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The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture [Hardcover]

J. Heath , Andrew Potter
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Mar 2005
An explosive rejection of the myth of the counterculture in the most provocative book since No Logo.

In this wide–ranging and perceptive work of cultural criticism, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter shatter the central myth of radical political, economic and cultural thinking. The idea of a counterculture – that is, a world outside of the consumer dominated one that encompasses us – pervades everything from the anti–globalisation movement to feminism and environmentalism. And the idea that mocking the system, or trying to ‘jam’ it so it will collapse, they argue, is not only counterproductive but has helped to create the very consumer society that rad icals 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.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Capstone (4 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841126543
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841126548
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 833,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"...a brave book... presented with great briskness and confidence..." (The Guardian, June 4 2005)

“…a compelling read, proposing ways for us serfs to combat the brandlords…” (Focus, August 2005)

"…a lively read, with enough humour to keep the more theoretical stretches of its argument interesting." (Economist.com, September 2006)

"best surprise of the year" (The Irish Times, December 2006)

“…a brave book…presented with great briskness and confidence…” (The Guardian, June 4th 2005)

“…a compelling read, proposing ways for us serfs to combat the brandlords…” (Focus, August 2005)

"…a lively read, with enough humour to keep the more theoretical stretches of its argument interesting." (Economist.com, September 2006) 

"best surprise of the year" (The Irish Times, December 2006)

From the Inside Flap

‘COUNTERCULTURE HAS ALMOST COMPLETELY REPLACED SOCIALISM AS THE BASIS OF RADICAL POLITICAL THOUGHT’

With the incredible popularity of Michael Moore’s books and movies, and the continuing success of anti-consumer critiques like ADBUSTERS magazine and Naomi Klein’s NO LOGO, it is hard to ignore the growing tide of resistance to the corporate-dominated world. But do these vocal opponents of the status quo offer us a real political alternative?

In this wide-ranging and perceptive work of cultural criticism, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter shatter the central myth of radical political, economic and cultural thinking. The idea of a counterculture – that is, a world outside of the consumer dominated one that encompasses us – pervades everything from the anti-globalisation movement to feminism and environmentalism. And the idea that mocking the system, or trying to ‘jam’ it so it will collapse, they argue, is not only counterproductive but has helped to create the very consumer society that 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.

ON REBELLION: ‘rebellion is one of the most powerful sources of distinction in the modern world. As a result, people are willing to pay good money for a piece of it, just as they are willing to pay for access to any other form of social status.’

ON THE WORKPLACE: ‘What people yearn for these days is no longer an old-fashioned ‘status’ job, like being a Doctor. The ‘cool job’ has become the holy grail of the modern economy. Corporate America has been tuned in to this for a long time. A visitor from the ‘50s would not recognise the modern no-collar workplace, with its casual dress codes and flexible working hours, designed to reflect the ebb and flow of creative ideas. The whole thing is like a hippie commune under professional management.’

ON THE NATURE OF COOL: ‘It is best to think of cool as the central status hierarchy in contemporary urban society. And like traditional forms of status such as class, cool is an intrinsically positional good. Just as not everyone can be upper class and not everyone can have good taste, not everyone can be cool.’


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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The conventionality of being 'alternative'... 1 May 2005
Format:Hardcover
This is a brilliant book. For those of us who fancy ourselves "alternative" - but primarily because we imagine we are too smart to get caught in conventional thinking - reading this book is a bit of a humbling experience. The idea that the counterculture is a marketing tool is not exactly original - but Heath and Potter extend that sort of critique in a multitude of directions: complementary medicine, exotic tourism, and a number of dubious pseudo-leftist critiques of 'mass society.'
There are a couple of weak points: I think they are naive about the impact and operations of the WTO, in particular. But on the whole it is extremely insightful. Very enjoyable in particular for the repeated skewering of the smug Naomi Klein...
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue 25 Nov 2005
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just when you think the posties are going to take over the planet, this book makes a compelling case for a return to real politics. I disagree with the reviewer who regards this as a rehashed version of the idea of the 'co-optation' of the cool in the production of mass-culture. Despite the title, I did not understand this book to be arguing that the counter-cultural movement has been "co-opted" by consumerism. Rather, the counter-cultural movement was always the vanguard of consumerism, it was its most perfect manifestation. "Co-option" is the term that people like Naomi Klein use to differentiate her own consumption patterns from the vulgar masses, whereas these guys are arguing that 'co-optation' is really the a keyword for those who are engaged in competitive consumption.
Anyway, I found the political message a refreshing one, and I think, and well worth reading. True enough, it is kind of written in the pop-style of No Logo, but that is perfectly consitent with their own arguments.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, despite its flaws 14 July 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this book disappointing and admirable in almost equal measure.

First the good points. The topic itself is an important one and is addressed with enthusiasm and humour. Puncturing the self-delusions of middle-class lifestyle radicals is a healthy exercise and one that can be much enjoyed. The authors have a good feel for some of the main parameters of popular culture and the counter-cultural elements within it. This allows them to discuss the topic in a way that many young (and not so young) followers of popular culture and its counter-cultural elements will be able to engage with. They make many cogent points about the essential elitism and snobbery at the heart of many 'alternative' consumption patterns. They puncture a lot of balloons and many readers new to this subject will find themselves provoked, rewarded and enlightened in, one hopes, helpful ways. I certainly was and I already know a lot about some of the subjects covered.

Still, the book isn't without its flaws and some of them are major. Firstly, the authors' knowledge of social theory before WW2 is patchy. You would think that very few thinkers before then had tackled the tensions between mass culture and individual freedom. Rousseau is given an airing and the authors are right to locate the ideas of Thorstein Veblen at the heart of their critique. Veblen has much to say that is clearly relevant here. However, it was easy to spot the gaps. To take just one example, John Stuart Mill, in 'On Liberty', dealt with many of the issues addressed here quite differently and much more deeply (mind you, he would have challenged their easy complacency about social conformism). The authors could have profited from deeper thinking and reading. Indeed, this is reflected in the style of their analysis.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
There are lots of things to like about this book. One idea that particularly appealed to me was the understanding for the way the economy actually works and how it gives rise to collective action problems. The Left has the unfortunate habit of assuming that the existence of such problems implies a sinister conspiracy of capitalists. This in turn leads to a foolishly moralistic approach to politics, as opposed to more pragmatic approaches that might actually work.
The critique of the counterculture is spot on - the plain fact is that rebellion in itself has been valorised to a foolish extent in modern culture. Acting in a supposedly countercultural way is a cheap way for privileged people to think they are being rebels, when in fact they risk nothing and change nothing.
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