberal sacred cows slaughtered and turned to jerky, that the authors of this insightful book are -- call to arms for the progressive movement to roll up its sleeves and focus on legislative and policy solutions rather than vague and self-defeating cultural dissent aside -- professors of philosophy, who have written an effective work of cultural criticism, but they fail (nor does it seem to really be their intention) to offer much in the way of specific practical solutions themselves.

this is, perhaps, largely because they understand that if they wrote a policy-heavy manual about how to make the practical (and, as they acknowledge, largely undramatic) reforms to the market to better reflect principles of social justice and sustainability, their major intended audience -- all those who are self-identified as members of the 'counterculture' -- would almost surely never bother to pick up the book.

the intention is noble and important. and i believe the authors understand the paradox -- they must speak to all of those ex-punks and vaguely political hipsters, all the artists and musicians and hippies and bicyclists, all the zinesters and skaters and anarchists and transformationists, and acknowledge the feeling that has made all of those people commit so much energy towards staking their "individualist" ground against the homogonizing forces of stooge governments and the marketing machine -- and, before offering legislation in earnest, convince them to come back to the fold and find it in themselves to see the social contract not as a restraint on their individual spirits, but as the mechanism by which the practical progress we are all wishing for might actually be achieved.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mandatory reading for all considering themselves part of the counterculture 1 Mar 2006
By Justin Bean - Published on Amazon.com
Nation of Rebels is one of those books that left me thinking 'wow, everything I know is wrong'. If you can excuse the hyperbole, what I mean is that this book, which is clearly written and pleasurable to read despite tackling complex economic and philosophical issues (from Marx and Bourdieu to Freud and Hobbes), severely challlenged the foundation upon which I had built my understanding of the intersection of politics, culture, globalization, and capitalism. One must have an open mind coming into this book, and it helps to know the arguments made by the present countercultural elite (such as Naomi Klein in No Logo), although the authors do an excellent job of setting up their position by explaining the opposition.

The authors make excellent use of popular culture, from American Beauty and Fight Club to Star Trek, to explain the implications of their argument. What is the authors' argument? In simplest terms, the authors argue that what we consider 'counterculture' is little more than a harmful illusion that has detracted from worthwhile political activism in the name of individualistic, utopian-fueled ballyhoo. Since the sixties, especially in the UNited States, rebels, activists, and leftists have opted out of direct political activism because, according to the countercultural critique, the entire 'system' is corrupt and therefore activism cannot take place within it, but must take place without it. The authors explain beautifully why this thought process of so damaging to making actual societal change, and that the efforts of the left to make the world a better place (which is what we claim as our mission, right?) has ultimately been misdirected.

This is a highly entertaining and thought provoking book written by two philosophy professors, and for anyone interested in current events surrounding political activism, radicalism, and anticonsumerism, this book is mandatory reading. If you have read Klein's No Logo, you MUST read this book if you want to consider yourself the least bit informed on what is ultimately an issue much more complicated than most anticonsumerists and 'culture jammers' would like us to believe.
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