Naomi Klein’s first book "No Logo" is every bit as brilliant and well written as "The Shock Doctrine". The substitution of real products made in America for companies "that own little but sell much" is a philosophy that slithered out of schools like U of Chicago and companies like Chicago’s "Sara Lee" and have taken firm nesting in the Democratic Leadership Council which now runs the party of FDR. I grew up near Chicago and toured Sara Lee factories in grammar school. The slogan was "Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee"."Sara Lee" made stuff like shoe polish and donuts, but years later these were described by the new marketing gurus as "lumpy objects". And even though the company was making a big profit and paying its union employees a good wage, they just weren’t modern or slick enough for Wall Street. So close those factories and focus on branding in nice clean corporate headquarters.
So now the Democrats have thoroughly embraced this idea. Instead of old "lumpy object purveyors" who represent people who shower after work, the New Democrats are a sleek brand that is not a labor party but like Tony Blair’s New Labour is "a labour scented party."
I’m halfway through "No Logo" and the Orwellian gobbley gook coming out of CEOs’ mouths in their attempt to justify laying off American workers and greedily amassing their ill gotten gains is sickening. Klein gives one example after another of these cold- blooded capitalists and their twisted logic and words. By the way, these CEOS are not bosses but "change agents". And "Starbucks" doesn’t sell coffee, it sells community."
"Products are made in the factory," says Walter Landor, president of the Landor branding agency, "but brands are made in the mind."
Here’s another great idea the Obama people have embraced. From Hector Liang, former chairman of United Biscuits:
"Machines wear out. Cars rust. People die. But what lives on are the brands."
According to this logic, corporations should not expend their finite resources on factories that will demand physical upkeep, on machines that will corrode or on employees who will certainly age and die. Instead, they should concentrate those resources in the virtual brick and mortar used to build their brands; that is on sponsorships, packaging, expansion and advertising. They should also spend them on synergies; on buying up distribution and retail channels to get their brands to the people.
Ah yes, "synergies". I had a boss in the early Nineties who who go on and on about "synergy". As Klein points out, "synergy" is just a fancy word for monopoly. In the entertainment business that I am in that meant repping the writer, the producer, and the stars for a TV "package" so you controlled everything you could for maximum profit.
So the Democratic strategists aka ad men and women have thoroughly embraced this marketing mind set from pollsters like Celinda Lake to language gurus like George Lakoff to campaign
hacksadvisers like _______________(fill in your favorite hack here). So it’s all about image, packaging, sponsorship at events like the Olympics. Klein has written about Brand Obama whose logo looks very much like a combo of refreshing Pepsi and the transcendence of Nike (although I always got a kind of Japanese rising sun empire vibe out of it too).
So brands are about meaning and not about anything actual like a job or affordable health care or a decent place to live. It’s about feeling good about yourself because you elected a young hip dude. Well, people are catching on that idea and a cup of latte won’t get you a job.
In her most recent essay linked above, Klein states that the Bush administration’s
most lasting legacy may well be the way it systematically did to the US government what branding-mad CEOs did to their companies a decade earlier: it hollowed it out, handing over to the private sector many of the most essential functions of government, from protecting borders to responding to disasters to collecting intelligence. This hollowing out was not a side project of the Bush years, it was a central mission, reaching into every field of governance. And though the Bush clan was often ridiculed for its incompetence, the process of auctioning off the state, leaving behind only a shell – or a brand – was approached with tremendous focus and precision.
And the same thing is true of the Democratic Party. It has been hollowed out; its innards sold off; its machinery gone; and its workers eliminated or dispersed.
Klein is hopeful that the energy for changing our failed economic and political systems is still there. And perhaps the Obama brand of Democrat will lose its lustre like Virgin records superstores and the Nike swoosh.
What the election and the global embrace of Obama’s brand proved decisively is that there is a tremendous appetite for progressive change – that many, many people do not want markets opened at gunpoint, are repelled by torture, believe passionately in civil liberties, want corporations out of politics, see global warming as the fight of our time, and very much want to be part of a political project larger than themselves.
So let’s join and look for "the real thing" as she suggests. I have some ideas. Join the "March to Fulfill the Dream" that starts in New Orleans on April 4 (anniversary of Dr. King’s death) and ends in Detroit on June 20, 2010. Join the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.
And last week in my diary "The ‘Make Me Do It’ Myth", I advocated for a "Mad as Hell" movement of doctors who already have such a group, teachers, Mad as Hell IT workers (beats flying into buildings), hotel workers, truckers, etc. and Robert Reich has come out with the same title but a different idea. "What the "Mad as Hell " Party Could Do"
Reich pleads at the end for any movement to not be a "wrecking ball". So he still hopes to work within this sick system and hollowed out party. He uses that old chestnut that wrecking something is easy and "rescuing democracy" is hard work. I’m not sure the founders would agree with him if what we really would be rescuing is corrupt crony capitalism. It may be time for that wrecking ball instead of another reboot or re-branding as he suggests.