– Naomi Klein
No Logo was a book on the rise of marketing in relation to consolidating corporate power, covering a stretch of time throughout the 01990's. Its aims were to reveal the tactics of indirection used by “the brands” through the marketed power of “branding” to operate economically parasitic functions on both developing and developed world alike.
However pure its intentions were, I consider this to be a very dangerous book, and mostly for reasons that are quite beside itself. What Klein was attempting to research was fairly new until that point, and she was likely the first to offer what might have been a cogent (if incomplete) analysis on the methods of branding. So new it was, even the marketing agencies responsible for the management of the topmost brands of the market were themselves unaware of what exactly it was that they were doing. Klein was the first to offer a coherent write-up on the subject to anyone at all, including them, which turned out to be a huge favour. Thus began a long process of recuperation, in which this decidedly anti-business book would soon be heralded as the best pro-business thing to ever grace the marketing profession. Klein unwittingly handed her opponents the very club they used to beat her with. Worse, much of her own hard-done research on guerrilla resistance to corporate power would soon end up as a more powerful weapon in corporate hands. Culture jamming and anti-ads were quite the innovations for the time, but not many people these days still consider them to be an effective form of protest, ever since it was discovered that corporations could use them just as well as the activists. Anne Elizabeth Moore is likely the one figure from my library who wrote about exactly what happened in the wake of No Logo.
Klein's writing after this turned much darker. The Shock Doctrine was a hard turn into a much more pessimistic territory, and her politics shifted from the flavour-of-the-month liberal humanism into being a hardcore leftist and environmentalist. I welcome this and always have, but I can't help but see in her actions a kind of personal penance born of abject horror. A public sign of her own dreadful awareness that she set out to stand next to the greats such as Noam Chomsky, only to discover herself next to Edward Bernays. (Considering the circumstances, it is only natural that she would have any kind of reaction at all to her original book being so openly misused as it was; indeed, I would be more worried if she had no response to it whatsoever.)
This book and Manufacturing Consent were the two that laid the foundation of my formal education in communication studies. Paraded before nearly all the first-year undergrads, the two of them were considered the primary flagstones of the particular kind of anti-corporate leftism that my professors of old trade union stock lived and breathed. It wasn't a matter of being brainwashed by the academic hivemind, or even falsely flattering my professors' sensibilities for good marks; it was something that I openly accepted and welcomed. The perils and contradictory expectations forced upon my younger self by the ever-mysterious “mainstream media” was something I had already grown fairly suspicious of. I wasn't even thinking of it in terms of propagandist power politics as we might do today: my perspective on the matter was entirely juvenile. I thought the mass media promoted art and music that I thought was boring and only ever liked by people I knew whom I found personally antagonistic; and that the broadcast media of the 01990's till early aughts was also competitively hostile to video games, the early internet, and other things that I actually liked. I also had a sense about the mass media being a possible source for all the excess amounts of homophobia and toxic masculinity that I and others had to deal with in our lives, though I didn't quite have the exact words to express it at the time. It was just another impersonal and constant reminder that I was to be considered outside of what was “normal,” and frankly I got enough of that judgmental attitude from church as it was. When academic communication studies came along, it was like a breath of fresh air; that the mass media was not this immutable force which we were helpless before, but could instead be criticized and—when needed—replaced entirely. This book from Klein, in addition to Douglas Rushkoff's The Merchants of Cool, was a part of that. It took things commonplace and known to everyone having grown up in a society centred around the American broadcast media, and charged it with new, perhaps horrifying meaning.
Of course, I might have been too young at the time to really handle it all. I sometimes joke that in communication studies I was never really “learning new things” as one aught to do in university, but instead on the wild and intoxicating trip of having all my innermost secret suspicions confirmed to me in grand sequence. That constant intellectual intoxication would soon have terrible side effects. After I read No Logo, I went into a sort of frenzy. I developed a phobia of branding, and branding specifically. It was relatively harmless as far as irrational fears go, if only because of how abstract it was, but I began to rapidly devour any book on the subject I could find in hopes of... I can't remember what, exactly. Something about it or something in it. Something that was actually there or something that I merely imagined. Perhaps just something I wildly misunderstood? Whatever it was, it drove me to find what might have been a “cure” for branding. Something which would've rendered the mysterious and black magic at the heart of it entirely inert! ... at least, that's what I estimate it might have been. It's been so long ago that I've all but forgotten the specifics, along with the fear itself. Developing a healthy sense of anti-capitalist sentiment following the Great Recession of 02008 likely helped with that, or at least made other, more pressing concerns take its place.