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Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can't Be Jammed Paperback – Jul 7 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Canada (July 7 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006394914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006394914
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13.2 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #10,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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Early on the morning of April 8, 1994, the electrician arrived to start work on a new security system being installed at an upscale home overlooking Lake Washington, just north of Seattle. Read the first page
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By pmusaraj on Nov. 2 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Rebel Sell is the most thought-provoking and enjoyable critique of contemporary social and political myths that I have read in a long while. It is carefully argued and extremely engaging. It's a ruthless critique of many icons of contemporary thought, from Klein to Foucault, from Marx to Freud as well as a fascinating interpretation of North-American culture, from American Beauty to Kurt Cobain, from alternative culture to environmentalists. And this is the exact reason why those involved social critique and political activism should read this.
The central argument of the Rebel Sell is simple: since the 50s and 60s, the problem with left-wing politics is that it misdiagnoses the source of problems in society. While the critique of mass society identifies the source of problems in the inhuman and deeply repressive nature of "the system", Heath and Potter argue that 1) there is no such thing as the system and 2) most problems in our society are "collective action problems". The book is excellent at demonstrating the deeply individualistic and entrepreneurial nature of counter-culture and at showing how it feeds, and not rejects, the 'system'.
I was personally fascinated by the role of 'collective action problems' and the left's failure to address them. For instance, the authors argue that the source of most violence in society is rational. Following Freud, the left has ignored this fact, and focused on emotions and instincts. Similarly, the authors argue that consumerism is very much a product of defensive competition in the struggle to maintain status in society. Hence, SUVs, gun ownership, tuition fees, etc. are 'collective action problems', the solution to which does not rest in individual choices, but rather in collective decision-making.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jim Preston on Dec 12 2004
Format: Hardcover
Nietzsche once said there is nothing worse for your position than to have someone argue for it poorly. As a progressive, I felt that way for a long time about the counter-culture wing of the leftist movement and their strident railing against "the omnivorous System." Fortunately, this book nicely defangs one of the most wrong-headed and unhelpful political movements in the last 50 years.
Rebel Sell starts by destroying the sociological and moral psychological underpinnings of the counterculter movement which are generally housed upon Marx and Freud respectively. The authors point out (and Chris W seems to have missed this point), that both Marx and Freud have been largely chased out of the world of philosophers and theorists, even though the ghosts of these thinkers still haunt the minds of the amateur intellectuals that make up the ranks of the counterculture.
After that, the rest of the book is a lively and often very amusing discussion of the silliness of the counterculture ideology (thank you, India!) combined with a complete debunking of most of its claims, and a damning critique of any real substantive solutions to legitimate problems. For liberals such as myself who are tired of being embarrassed by the pseudo-rebels in Nike shoes, this book is a welcome relief.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. Lemieux on Dec 12 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book does say that there is a system. It says that the system exists to regulate the rules and realities around us. It argues that instead of wasting time by fighting the establishment through countercultural behaviour, we should make the effort to reform and improve the structures that exist.
It goes on to further show how counterculture behaviour cannot only arrest development, but that its antisocial ideas and actions can harm us. Instead of behaving like adolescents, pointing fingers at the corporations that only sell us what we demand, we should be building a better society through real political process. This distinguishes thoughts and actions between dissent and deviance.
Perhaps you're like me, having already read "No Logo" & "Fast Food Nation". You were a punk in high school and are still seeking ways to "smash the system". Instead of trying to destroy 2000 years of culture, as Atari Teenage Riot would have us do, we should follow the conclusions that the authors reach. This book actually offers sound advice, rather than simply complain. Their ideas are practical and realistic.
Anyone interested in evolutionary psychology will feel at home with terms like "competitive consumption". The authors recognize that our quest for status affects those around us. What they object to is when your aspirations begin to harm society, when it is threatened by zero-sum games. Your attempts at distinguishing yourself from the masses could not only be pointless, but damaging. See their sections on the prisoner's dilemma, where they expand on that borrowed concept.
The authors rarely self-identify during the book, and I found this single voice to facilitate the reading experience. It was a wise decision. Overall, the writing is excellent, especially considering the critical nature of the topic. They also include the word "smacktard", which should be added to your everyday conversation.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Kent Richard Lewis on April 27 2007
Format: Hardcover
Heath and Potter propose an important project here: explaining the failure of counter-cultural politics to effect meaningful change. The "Left" certainly has problems, hypocrites, contradictions, paradoxes, delusions and dead-ends that deserve to be exposed, understood and transcended.

As worthy as this project may be, Heath and Potter botch it in oh so many ways. Let's begin with their selective and misrepresentative summaries of everything from philosophers to pop culture. Off the top of my head, I found glaring errors in their use of Freud, Marx, Marcuse, game theory and of course the counter cultural movement itself (Freud never considered "instinct" synonymous with "freedom," for example; quite the opposite actually). In their description of Fight Club, they simply made up scenes that did not actually take place in the film or novel. Their account of Bowling for Columbine was inaccurate to the point of willful deceit. They make huge claims for sweeping cutlural trends, but their "proof" is often limited to anecdote, and individual works of fiction and cinema. The have a maddening habit of making claims with no documentation at all. Yet all of their conclusions are presented with an absolute authority of one who speaks final and absolute "truth."

The biggest problem is their use of straw-man arguments. They often point quite legitimate flaws in the counter-cultural movements, but then use these flaws, no matter how small or ad hominem, as a way of disqualifying an entire, complex movement. Dismissing the anti-globalization movement based on Naomi Klein's alleged need for social status is not only a logical fallacy, but it deflects debate from the real issues she raises, such as unfair trade policies, outsourcing, child labour and environmental destruction.
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