Adbusters: Important and Timely or Childish and Pretentious?

The anitcorporate movement is one of the last great hopes of the left, in more or less any place on Earth you want to name. And I do sincerely believe that the issues raised by this particular corner of the political world are vitally important. In case you’re wondering what I’m on about, go and watch The Corporation, or read No Logo, or some Chomsky. It’ s been done before, I’m not going to retread it here.

Since having access to an outlet that actually sells Adbusters (Cambridge WHSmiths) I’ve been buying it. And sure, its political heart is more or less in the right place. But the trouble is, I get the impression half the people involved in its production are more in love with a romantic vision of an underground, shadow-culture driven movement than they are with the actual beliefs.

Now I have no problems with a magazine liking to present itself. When you can find all sorts of commentary on these lines on the internet, a magazine has to make a pleasant experience for readers. That’s not my issue. My problem is its tendency to describe movements in extremely nebulous language, to publish articles like its Yomango article (which two letters this month complain about, thank God) carefully avoiding the word ‘stealing’, to put in pointless pages every now and then whose only purpose seems to be to make angsty teenagers feel like part of something special.

Go on their website’s message boards, and you find little but fairly infantile conversations about the problems we face, from people that the right very effectively paint as communists. Are these the best that this movement can attract? Am I missing something? Some very intelligent people are involved in the movement. They make a lot of very good, subtle and nuanced arguments. But beyond the few central texts to the whole thing, the followers of it seem to be, on the whole, a rag-tag bunch of sociopaths and people who simply don’t believe business has a place.

And my problem here is that for a fledgling movement, that would be fine. But this isn’t, any more. This is now an urgent problem; corporations are lobbying the US government to destroy the environment, some environmentalists are now saying we’re already past the point of no return, this stuff is urgent. Many related movements seem to be able to sort themselves out into meaningful, coherent campaigns: Make Poverty History, green groups, and so on. Why does this one, which actually has put its finger on the issue underlying most of the others we face today, not flourished to the same extent?

I tend to shy away from being too tinfoilist about these sorts of thing, but I am beginning to give some credence to the idea that the corporate media actually condition, in a subtle way, people to believe in the system. What Chomsky calls manufacturing consent. Because the people intelligent enough to see the importance of issues like this seem to like to believe in some mysterious controversy over the issue. As far as I can tell, nobody has made a good case for the idea that corporations should be the primary motivator in our lives, certainly never put it to the vote (at least not told people that’s what it was; US elections are now a choice between two ‘yesses’ to the corporate world, pretty much). But people who are intelligent like to think that the world all kind of works the way it does for some reason – they find the idea reassuring – and so they almost ascribe a counter-argument to it all out of good faith that there must be one.

The movement is stuck in a rut, because the only people it is attracting, by and large, are the ones who really want to be dropouts or rebels anyway, the ones attracted to it precisely because it is radical and in the minority. It needs to get itself into the mainstream. And for that to happen, its house organ, Adbusters, needs to grow up a bit. It needs the people who do actually vote to get the message. More of its activists need to get into traditional politics, if only because that guarantees you some coverage by the media. We need to get the message out there carried by the intelligent spokespeople who understand the realities of the movement, not just the immature studenty types who want to stick it to the man.

And we need to do this soon.

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