Consumerism run amok

Lasn Kalle, the founder of Adbusters Magazine, mixes satire, comedy and social commentary into Culture Jam: How to Reduce America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge – and Why We Must.

Culture Jam, a collection of short essays dealing with a wide variety of topics like mood disorders, media virus, your corporate connection, the revolutionary impulse and redefining progress, is highly readable, in style, and, at times, even more immature.

Lasn Kalle, who “started a market research company … made a lot of money [and] traveled the world,” like many well-to-do reformers, has one key to his prose – arrogance. Kalle says, we see ourselves, “Culture Jammers,” as “the advance shock troops of the most significant social movement of the next twenty years.”

Though Culture Jam is humorous most of the issues talked about and the proposed resolutions of those issues are oversimplified, completely lacking any class analysis and organizational structure.

In the chapter called The Cult You’re In Kalle raises the issue of consumer culture. He says that “we wear uniforms - not white robes but, let’s say, Tommy Hilfiger jackets or Airwalk sneakers ... Cult members aren’t really citizens ... We’re not fathers and mothers and brothers. We’re consumers.”

While we do live in a consumer society, Kalle seems to forget that we also live in a capitalist society. He seems to have forgotten that most people, working class people are unable to afford many of the products he mentions. By having us point our fingers at each other, Kalle’s analysis seems to confuse who the real perpetrators of exploitation are.

There is a real problem with consumer culture. The problem is that a small group of people, let’s call them the capitalist class, consume everything while we, the working class, produce everything.

Kalle is way of the mark when he assumes that working class people have the luxuries he mentions. And he is even further off the mark when he suggests that we indulge in these luxuries to the point of alienation.

All serious documentation confirms that the working class is having a hard enough time just paying bills, keeping the heat on, feeding families and trying, hoping to plan for some kind of future.

Though Kalle does acknowledge that the corporate-controlled media and globalization are the main obstacles in the way of a more democratic society, he does very little to initiate a plan of action, aside from spontaneous individual acts of “billboard liberation” or buying time on CNN for “Buy Nothing Day” commercials.

Kalle does not mention the trade union movement as the number one bulwark against globalization. He does not mention the trade union movement at all.

It seems “the most significant social movement of the next twenty years” is to be brought about by the isolated acts of isolated individuals buying commercial time from the same corporate-controlled media that they denounce.

Many people may enjoy Culture Jam and Kalle’s writing style. He does have a sense of humor. I for one, would rather read the AFL-CIO journal America at Work or Philip Foner’s History of the Labor Movement in the United States. Both offer real analysis and real solutions for working class people.

– Tony Pecinovsky