November 28, 2011

The "branding"of #OWS or #OccupyWallStreet by #Adbusters

Or, I should more precisely say, the branding of #OccupyWallStreet.

The New York Times has a good story about Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn and the "branding" of Occupy Wall Street, including his invention of that Twitter hashtag (the spelled-out version) back in July.

It has other insights with which I agree:
He has also been accused of playing off the image-oriented culture that dominates advertising, instead of rejecting it outright. But Mr. Lasn said he believed in the power of media to subvert traditional power structures. 

“If you’re able to come up with a very sexy sounding hash tag like we did for Occupy Wall Street, and you come up with a very magical looking poster that seems to have something very profound about it, these devices push these memes, these meta memes, into the public imagination in a very powerful way,” he said.
I'd agree with the accusations. In fact, it's precisely that insight that parallels mine from 15 years ago.

I agree even more with the following insight:
Some critics contend that Mr. Lasn believes his work is more influential than it is. 

“There’s nothing wrong with making fun of ads, but it’s not revolutionary,” said Joseph Heath, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, who wrote critically of Adbusters in a 2004 book, “Nation of Rebels.” “I don’t think that has revolutionary political implications, whereas Adbusters thinks it has revolutionary implications.” 

“If you want to do politics,” Professor Heath added, “you have to do good old-fashioned politics.”
That said, the story goes on to note that Heath says Adbusters is now doing politics. Well, it did have its "one demand," of a Robin Hood tax of some sort. And a couple other pretty important ones, like repealing Glass-Steagall.

But, there's nothing "revolutionary" about any of that. Plenty of liberal to left-liberal types had been calling for that even before the 2008 collapse. People like me.

And, Lasn's talk about "memes" sounds like more postmodernism of some sort.
“This is what Adbusters has done for the past 20 years, to come up with these memes and to propagate them,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about: may the best memes win.”
The reality, as Apple commercials show, is that the "best" memes, in the branding world, often do NOT win. Whether Lasn is naive, self-delusional, or what, I'm not sure.

That said, I'm glad he says he doesn't want a leadership role, because the movement needs better leadership. And, per Mr. Heath, it needs leadership willing to engage in political nuts-and-bolts work.

And maybe Lasn recognizes that to claim leadership would be hypocritical given the anarchist nature of a fair amount of early .. er ... leaders of OWS. If not hypocritical, ironic to the point of petard-hoisting. Which is kind of where I think the "leaderless" part of Occupy's self-branding is at in general.

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