Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Gardner and the Grinch

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Dec 18, 2000

In his column comparing Naomi Klein's No Logo and the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Pity poor Cindy Lou Who, Edmonton Journal, December 18, 2000, p. A14), Dan Gardner reprises the tired old "left wingers should never be rich" argument.

Gardner's take on this tepid theme depends on his assertion that Klein, even while attacking corporate branding and consumerism in the media, herself gains in both brand recognition from the publication of her book, her speaking tour, and her column in the Globe and Mail.

Anti-consumerism, writes Gardner, is big business these days - withness the success of that anti-consumerist movie, The Grinch. But perhaps because Gardner is just one of those corporate shills Klein warns about in her book, Gardner seems unable to distinguish between the market mania surrounding a Universal Pictures release and the publication of an important political message.

Unlike The Grinch's advertising campaign, which suggests to little kids that love can be bought with Visa, Klein has not indulged in the dubious luxury of product placement and associative marketing. And Klein's speaking fee - all of four figures - pales in comparison to the multiples of millions harvested by Universal.

Gardner's misunderstanding is revealed through his depiction of Klein's book as "the product," her name as "the brand," and her message as "the image." Just as Klein warns in No Logo, Gardner's column is an example of the corporate culture's co-option of alternative culture.

Not content with depicting Klein as a poster child for the rich and enfranchised, Gardner then takes us on an imaginary journey through the realm of post-consumerist thought. Such political philosophy is anti-choice, writes Gardner, and practitioners "can't abide" the fact that people would buy certain products or create an identity around a corporate image.

Had Gardner actually read Klein's book (instead of merely skimming the bok jacket and some reviews), he would realize that Klein is concerned about corporate image and identity being promoted to the exclusion of any other alternatives. Whether the choice is New Coke or Coke Classic, the alternatives always lead to the same outcome, the debate itself stated in relentlessly consumerist terms.

Of course people are not programmed by advertising: nobody is suggesting that, least of all Klein. But neither are they offered a set of alternative images in the media and in the movies. Even Klein's anti-establishment opinions are wrapped, packaged and sold with the Globe's stable of standard corporate paps.

Klein's real sin, it seems, is that she is anti-wealth. Of course Klein can condemn consumerism: she is already rich herself. And, Gardner assures us, "only people with full bellies, central heating and lots of leisure time can moan about having too much stuff."

Perhaps. But it is not wealth Klein condemns: it is our manner of producing wealth, a method of production which exploits and ensures the poverty of those very Thai peasants or Brazilian factory workers Gardner enlists in support of his cause.

Klein describes a world where we are exposed to almost nothing but corporate consumerist propaganda, a world in which the television, newspaper and even park benches urge us to buy more, a world where our standard of wealth is purchased at the price of poverty, environmental degredation and human rights abuses in the third world.

It is a pity Gardner could think of nothing deeper than a cartoonish caricature of these real concerns, animated only by his monochrome imagination and rerun rhetoric. But depth, like reality, is increasingly elusive in a world where greed, like the Grinch, is real.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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