Jonathan's Reviews > The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism

The Conquest of Cool by Thomas Frank
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's review
Mar 19, 2010

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bookshelves: social-issues
Read from April 12 to May 09, 2010

When and how did advertising become so hip and snarky? How is it that so many symbols of 60s counterculture, which ostensibly eschewed consumerism, became co-opted and used as tools by the advertising industry? How did the ad agencies manage to take people's growing resentment of consumer society and harness it to create (!) an acceleration of consumption?

What surprised me most was learning that feelings of disillusionment and even disgust with "the mass society" were becoming quite widespread by the early 60s. The book cites a 1961 essay in Harper's, written by Howard Gossage (who was an ad man himself). You can read it here if you're a subscriber. The essay is amazingly critical of the notion of perpetually expanding consumption:

Both [political:] parties swore fealty to ever-expanding production; this presumably based on ever-expanding population and ever-expanding consumption. Not only are all of these terms plainly impossible, but unnerving as well. Put like that, our economy sounds like nothing so much as the granddaddy of all chain letters. All you can do is hope to get your name to the top of the list, or die, before something happens (like peace) and the whole thing collapses.

This book provides a good overview of the sea change in advertising tactics that took place between the late 50s and early 70s. I was kind of hoping for more merciless skewering of overconsumption and consumer culture, but Frank does a good job of staying (mostly) neutral. I am interested in checking out some of the other works he cites, such as Jackson Lears's books on the history of advertising in America.

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04/15/2010 page 37
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