Monday, July 21, 2014
Précis on Excerpts From Naomi Klein’s No Logo
What drew me to Klein’s writing was, originally, the requirement that we read it for this course. Joking aside, I enjoyed reading “Taking on the Brand Bullies” and “Patriarchy Gets Funky” from Naomi Klein’s No Logo not only because of their simplicity (for they are MUCH more straightforward and easy to understand than the other readings we have had, as you can already tell from the chapter titles), but also their relative lack of argumentative bias. While she does make an argument, the wealth of objective and subjective information she uses (through statistical data as well as interviews with key leaders in the brand industry) adds a measure of scientificity (ooh I do already love that word) to her argument, which I feel the others have lacked.
As the two chapters we read contain two very different, but interconnected, arguments and narratives, we will deal with them separately. First, we will discuss “Taking on the Brand Bullies”. In this section, Klein analyzes the history of the brand, and how “in ways both insidious and overt, this corporate obsession with brand identity is waging a war on public and individual space”. After she presents the thesis of her piece, Klein then goes on to define some important terms. She says that while advertising and brands are often confused with one another, they have different meanings. The advertisement is only one tool used by the corporation to create its brand, which Klein defines as the “core meaning of the modern corporation”. A brand defines the corporation as if it were a person, with a personality and an influence on the culture and life of individuals which goes further than the products which they produce. In essence, corporations become something they are not, they become fetishized and anthropomorphised. However, before Klein engages in her argument proper, she explains the history of the brand.
From the 1850s on, the mass-marketing campaign has been an integral part of our world. Coming out of the necessity to promote newly invented goods into peoples’ lives, the advertising industry at first demonstrated how a certain product would make ones life better. As the age of mechanical reproducibility developed, this idea changed. Now, hundreds of companies can make generally the same product. To counter this, large corporations have had to shift away from catering to the rational, life-promoting thoughts of consumers and, instead, companies create identities that surround the products and indeed the atmosphere of the company itself which appeal to individuals’ baser, emotional instincts. Large, established companies’ products are given value with a falsely imbued historicity; the brand provides the thought that purchasing a product which is the same as the one next to it somehow brings the consumer closer to the values of the company brand. With this also comes less of an emphasis on the actual production of the product, and more on the development of an ethereal “soul” of a corporation, even further alienating workers (who are now usually halfway around the world) on a production line from the end product.
Like many of our authors, Klein’s work both adheres to and departs from the traditional Marxian paradigm. On the one hand, Klein argues against the commodity price form, in which companies mark up products not based on the actual usefulness or cost of creating the product, but instead on the supposed lifestyle which a product or group of products bestows upon the customer. At the same time, Klein moves away from the notion that production, or occupation, defines an individual. Instead, she looks to the same idea which Guy Debord employs in his Society of the Spectacle; Debord and Klein say that what one has makes that individual, and, most importantly the appearance (read, brand) of the commodities which the individual consumes. While Marx claimed that putting a price on a product drained it of its historicity, the opposite is now true, where products are imbued with a telling of the history of that product, often devoid of the mention of any price until the moment of purchase.
The second part of our reading was “Patriarchy Gets Funky”. This section focuses on how the brand industry described above embraced liberal youth movements in order to market to that growing sector of the market. It was described best by music writer Arm Powers, who said of the Girl Power movement that “what’s springing up is not a revolution but a mall”. Klein concludes that while, in some ways, this leveraging of diversity made concrete steps forward, it is usually a fake, imagined kind of diversity which only goes so far as to make sure that the corporation makes a brand image which generates profit using “carnival-esque imagery”. In the end, Klein concludes that this tactic only serves to perpetuate the harmful capitalism which breeds the negative media images that youths were fighting against in the first place. Just as Oscar Wilde found in The Soul of Man Under Socialism that “the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it”, Klein discovers that the fight against capitalism ended up saving it.
While I wasn’t alive to experience the 90s, which is the era Klein examines, I know that advertising today does not have the qualities she describes. While some companies do indeed use a few marketing stunts or campaigns to show that company's devotion to gay rights or some other relevant social movement, most methods of promoting a company brand seem rather conservative. I still see unfair representation of minorities (or no minority representation at all) and sexualized images of women plastered everywhere. So even if there was this watershed of supposed company brand awareness in the 1990s, it has since been discarded as companies realize that they don’t necessarily need to engage with the younger generation.