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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The conventionality of being 'alternative'...
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...
Published on 1 May 2005 by David Bartram

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, despite its flaws
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...
Published on 14 July 2010 by J. Goddard


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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The conventionality of being 'alternative'..., 1 May 2005
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David Bartram (Reading, UK) - See all my reviews
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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
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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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, despite its flaws, 14 July 2010
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J. Goddard "Jim Goddard" (Shipley) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture (Paperback)
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. They make many good points but don't back them up by discussing the evidence for them. They move on too swiftly.

Secondly, the authors set up innumerable straw men as representatives of counter-cultural thinking (over two pages spent deconstructing the plots of 'American Beauty' and 'Pleasantville'? And since when did the Wachowski brothers deserve serious treatment as representatives of counter-cultural thinking? The authors will no doubt counter that these films were popular but that's no valid excuse for not engaging more seriously, instead, with the arguments of counter-cultural theorists rather than the ephemera of its many products). They thus make their task as easy as possible. Actually tackling the ideas of Adorno, Debord, Marcuse and other authors they cite but treat superficially would have made for a less racy book but one more worthy of respect.

I admired their gusto but it too often slipped over into sweeping generalisations. They get carried away with their own self-confidence. The idea that all drunk people become anti-social is particularly laughable. One is inclined to suggest they change their drinking buddies. Their brief use of primatology is superficial and deeply misleading, reflecting a simple lack of depth in their research.

Also, while it is fun and partly justified to have a pop at Naomi Klein they could surely have done so without the snide, juvenile tone adopted in relation to both her and Alanis Morrisette (a straw woman, in this case). Maybe it all gets a bit more personal when you are having a go at fellow Canadians. All this is linked to an inability to see that there might also be something important in the arguments of the more thoughtful critics of modern society. Even Klein's argument, despite their valid criticisms, does have a number of good and strong points, but you wouldn't know it from reading this book. No neutral observer of modern society should be as complacent as these two authors. Their failure to adequately address the influence of the modern mass media, for example, is indicative of the sorts of complacency about such things that rational choice thinking tends to induce in the more shallow of its adherents. If the authors are not in that category - and I suspect they are not, from some brief elements of what they say - then they have done a poor job of demonstrating it here.

All this is a shame. The book leads up to a central argument, finally addressed more fully in the conclusion, about the importance of rational choice politics in tackling market failure. They make a strong case - not just here but at various points throughout the book - for serious, reformist political engagement rather than utopian grandstanding. This is a worthwhile thesis and deserved much more depth. The authors were onto something but didn't do their argument justice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lively, thought-provoking analysis, 2 Sep 2013
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture (Paperback)
The two authors take on a range of counter-cultural tropes that finds expression in many coffeehouse critiques of capitalism. It is not because the authors wish to defend capitalism per se. They are concerned with bad analysis of the problem because a bad analysis is a poor foundation for political action.

It's important to realize that this book makes more than just the point that radical chic becomes a brand - think Che Guevara T-shirts and the like. This is true enough. Capitalism seeks a marketing opportunity as bees to pollen. Guy Fawkes masks are de rigueur at any protest: sure enough Time Warner owns the rights to the image and get that little bit richer when someone buys a mask on the way to a protest. And someone somewhere is making a tidy little profit churning them out. But that is not all the authors have to say.

First and foremost, some rhetorical clutter is cleared away. Some of the left at least seems to glamourise criminality and violence (the example that comes to my mind is the reaction among some commentators to the 2011 riots in England). There is a difference between dissent and deviance. If we are all deviants, refused to get a job, trash things, raise hell etc. then how is the rubbish going to be cleared and potholes fixed? And, needless to say, who would produce the stuff rioters like to loot.

Then it gets down to the nitty-gritty, the bad analysis of what drives capitalism. The counter-culture would have it that we are bunch of zombie consumers, forced to buy things we don't want by the insidious power of advertising.

There is no way of course no way such a contention can be falsified and for this reason - if nothing else - it has a superficial plausibility. But this is crass theory of human motivation to say the least. As plausible, and surely easier to illustrate with evidence taken from experience, are well-known psychological phenomena that we can all appreciate. Much capitalist excess is a type of 'arms race' - that once someone else has something that appears to be of benefit to them, then one perceives oneself at a disadvantage if one does not have it. The craze for electronic gadgets demonstrates this. There is no doubt that mobile phones are very useful things to have. Advertisers have not brainwashed us into thinking this. They confer very real benefits - it is most useful to be able to ring to tell someone that one is late for an appointment, is it not? Inevitably, improvements are made to technology, and again we feel we are missing out if we don't upgrade to keep up.

How do you break such cycles? The authors give the example of school uniforms - a form of arms control agreement designed to break the cycle of high school students' competitive sartorial display, the pursuit of which in extreme circumstances could assault and murder. Imposing school uniforms imposed a standard to which all adhered. While this solution does not eliminate competitive pressure, it does at least curb the worst excesses of status competition. Whether arms control agreements are a model for curbing capitalist excess more generally is a moot point. Are we for example going to ban technological innovations in communication technology?

What the authors are trying to break out from is a conceptual framework the left likes to understand the world. Much of the left thinks that selfish, competitive drives are socialized into us (which of course begs the questions as to why we are so receptive to these pressures) but this is to misconceive the issue. The example of communications technology demonstrates that this view is false. What looks like selfish behaviour is often an entirely rational response to the logic of a given situation. A fire in a crowded theatre will have people trampling on each other to get out. No one thinks themselves selfish in doing so - fear and desperation are the operative motives. It's not pretty but it is understandable. It is futile to moralise about this and browbeat people to form orderly queues for the exit. Build better fire exits and make escape routes easier instead.

The authors are not defenders of the established order. They wish to make a distinction between between analysis which is mere moralizing and analysis based on moral realism. The former is futile, too informed by considerations of sin, and likely to degenerate into misanthropy. The latter offers us some hope because reform is possible, despite human limitations. Any successful reform needs to work with the grain of human nature. One example that springs to mind is the introduction of speed cameras and penalty fines for speeding in France. This simple measure cut that country's death rate on the roads dramatically. Of course, one would have preferred for drivers to voluntarily and prudently observe speed limits but no amount of exhortation would have made a difference. A system that detected and penalized speeders did. Drivers thought that everyone else but them were the problem - until caught on camera. We can add other, similar examples. This sort of piecemeal, pragmatic approach does not easily lend itself to high-minded slogans but it does have the merit of being far more likely to produce results and make the world a better place. That I think is the point of this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best demolition jobs on the counterculture, 9 Aug 2007
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This review is from: The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast-paced and thought-provoking, 9 Jun 2007
By 
Arepaman (Bogota, Colombia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture (Paperback)
An excellent book. You don't need to have a particular interest in counterculture to enjoy the authors' romp through Marx, Freud, The Beatles, Fight Club etc. Some of the targets are a bit too easy, and some of the more complex questions are avoided, but it's a great starting point for conversation.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very insightful for marketers., 13 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture (Paperback)
Very insightful societal and psychological perspectives for marketers. It explains why rebellion works, which is exactly what many brands have done or trying to do.
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6 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Aaargh! Be a rebel, buy this book... and be a consumer, 26 July 2005
Interesting thesis, concerning how the counterculture has become co-opted into consumerism and in fact drives novelty in tastes and new ideas. In readable style, far less hectoring than their compatriot Naomi Klein, they survey a number of different areas where this is the case. I especially enjoyed the chapter 'I hate myself and want to buy', and not just because of the title.
However, none of this is new. The Frankfurt School, and Adorno and Horkheimer in particular, argued after the Second World War about the co-optation of popular taste in order to churn out more cultural 'product', and this is essentially the same argument, brushed up for the 21st century. Their style gets repetitive, and some of the tangents are unnecessary.
Also, quite disturbingly, a version of this book exists (with a different cover and different price) for the Business/ Management sector - and this should really ring alarm bells. While it's OK to come up with a thesis on the co-optation of the counter-culture and have it read by disaffected students of sociology and cultural studies, for example, it's quite another thing for it to be read by Ad Execs and Marketing (wo)Men in search of the next Big Idea... Rather than doing this in a seditious or tongue-in-cheek way, this just smacks of a cynical ploy, playing one side against the other in order to sell more books. And, of course, this is the central contradiction they are speaking of: if you buy this book you are not actually spreading free thought and awareness, you're actually participating in a consumer society. D'oh.
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The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture
The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture by Andrew Potter (Paperback - 17 Feb 2006)
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