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If we all hate consumerism, why can't we stop shopping? This is one of the curious ironies that Canadian philosophers Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter ponder in their provocative book about the counterculture and progressive politics. In The Rebel Sell, they take issue with the misconceptions of the anti-globalization movement and others who purport to resist a corporate-dominated world, like No Logo author Naomi Klein. Heath, a philosopher at the University of Toronto, and Potter, a researcher at the University of Montreal, bemoan the fact that the "counterculture" has replaced socialism as the basis of radical political thought since the '60s. They suggest that anti-globalization activists and writers like Klein claim to oppose consumerism and corporate malfeasance while offering solutions that merely reinforce capitalism.
Heath and Potter take the reader on an absorbing tour of Western thought and the philosophical origins of the countercultural movement in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. The authors suggest that these three figures gave rise to the notion that society dupes people into conformity and the belief that, as in the The Matrix movies, we have only to free our minds to start a revolution. Heath and Potter say this non-conformist ideal--which is the basis of today's countercultural movement--is actually at the heart of modern consumerism, too. Capitalism sells people "cool" stuff like SUVs and hip clothes as a way for us to stand out and be different from the crowd. In this way, the counterculture, which advocates such consumeristic "rebellion" as the key to revolution, merely helps capitalism renew itself. At times, The Rebel Sell engages in petty personal attacks against Klein and other anti-corporate activists and, in some cases, misrepresents their viewpoints, but the book is still fascinating, well-argued, and an important contribution to progressive thought. --Alex Roslin
JOSEPH HEATH is Associate Professor of Philosophy at theUniversity of Toronto. He is the author of two books: The Efficient Societyanational bestseller and a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2001and CommunicativeAction and Rational Choice. He lives in Toronto.
insight into how we are all caught up in consumerismPublished 3 months ago by Ms. Leona K. Cochrane
In The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can't Be Jammed, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter challenge using countercultural or subversive behaviour to establish social justice. Read morePublished on Jan. 16 2012 by A. J. Dickinson
I have only read the first few chapters so far.
I don't know if it's the quality of the arguments or the writing, but I have found it difficult to absorb the style of... Read more
Heath and Potter propose an important project here: explaining the failure of counter-cultural politics to effect meaningful change. Read morePublished on April 27 2007 by Kent Richard Lewis
The biggest problem I have with Rebel Sell is that I think the basic thesis is right, but I was terribly disappointed with the argument, or lack thereof, backing it up. Read morePublished on July 17 2006 by Cory
If one claims that the counterculture can't possibly succeed because the counterculture does not exist, how can one also argue that it has failed? Read morePublished on May 19 2006 by Patrick L Henderson
This book reads like a rant from a couple of guys who lost an argument at a cocktail party. It has a kind of "So there!" flavour. Read morePublished on Nov. 16 2005 by Winefride
Kurt Cobain did it. This book demonstrates that counterculture has now chosen to negate itself. It would help if it aimed to overcome itself. Read morePublished on Aug. 10 2005 by jennifer messier