November 30, 2003
It's Cool to Buy Nothing, But You Need to Do Something
Buy Nothing Day is undoubtedly more worthwhile than the Misgivings Day that precedes it. It's a clever angle, sure to get some press in the slow holiday news week. But like most "culture jamming", it strikes me as more clever than constructive.
I've never been a big fan of Kalle Lasn and his adbusters/culture jamming "movement". Their stunts are always witty and ironic, but they offer no depth of analysis, and no tangible goal besides encouraging distrust of advertising and mass media. That's cool as a means to an end. But as an end in itself it is flimsy. Culture jamming rightfully urges us to reject the ideas that drive our consumer culture, but it offers no ideas of its own in their place, so it is ultimately empty.
Basically it's like:
"Hey everybody, don't listen to their message, listen to our message!"
But that's really not a message at all, and with no constructive agenda of its own your movement is not a movement at all.
It is based entirely on reacting to the mainstream, and that means you'll never be able to destroy or replace the mainstream, because you have made yourself a slave to it. The most you'll ever be is an activist version of Weird Al Yankovic, a moon that reflects the pop-culture sun but produces no light of its own.
I call it Fast Food Activism. It is ready-made for young folks who want that immediate satisfaction of feeling cool and rebellious, getting a moment in the spotlight and sticking it to the man in a quick bold stroke. But real social movements rarely achieve their goals with quick bold strokes. They usually involve a lifetime of study and struggle, with precious few opportunities to look cool or bask in the spotlight. And most importantly, real social movements are usually driven by an actual cause of some sort. Without that, it's basically just masturbation.