November 30, 2003

On Adbusters - [grid::brand]

Adbusters is a lifestyle magazine for consumerist anorexics and bulimics. Everyone in the western world enjoys shopping wether they like to admit it or not. Even those who hate to shop do buck eighties when it come to their product. Maybe its high heeled shoes, maybe its obscure Japanese comics, X-mas ornaments or hemp jewelry.

But even in the consumerist paradise of America, people sometimes feel a bit bloated. And Adbusters is where they go to purge. Feeling guilty about buying that handwoven toilet paper in a custom carved wooden box? Or maybe the fact that it only took 94 minutes to get bored of your new cellphone/vacuum cleaner has got you down? Adbusters sells the perfect remedy, anti-consumption in nice bite sized, well designed chunks.

Most readers don't even need to really purge, they just need the dream of purging. A fantasy of anti-consumption to occupy brainspace next to the dreams of having a body like Giselle or becoming the next Tiger Woods with that $5,000 golf club. "You too can save the world" screams the Adbusters salesman. Its a good fantasy, worth maybe $6 or whatever it is they charge.

And then tomorrow you can wake up, toss Adbusters on top of Wallpaper in the pile and read Look Look for a while.

Now don't get me wrong, Adbusters sometimes does great work. But for the most part their grip on reality is just south of Mr Jackson's. Issue after issue reads like a deep denial of the fact that the circulation of goods and information is necessary to the functioning of the world. There is a constant inability to distinguish the very criticizable manipulations of corporations from the unfortunate but acceptable side effects of living in a world of six billion interconnected people. Advertising a new cereal just isn't the same as Nestle pushing defective baby formula in the name of profit, yes?

If the closest you've gotten to growing your own food is leaving yogurt in the fridge overnight, how do you expect me to take seriously your anticorporate ranting? I've yet to see Adbusters and its crowd come remotely close to explaining how to feed and clothe 6 billion without corporations. Well I guess the marxists of the lot have a theory, but its not one I'm buying...

That's not to say everything in Adbuster's is wrong, from time to time they hit targets right on the money. But is a little rigor too much to ask for?

[please also note that tobias c. van Veen has his own lengthy critique of the mag up here, go check it out, its good.]

Posted by Abe at November 30, 2003 09:49 PM


that would be Mr Peter Jackson? The as yet unrewarded KING of fantasy!

I remember the last time that I thumbed through an issue of Adbusters. One page featured a picture of a slightly gaunt young man holding a small dog in his arms, the words "homeless" superimposed over the pair. Turn the page: the same image of the boy with a dog, only this time the (likely trust-fund supported) folks at Adbusters had changed the superimposed word. To "home free." That's okay, magazine. I don't need your romantic rhetoric. It's not cool to live outside in a good portion of the world.

come on...this is some fence-sitting self-hatred...

The good portion of the world does not live like Americans or Europeans. Plus, there is no way they are getting rich off that mag or come from trust-fund backgrounds...who the fuck cares anyway? would you care if Dennis publishing (Maxim) was owned by a wacko? I think it is...

anyways, adbusters is ONE magazine in a newsstand filled with horrible crap. what do you expect from a periodical? your expecting too much, and your probably too smart for the audience they are trying to connect with. niches exist. they've done a good job staying alive in a visually driven, thoroughly uncritical magazine market, and no, i don't subscribe or read every issue. the Epiphany issue after 9/11 was stunning though.

i've shared the magazine with people that share very different perspectives and lifestyles than me (yes, i dont hang out with my clones) and it has provoked some interesting arguments, and i know its left it's mark on people. that's all i really expect.

questions that don't have simple answers are still worth asking. let people that are scared by difficult shit fuck off, and anyone that's left can try to build.

lets attack Z magazine for being ugly? it is. how about harpers? too wordy? why is there a crossword? vogue? not enough ads or ass?

what's wrong with you, abe? adbusters is a magazine, not the bible, or a map to change the world. but as far as magazine go, it has an angle on things that few others have, and it picks nice little details that are very powerful conversation starters.

and it provides a good illustration of the nauseating uneasiness i feel when i get myself to a mall or in front of american TV. i disagree with many of their self righteous positions but i do not see what you can achieve by criticizing them.

Well said, Abe. The people actually buying Adbusters are, by definitions, consumers. There's at least a small bit of irony there, since _consumer_ is a word often vilified in both word and art in each issue.

When I say "in art," I'm referring to the interpretational meanderings that seem to fill most of the issues. There was a point in time where Adbusters had more words, but it's been quite a while. To me, at one point Adbusters was a voice against the disconnect between brand and quality. It was there to rail against corporate misdealings.

Now, it seems like the focus is to hate the brand. The reasoning is secondary to the emotion. I'm already waking up every day with the sinking feeling that everything is wrong. I'd like to see some steps towards positive solutions, which means working with people, not burning them in effigy.

The turn in recent years towards "moral" causes makes me a little queasy. Criticizing a lifestyle is fine. Avoiding a corporation for endorsing something you dislike? Also fine. But the demonization of fast food companies is ridiculous, and makes Adbusters look like the wacky obese people who are suing the restaurants that "made them fat."

I agree that criticism runs hollow when you don't present solutions. however, the issue of branding in ultra-consumerist america (and beyond) is a tough one in the sense that we don't fully understand the extent of its integration into our own psyche. For myself, this reality is scary, most because i know it unconsciously affects my disposition, my thought process, my decisions. Adbusters often elicits a breath-catching reaction because it reminds me of the illusion (working towards fulfillment through consumption) that i'm often swept up in and that i feel in my heart to be unhealthy... for myself and the world. adbusters isn't a solution, but i am thankful for its brand of poetic dissent in our vast, consumerist landscape.

i try to follow adbusters and ect. forms of resistance against commodity cultue and i partly agree with your article. but the thing i like to comment on is your link to blacspotsneaker. maybe i didn't read it thoroughly but i don't see any great revolution in this campaign and in my opinion it resambles things that T. Frank has summed up in his Conquest of cool. We could speak of general revolution like 50s and 60s but in advertising concepts it's nothing new. it sells disgust with commodities and it offers a cure for that absolute weakness - another commodity. The concept of ads is tha same as ways VW sold their cars in 60s in opposition to the big 3three. It replaces one feeling of happines with another feeling of happiness. And it is so cool. And this kind of visual language has broader consequences... it continues the magic circle of selling irony. no logo is still a logo (and i can see people proudllz walking the streets with new naomi klein book in their hands) is this a postmodern, or high modernism, are we living in the world of meanings, not in the world of function... function was lost long ago, even more. it never existed...symbols did.

does Adbusters cause you to think and ponder new possibilities? does it sometimes offer feasible solutions and links to others who might agree?

then, my guess is that the folks at the mag have succeeded.

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I have done my homework, and believe me, there is no easy balance to be miraculously found between the supersaturated corporate culture we live in and the vaguely anarchist and always angry world of which Kalle Lasn fantasizes. However, when an effort such as that of Adbusters is made to incorporate emotion into our corporate and political lives, I think it merits applause. What are our politics, what are our worldviews based on if not our ethics and morals -- and how can we claim to have strong morals if we never get emotional about them? I always feel slightly nauseated by Adbusters, because I believe this emotionalism is taken into dangerously manipulative territory, but please consider it a jumping-off point. Not a final word.