14 Agustus 2012

682

A long time ago (around year 5 BT) in a campus far, far away (that was ITB), an anonymous pamphlet circulated around campus regarding The Rectorate's plan to demolish the two Student Center buildings and reallocate the site as business center. The student canteen that once served nasi goreng for IDR 900 would be turned into a McDonald's. I don't remember how the rumor was received campuswide. I was in Jangan sampai belajar ngeganggu maen circle. I even suspected some of my friends were responsible for the pamphlet, so obviously we were outraged. But I can't speak for other students. Later, the Student Centers were demolished to give ways to Campus Centers (which I still don't understand what they are, exactly), but there's no McDonald's (although there is an Apple Store). Why we were outraged by the McDonald's rumor (and that's all it was, a rumor deliberately spread exactly to make us outrage), while no event in campus except graduation was free from other multinational corporations sponsors including (mostly?) the likes of oil and pharmaceutical companies, is tickling my common sense.

Fair to say, I started reading No Logo with a sort of prejudice. I first learned about this book from Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath's Rebel Sell, and they don't exactly shed a positive light on it. But this book has become an anti-consumerism activists bible, widely referred, and I got the perfect ebook edition (perhaps straight from B*rders to TPB), so what the heck.

The book actually starts nicely. After takes a peek at sweatshops in Indonesia and Philippine, Klein brings us to the days before brands. Yes, they existed and she can even gives a date. April 2, 1993 was Marlboro Friday, according to Wikipedia "...when Philip Morris announced a 20% price cut to their Marlboro cigarettes to fight back against generic competitors, which were increasingly eating into their market share. As a result, Philip Morris's stock fell 26%, and the share value of other branded consumer product companies, including Coca-Cola and RJR Nabisco, fell as well." The 'generic competitors' refer to the growth of bargain-conscious shoppers that opted for supermarket private-label brands and IBM-clone PC's. Funnily enough, this slap on the (big brand) face actually gave ways to other brands that value their, well, brands over products. These brands: Nike, Apple, the Body Shop, Calvin Klein, Disney, Levi’s and Starbucks, emphasized on marketing, integrating their products in lifestyle, making them the shoes, the clothes and the coffee. People don't just wear Nike shoes. They wear them to reach for their dreams. They wear them because they believe they can fly. They... just do it.
So the real legacy of Marlboro Friday is that it simultaneously brought the two most significant developments in nineties marketing and consumerism into sharp focus: the deeply unhip big-box bargain stores that provide the essentials of life and monopolize a disproportionate share of the market (Wal-Mart et al.) and the extra-premium “attitude” brands that provide the essentials of lifestyle and monopolize ever-expanding stretches of cultural space (Nike et al.).
No Logo, p.49
In focusing on brand image, these brands don't have much energy for something as mundane as making products. Therefore they outsource their dirty works somewhere else, mostly developing countries. Thus born sweatshops-as-we-know-them.

That's the gist of Klein's argument, although she explained it much better and thorough. She could be quite engaging some times, although I hated that she kept saying "this will be explained better in chapter..."

I started writing this when I was just on 60% something of the book (I've finished now). It's because of the whole idea of culture jamming (which is heavily criticized by Heath and Potter in Rebel Sell), and one particular chapter titled Reclaim The Streets.
Reclaim the Streets (RTS) is a collective with a shared ideal of community ownership of public spaces. Participants characterize the collective as a resistance movement opposed to the dominance of corporate forces in globalization, and to the car as the dominant mode of transport.
(Wikipedia)
Bollocks.

She (they) actually believe that by partying in the streets they actually take stance against the big corporates. And when the parties turn into riots, of course it's because there are some crashers who don't share the ideas, and they are provoked, and the autorithies take offensive approach. Partying in the streets can't possibly be wrong. From Klein's own description, RTS is nothing like the time the labors blocked Cikampek toll road, demanding an IDR 300000 raise. They really just defend their right to party.

My other issue is the white man (or woman) burden feel across the book, despite (or especially because of) Klein's description on sweatshops suggesting she really built connection with those poor workers. I can't describe the problem exactly, but some things don't add up. Also when she describe how after her speech, students from a catholic school starts questioning why their uniforms have 'made in Indonesia' labels on them. Dude, if those Indonesian workers don't make your uniform, they probably won't have anything to eat. Yes, it's not that simple like Penn and Teller's take here. But, seriously...

Klein actually realized some weaknesses of her (anti)-brand approach. She wrote a nice chapter in which Nike, Shell and McDonalds are demonized when they are actually not that bad. At least not really doing something wrong at those particular cases she described. And I really enjoyed No Logo at Ten, an essay that open the tenth anniversary edition of this book.

Overall, I will recommend this book. I don't like some ideas in it. I don't particularly like the writing style. But I think it's still worth reading. And whether it will affect which shoes or shirt or mp3 player you buy, it's totally up to you.

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