October 25, 2021

Adbusters’ War Against Too Much of Everything

Skip the mall and the neighborhood store, resist the urge to shop online and, by all means, don’t buy anything you don’t truly need.

So says Kalle Lasn, 70, maestro of the proudly radical magazine Adbusters, published in Vancouver, British Columbia. Mr. Lasn takes gleeful pleasure in lobbing provocations at global corporations — and his latest salvo is “Buy Nothing Christmas.”

“As our planet gets warmer, as animals go extinct, as the humans get sicker, as our economies bail and our politicians grow ever more twisted,” Americans just go shopping, Adbusters says on its Web site. Overconsumption is destroying us, yet shopping is “our solace, our sedative: consumerism is the opiate of the masses.”

“We’ve got to break the habit,” Mr. Lasn said in a telephone interview. “It will be a shock, but we’ve got to shift to a new paradigm. Otherwise, I’m afraid will be facing a new Dark Age.”

Of course, retailers will be facing a Dark Age if people really stop shopping. And because consumer spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of United States gross domestic product, an abrupt shift to nonconsumption would drive the already faltering economy to its knees.

There are no signs that consumers are heeding Mr. Lasn’s call, says Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. “I find that people are shoppers or they’re not,” he said. “Shoppers keep shopping.”

So it’s easy to dismiss this latest campaign as yet another empty gesture from a figure on the radical fringe. Why take Mr. Lasn’s words seriously?

Well, last year, a campaign prompted by Mr. Lasn and his magazine improbably caught fire. It was Occupy Wall Street.

Adbusters gave Occupy its name and opening date and designed the poster with Occupy’s defining image: an elegant ballerina perched atop Wall Street’s raging bull while gas-masked figures loomed in the background. The poster contained this text: “What Is Our One Demand? #OccupyWallStreet. Sept. 17th. Bring Tent.” A digital version went viral.

Mr. Lasn’s main role in the Zuccotti Park occupation, however, pretty much ended there: he remained in Vancouver, never visiting the Lower Manhattan encampment and participating in the local organizational work that made it possible. But his contribution began long before then.

Born in Estonia, Mr. Lasn lived for several years in German resettlement camps with his parents after they fled the advancing Soviet army toward the end of World War II. The family moved to Australia when he was 7. He graduated from the University of Adelaide, where he studied theoretical and applied mathematics and then worked four years for the Australian military, writing computer code for war games.

Then he moved to Tokyo, where the skills he developed in Australia served him well. He started a market research company and, he says, did computer-based studies of ad campaigns for global corporations. The work was lucrative, and he used his money to see the world. It was 1968, and a left-wing student rebellion in Paris resonated worldwide. He says he imbibed the spirit of rebellion, and it changed him.

“Until Occupy, the greatest political movement I’d ever seen was the uprising of ’68. It really inspired me, and I’ve been running on that energy — and have been trying to recapture it — ever since.”

LAST year, he says, he did recapture it. Stirred by the uprisings in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt — the Arab Spring — he and colleagues at Adbusters “began to consider the possibilities of achieving a soft regime change in the United States, of finding some way to tap into the revolutionary zeitgeist.” Out of those discussions came the idea of Occupy Wall Street.

Max Haiven, a postdoctoral fellow in art and public policy at New York University, who has studied Adbusters for years, said: “That was a fantastic initiative for them. They’ve been in global anticonsumption battles for years, and Adbusters has called for many big campaigns that never really happened. This one did. In a way, they got lucky.”

He added: “What led to Occupy Wall Street taking off was not just the iconic image of the ballerina and the bull but a number of factors — including on-the-ground activists building an organization through many, many meetings and relationships and hard work in New York and elsewhere. Adbusters didn’t do that. Other people did it.”

Mr. Lasn acknowledges the truth of that, and says he’s not a community organizer and certainly not a graceful politician. “I’ve said some things that have pissed people off,” he says. And it’s not just corporations like Nike, McDonald’s and Philip Morris that have been stung by him. Israel’s policies toward Palestinians are an Adbusters target.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/business/adbusters-war-against-too-much-of-everything.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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