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The Rebel Sell

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  1,267 ratings  ·  151 reviews
In this wide–ranging and perceptive work of cultural criticism, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter shatter the central myth of radical political, economic and cultural thinking. The idea of a counterculture – that is, a world outside of the consumer dominated one that encompasses us – pervades everything from the anti–globalisation movement to feminism and environmentalism. An ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published 2006 by Capstone (first published January 1st 2004)
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Jan 15, 2008 Cate rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone currently or formerly involved in "counterculture" movements.
From the time I was about 15 I began wondering why the fashion styles of various counterculture movements seemed to be absorbed by the mainstream (okay, so really I was pissed that the same kid that made fun of me two years before for wearing this or that was now wearing this or that item, only now it was considered "cool"). I later came to the conclusion that most people involved in the counterculture do--the styles had been co-opted by corporate marketing schemes.

Turns out I, along with the r
Joseph Heath is a Canadian academic whose writing I have consistently enjoyed; Andrew Potter, who has subsequently moved to Macleans where he has a column and blogs regularly, by the requirement to churn out a steady stream of short pieces has inevitably wound up being a bit more hit-and-miss: however, IMO their partnership in jointly penning The Rebel Sell worked out splendidly, and I hope that the future might yet contain another book or two that they will approach in the same authorial manner ...more
Feb 01, 2008 Lance rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sheep and people who buy Che T-shirts
Yes, the mainstream co-ops counterculture, and so then we can argue that counter culture fuels mainstream consumption. Witness today's hip-hop culture. So ultimately the authors argument seems to be that of the Borg, "resistance is futile, you will be assimilated." It's hopeless, so just give into it. But not so fast. I remain unconvinced.

I don't buy organic because it is over-priced and sets me apart from the crowd. I buy it because it is the right thing to do, and the more that do it, the bett
Awhile ago I saw a postcard on a wall at Loyola for an upcoming lecture about the evils of marketing. Someone had written on the card, "this postcard is marketing." I laughed so hard when I saw that- I've always been frustrated by people who rail against consumer culture but are obviously participating in it themselves. So when this book started out with a story about Adbusters putting out a shoe called "Blackspot" that was supposed to be an anti-brand answer to Nike, Adidas, etc., with the iron ...more
As an extension of Thomas Frank's thesis in The Conquest of Cool, I think that Nation of Rebels has its merits. What I found most interesting and compelling--the incorporation of theorizing about collective action, Veblen's unfortunately neglected argument about conspicuous consumption and the like--actually seemed quite sobering upon reading the book. I knew what the authors were arguing yet their presentation of the ideas, perhaps because of their "one-sided" character (as some complainers out ...more
The authors make some very valid points and ably debunk some of the more fallacious thinking of the left, but the further we read into this book, the more uncomfortable we become. The authors have clearly abandoned their punk roots--and any credibility they may have had--by constructing numerous false arguments based on specious premises. Their logic is flawless for the most part, but errors in data will always lead to the false conclusion that society's problems are merely technical and can thu ...more
Despite agreeing with nearly all of the main points in this book, "Rebel Sell" was a lousy read. Heath and Potter's arguments are poor and often backed up with little more than assertions, such that even when the reader can see that they are correct about something, one is annoyed by their intellectual dishonesty and flimsy rhetoric. For example, they discuss Malcolm Gladwell's analysis of the concept of “cool”, but unfortunately this theory doesn't mesh with the point they are trying to make. D ...more
it's always fun to read something which combines pop culture and games theory logic, and this book does take both these and tries to use them as weapons against any radical or revolutionary left politics, arguing instead for something like social democracy. The authors make many good points, but they also either misunderstand or dishonestly misrepresent a lot of the cultural politics they are mocking.

The authors advocate social change through community organizing, coalitions, scientific research and legislative action. This book is not a guide, though, it is a long rambling rant against countercultural protest.

"...we argue that decades of countercultural rebellion have failed to change anything because the theory of society on which the countercultural idea rests is false...The culture cannot be jammed because there is no such thing as 'the culture' or 'the system'... countercultural rebelli
This was a very readable book that made some interesting points, but it was a bit sloppy in places.

Heath and Potter make fairly good arguments that non-conformist countercultures reinforce, rather than break down, consumer capitalism and often encourage antisocial behaviours that undermine the causes the participants seek to support.

They definitely make some mistakes, though, and contradict themselves at times. They seem to believe, for example, that the only reason anyone would buy bread that c
General Summary

"The Rebel Sell" is a book written by left-wing authors who are very much 'progressive change through legislation' advocates, and who are very much against the entire concept of the counterculture. The authors argue that there is no 'system' or vast international conspiracy, and the idea of counterculture is one which acts contrary to the true needs of society. In effect, they posit that counterculture rebels thwart progressive change by shifting focus in the wrong direction. Mo
Travis Ammons
This book is truly an eye-opener. A perceptive work of modern day cultural criticism that rips apart the myths that dominate (with false truths you are quick to learn) much of the radical political, economical, and cultural ways of thinking.

The very idea of counterculture...the ideology of the "rebel"...the concept of the artist outside of the mainstream of the gobblydegook that the Targets and the Walmarts of the country are spitting out of their factory assembly lines...all of what these ideas
Sebenarnya buku ini lumayan bermasalah. Di beberapa tempat, analisisnya kurang nyaman, dan pembaca dilemparkan kepada kegilaan psikedelik antara poin-poin, gosip, rumor, dan analisis. Hendaknya pembaca berhati-hati karena tak semua poin buku ini dapat diambil langsung secara face value, misalnya penggambaran ulang konsepsi Keynesian untuk mengkritik Marx (apakah benar bahwa seluruh pendapatan dapat diterjemahkan menjadi demand? Rasanya kok meragukan.)

Positifnya buku ini adalah bahwa ia punya pot
I did a project on the sociology of activism and someone recommended this to me. There's a lot of critique in here from an ex-hippie/activist type. They make great points about how paradoxically capitalism is powered by its enemy- the counterculture. Most of what came out as an alternative against the now the mainstream, from music to fashion to even the attitudes. The failure of it all is because the counter-culture has "co-opted" with consumer culture and "sold out" and the onl ...more
Diah Ayu
ah, seandainya saja aku sudah baca No Logo-nya Naomi Klein dan Belanja Sampai Mati-nya Alissa Quart sebelum baca buku ini, huhuhu. gara-gara dari dulu ditunda melulu, sekarang gak tau lagi deh gimana caranya aku bisa berhadapan dengan kedua buku itu tanpa terpengaruh sama analisisnya Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter ini, yang emang beberapa kali secara khusus menyerang Klein dan Quart. yup, spesifik dg menyebut nama dan mengutip pernyataan mereka.

daripada disebut analisis ekonomi, mungkin buku i
This book actually provoked thoughts. I would recommended to anyone agonising about their authenticity.

"The idea of a counterculture is ultimately based on a mistake. At best, countercultural rebellion is a pseudo-rebellion: a set of dramatic gestures devoid of any progressive political or economic consequences and that detract from the urgent task of building a more just society. In other words, it is rebellion that provides entertainment for the rebels, and nothing much else. At worst, counter
Such an eye-opening book about how culture is like an arms race... everyone wants to be "different" or "ahead of the game" when it comes to style, new ideas, but it always backfires because eventually the Cadillac becomes the Lexus becomes the BMW becomes the Hummer and on and on. The point of this book is to show that counterculture and consumer culture eventually become one and the same. The message I got from it was just to do, be, buy, and wear what I enjoy; also not to give a hoot about wha ...more
I started taking notes on what I disagreed in this book (including WTF Paglia reference) but I realized that if I read any 2 pages I was going to have a fine argument mounted against the book.

The problem is really that the two authors are arguing a straw man. Yes culture evolves, of course it does! But really - this book seemed to be a long argument against their former punk selves/friends rather than a real nuanced dialog about where capitalism ends, and society begins. As a registered socialis
This book was incredibly frustrating. While a discussion on the merits of what the others call "the counter culture" is worthwhile, and probably needed, this book fails in that regard. The book is poorly argued, poorly researched, and suffused with petty anger. One gets the feeling that the punk kids thought they were square in college, and they've been bitter ever since. Which is a shame, because (very) occasionally, they make a good point. I would like to see this done by someone a bit more le ...more
This book pretty much shattered my preconceptions on a lot of topics, such as grunge music, the international travel industry, and the commercialization of anti-establishment ideals. Although not all arguments are perfect (for example, arguments against rap music basically idealize Eminem while disparaging black artists) and some chapters gloss over more complicated social systems (as is the case when they explain the property of coolness) but the general message is one that society at large nee ...more
Rik Leaf
I'm an artistic activist and honestly...this book is nothing at all like I thought it would be when I picked it up.
As an active individual involved in making the world a better place, this book brought into focus my #1 frustration with being a Left Leaning Activist.
It's one of those books that when you read it you want to debate it with friends and enemies. You want to slam the author's perspective for being so damn true and f#%ing inconvenient.
This book changed the way I express my political a
Ian Pollock
The basic argument of the book is, in essence, that anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist & individualistic attitudes are a major driver of capitalism. Various "counterculture" movements in music, art, politics are almost all driven by competitive status-seeking.

It is best left to Heath to convince you of this. Valuable insight porn. Probably overstates the point somewhat.
An excellent examination of the crowd and counter-cultural psychology. Charles Mackay, author of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds wrote: "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." p. 25
Anatoly v01
Чем связаны хиппи, панки, зеленые активисты и фильм "Красота по американски"? Общей идеологией контркультуры, вот чем. Эти движения никогда не приводят к тем целям, которые заявляют, а только к очередному витку потребительской моды. На свободные рубашки, на заколки, на биологические продукты.

Автор также отвергает концепцию "злые корпорации зомбируют людей чтобы те покупали то что им не нужно, а переключается на идею конкурентного потребления людей, как способа выделиться над толпой. И это желани
I stopped reading this when they defended the World Trade Organization. They make a lot of claims that either they don't support or the works the reference don't support. The first half of the book was great. The second half left me screaming.
I very much enjoyed the overall message of the book- that the ideas of counterculture and anti-consumerism are false, pointless, and classist. I also liked the majority of examples that Heath and Potter chose to back up their ideas, from the 50s to now, of failed "rebels" and their agendas.

The idea of co-optation is that when the "counterculture" comes up with something new, the mass media will steal it try to sell it. The truth is that if there is something that people are willing to buy, there
Rasmus Toft-petersen
This is an awesome book, and a great analysis of why the left - especially in the states - have such difficulties formulating a clear political project.

The two philosophers attack the notion that mass society has made us all cogs in the machine, and that no less than a total transformation of society can liberate us - leaving incremental change pointless. The idea is of course more complicated than this and the authors describe it exhaustively but entertainingly. The authors track the historica
At first, it resembled a bit 'old left' vs. 'new left' debate, but then it became clear that it was another exaggerated attack by a political philosopher who is well-informed with 'rational choice theory', but not so with cultural and social history.

It is always good to read something that challenges established anti-establishment conventions; but this book is not one of them.

Leaving aside the biggest failure, that he makes a caricature of counter-culture movements (handling of a sociological i
Modern Girl
I expected a contemporary description of counterculture and a critic of contemporary culture. What I got was so much more. The book opens with a few chapters that outline grand philosophies and movements which have shaped the 20th Century. Then it provides a historical overview on the HISTORY of counterculture. It's not chronological, but each chapter circles around a certain theme. The authors debunk and criticize things as they go, and by the end of the book, they provide some final blows to t ...more
Dimitris Hall
This one is a toughy. Few other times have I been this undecided on a book before reviewing it.

While reading The Rebel Sell, I was nodding in agreement with many of the arguments Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter posed, such as the proposition that mass consumerism is unavoidable because it is recognition, distinction and status that people find when they consume, and while on the whole if theoretically no-one bought anything all would be well and good, everyone has to keep consuming just because e
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Joseph Heath (born 1967) is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. He also teaches at the School of Public Policy and Governance. He received his bachelor of arts from McGill University, where his teachers included Charles Taylor, and his master of arts and doctor of philosophy degrees are from Northwestern University, where he studied under Thomas A. McCarthy and Jürgen Habermas. ...more
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“Decades of countercultural rebellion have failed to change anything because the theory of society on which the countercultural idea rests is false. We do not live in the Matrix, nor do we live in the spectacle. The world we live in is in fact much more prosaic. It consists of billions of human beings, each pursuing more or less plausible conceptions of the good, trying to cooperate with one another, and doing so with varying degrees of success. There is no single, overarching system that integrates it all. The culture cannot be jammed because there is no such thing as "the culture" or "the system". There is only a hodge-podge of social institutions, most tentatively thrown together, which distribute the benefits and burdens of social cooperation in ways that sometimes we recognize to be just, but that are usually manifestly inequitable. In a world of this type, countercultural rebellion is not just unhelpful, it is positively counterproductive. Not only does it distract energy and effort away from the sort of initiatives that lead to concrete improvements in people's lives, but it encourages wholesale contempt for such incremental changes.” 0 likes
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