Monday, 3 January 2011

"No logo": the new big political movement?

Naomi Klein´s book No logo was published in 2000. I came across a number of references while preparing the posts Let´s get rid of the logo dictatorship and Logos size XXL. I read it now for the first time, in an edition that celebrates the 10th anniversary of the first publication. Naomi Klein´s four-year research gives another, larger, meaning to the expression “logo dictatorship”.

In the introduction, the author explains the objective of her research: “(…) a book that attempts to analyze and document the forces opposing corporate rule and to lay out the particular set of cultural and economic conditions that made the emergence of that opposition inevitable.” Klein believes that, as more people discover the secrets behind the brand hegemony in our society and our globalized world, their outrage will fuel the next big political movement. The analysis is made in the first three parts of the book (No space; No choice; No jobs), followed by the fourth (No logo), where the author presents evidence (smaller and bigger) that substantiates her theory on the creation of a big anticorporate movement.

The first part, No space, examines the surrender of culture and education to marketing. Marketeers gave total priority to branding, convinced that consumers don´t really believe there are differences between products; and that what they buy is the brand – and with it the promise of an idea, of an experience, of a lifestyle. In the 90s the brand became the star, it doesn´t sponsor culture, it is culture. Cities, neighborhoods, TV programmes, concerts, magazines, sports events become extensions of the brands that sponsor them. The same occurs in schools and universities (more specifically in the USA and Canada), where, in exchange for funding necessary for equipment and research, the brands become themselves producers of educational contents and they control the results of scientific investigation, preventing them from being published should they be unfavourable to them. In the meantime, under pressure to optimize their financial resources in order to sell in a globalized world, the brands promote and sell the idea of diversity. Thus, creating a unique campaign for the whole world, they force consumers to speak one language and absorb one culture (that of the brand). This, claims Naomi Klein, is not “monoculture”, it´s “mono-multiculturalism”.

The second part, No choice, reports on how the promise of a vastly increased array of cultural choice was betrayed. The desire to expand and control the market resulted in mergers, buyouts and synergies between brands, which are thus trying, and managing, to force out smaller and independent businesses. Naomi Klein is equally worried about the actions of corporate censorship, which determine not only what is going to be sold but also what is being produced (from song lyrics to the covers of magazines), while, in many cases, producers, distributors and retailers are owned by the same company (the author highlights the relationship of some of these companies with China). Klein also refers extensively to the trials related to copyright and trademark, an attempt to control artistic and cultural production when re-using and reconfiguring our shared cultural languages and references, mainly with regard to independent artists. Finally, she draws attention to the fact that we are gradually losing the space where non-brand options may exist, where we may cultivate debate and criticism. The public square is replaced by shopping malls, where the only tolerated language is that of marketing.

The third part, No jobs, examines the labour market trends that are creating increasingly tenuous relationships to employment for many workers. Naomi Klein travelled to the Philippines and entered a free-trade zone (established in a number of asian and latin-american countries), where she collected evidence on the exploration of thousands of workers who, hired by third parties and not directly by the brands, fabricate the products bought and sold by them. The author talks also about the exploration of employees in first world countries, where the brands still have to employ people at the selling points. The norm here is the part-time and very low salaries. Or even no salary at all. The brands claim to be employing young people, students, who are just passing through, gaining working experience. The truth is that these are more and more people with high qualifications who stay on for much longer, given the lack of better job opportunities. The result, says Naomi Klein, is resentment and total lack of loyalty towards the employer, especially within a young population, the brands´ main target-audience.


It is the assault on the three social pillars of employment, civic liberties and civic space that, according to Naomi Klein, is giving rise to the anticorporate activism. In the last part of her book, No logo, the author presents various case studies that substantiate her theory of the creation of a political movement. Here she talks about culture jamming, the practice of parodying ads and hijacking billboards in order to alter their messages (she highlights the work of Cuban-american artist Jorge Rodriguez de Gerada, of Canadian performer Jubal Brown, as well as the movement Billboard Liberation Front); she also talks about the movement Reclaim the Streets, that organizes anticorporate events in public spaces; but she mostly talks about “local foreign policy” initiatives – the most effective, in her opinion -, where she presents actions carried out by municipal councils, schools, universities, churches, unions, other non-profit institutions and groups of individuals, aiming to pressure the big brands into taking on a more ethical and socially responsible conduct and proving it.

Along the more than 450 pages we read about the philosophy, activity and tactics of brands that are part of our everyday life and of which we are regular or occasional clients: Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald´s, Shell, BP, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Esprit, Levi Strauss, GAP, IBM, Microsoft... We feel revolted and at the same time smashed and powerless. I remember having the same feeling of revolt and powerlessness after watching two films related to this issue presented in Lisbon in 2010: Enjoy Poverty, by Dutch filmmaker Renzo Martens, presented during the
alkantara festival; and Black Gold, by Nick and Marc Francis, presented by the programme Next Future. The rhetoric and images of the first dominated my conscious and subconscious for weeks. After watching the second, I was unable to enter a Starbucks again; and I´ve been trying to avoid Nestlé products (although this seems to be an almost impossible mission). Even though, I keep asking myself what difference can a person make when refusing to consume the products of such and such brand. The feeling of powerlessness stays with us. At the time I saw Black Gold I got an answer when discovering on the internet the initiative Fair Trade Towns. Now I got another in Naomi Klein´s book, in the words of Owens Saro-Wiwa, brother of writer and Nobel Prize candidate Ken Saro-Wiwa (one of the leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People – a people threatened by the activity of Shell in Nigeria – who was executed by the nigerian government). Owens Saro-Wiwa said: “It is important not to make people feel powerless. After all, they need to fill their cars with something. If we tell them all companies are guilty, they will feel they can do nothing. What we are trying to really do, now that we have this evidence against this one company, is to let people have the feeling that they can at least have the moral force make one company change.”

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