November 20, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 46  

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Big bucks and bad boys: commercialized rebellion

Thrust n' Perry
Dan Perry
News Editor

Even if you weren’t alive in the 1950s, there are two guys you remember: James Dean and Elvis Presley. Dean rose to the top in Rebel Without a Cause and Elvis, the so-dubbed king of rock ’n’ roll, “rebelled” musically.

Presley, whose manager coined the term “any publicity is good publicity,” began a trend vital to the survival of rock music: the rebel. The renegade figure has even been picked up by hip hop’s “thugs” and country music’s “outlaws.”

Popular music is not exempt from the business credo “it has to look new to sell.” In the particular case of music, to challenge the mainstream is to become part of the mainstream. Love them as I do, I have to admit: pioneering bands like The Clash and Rage Against the Machine have sold a lot of records, and punk and rap-metal scenes are financially booming (despite their artistic stagnancy).

Music, however, is only a thumbnail of the larger culture of pseudo-rebellion in which we live. The rapidly changing styles of clothing which come and go (weekly) indicate a desire to change — but to pass off the “punk look” as rebellious is absurd. The mere existence of a name like “punk look” gives it an identity and puts the commodity up for sale.

Tattoos and piercings — when not so common — were definitely a valid form of rebellion and a hearkening back to the centuries of humanity’s tribal history, which capitalism has wisely swept under the rug. To get a tattoo today, though, you just walk into a parlour and pay for the service — it’s no different than a dry cleaner.

What about Jimmy Dean’s cigarette? When it was realized smoking caused cancer, he looked even more rebellious. But how soon we forget: in the ’50s, people smoked like it was the cure! Nevertheless, Dean’s estate is still raking in the cash.

Rebellion Inc. is alive and well: even I bought a Che Guevara T-shirt. If I wanted to honour a socialist, I paid a capitalist to do so. The hip hop clothing on the market today is supposed to look “ghetto,” but is distributed by industry moguls. Think about all the paper bought to advertise “Buy Nothing Day.”

Adbusters magazine is out to raise consciousness of how advertising works, but has to advertise itself. The Matrix made its point about the fictions of society — from Hollywood. Michael Moore is an anti-corporate corporation. Western consumer societies have mastered co-opting your rebellion and then have the nerve to sell it back to you. Sony produces a video game where the player becomes an anti-globalization protester.

As Joe Strummer put it, we’re lost in the supermarket. So how do we get out of the box? There are two choices: 1.) break some branches, find a sharp rock, fashion yourself an axe and cut down enough trees to build a longhouse, or 2.) buy something to make yourself feel better about your consumerist impotence; something that will make you look and feel younger and more attractive...

And I’ve got just the thing: “Swatch Revolution Snowboards.”



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