In No Logo Toronto journalist Naomi Klein discusses at length a phenomenon that has been becoming increasingly dominant of the cultural scene over about the last ten years. This is the phenomenon of corporate branding, or, in other words, the transcendence of a brand or logo over the actual product which it adorns. In this way, the famous Nike swoosh, for example, becomes not merely just a logo on the sides of running shoes, but a symbol of Sport in general, and Nike itself slides away from the business of manufacturing running shoes devotes more and more of its resources to marketing the brand. Although this may not sound like a truly terrible thing, Klein shows that its rise has led to an unprecedented corporate intrusion into the rights of people the world over.
The first section of the book, "No Space" deals with the physical and cultural ubiquity of advertising in the modern world. The physical aspect of this omnipresence is obvious (ask anyone who's been in a public washroom lately), but the cultural side is interesting as well. Klein discusses how nearly every new cultural movement of the past decade or so, even those which were implicitly or explicitly anti-commercial, has been targeted and eventually co-opted by large brand names seeking to appear "cool." She also details the aggressive and intrusive tactics used by corporations to ferret out, or even create, the Next Big Fad. This section of the book also delves into the brands' intrusion into the realm of education, in the forms of specially designed curricula and sponsorship of athletic teams, and the issues of academic freedom that this intrusion raises.
The second section of No Logo is "No Choice" and in it Klein investigates the restrictions imposed on consumer choice by the expansion of the large brand names. From the very clear examples (a Starbucks or Chapters or Walmart putting small independent competition out of business and thus becoming the only choice in an area) to the less obvious (anti-tobacco protesters being removed from a tennis tournament), Klein shows how the growth of the brand-names has created corporations who no longer seek merely to reflect and profit off that which is "cool" but to dictate it as well.
I found the third section of the book, "No Jobs," to be in many ways the most disturbing, for it is in this section that the fairly horrific effects of the upsurge in branding on workers all over the world are explored. From the North American and European workers who have been laid off or forced to work at temporary, part-time jobs to the Third World workers labouring for a pittance in unsafe sweatshops, it is made painfully clear that the rise of the uber-brand (Klein's term, not mine) has had severe repercussions on middle- and lower-class people trying to make a living. Klein points to a perception that the manufacturing side of business is cumbersome and relatively unprofitable as the root cause of these problems. Her account of a visit to a sweatshop zone in Rosario, in the Philippines, is one of No Logo's most disturbing passages.
After the extremely gloomy outlook of the first three sections, it's a relief to finally arrive at the fourth, in which Klein deals with the rising tide of opposition to brand-based invasions of space, choice, and employment opportunities. And yes, it seems that there is hope after all. In my favourite chapter in the entire book, Klein looks at three specific cases in which large corporations, and by association the brands which they promote, got their wrists slapped. She examines Nike, which has been repeatedly beaten up over the sweatshop issue, Shell, who got into trouble over their presence in Nigeria and their suspected influence on the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, and lastly McDonald's, who made the disasterous decision to sue a couple of pamphleteers for libel and ended up being humiliated in the longest trial in British legal history.
That then, is a very brief summary of the contents and themes of No Logo, but it would take far far longer to actually do justice to the book. Simply put, this is an excellent book. Part of its attraction is that Klein never becomes "hysterical," for lack of a better word; the anger throughout the book is focused and rational. Nor is Klein blind to the inconsistencies of her own side in the fight; she is even hard on Adbusters magazine in one section. In short, No Logo is a book that I would recommend to anyone who has even the slightest interest in the issues of human rights and corporate control, and force upon anyone who doesn't!
Reviewed by Patrick Conway on January 5, 2001. Photograph from McSpotlight.
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