In their book, Rebel Sell, Heath and Potter argue that, these days, everyone seems to be anti-consumerist – everyone is a rebel – everyone, it seems, nods in agreement as they watch films like Supersize Me.
However things are not quite what they first appear.
Their argument, in essence, is that rebellion against the system, against the Free Market, against consumerism, serves only to feed consumerism itself.
Consumerism is not ultimately about conformity – we do not ultimately want to conform, we want distinction; we want the things that will set us apart. We want to be “cool” and “different” – to stand out. And where there is “cool”, there is “uncool”. This feeds into the dissatisfaction of consumerism, the competitive nature of the fight. Not everyone can be cool. For you to be cool, others have to suck. For you be included in the ‘in crowd’, others have to be excluded.
So whether it’s the hippies of the sixties, or the punks, or any other group that rebels against society, rebellion has become one of the strongest forces driving consumer capitalism. Rebellion shows how great and cool you are. The critique of mass society has become a way of selling goods since the sixties.
“Find anyone who is breaking any kind of rule and you have marketing potential.”
“We are fighting for the right to party – that’s all” it’s what it all boils down to.
In the opinion of Heath and Potter, it is not the “system” that is at fault. The Free Market, per se, is not evil. What is needed is to fix the loopholes in the market, to see where the problems lie, and to tackle these, using political and institutional means. The answer, they suggest, is not to dismantle the system or fight against the market, or do away with government and representative democracy. If anything, in the age of globalisation, we need more government not less, they argue. The idea of some decentralised, harmonious utopia is a myth.
“the anti-market rhetoric that continues to dominate left-wing organisations is at best unhelpful, at worst intellectually debilitating. We should strive to perfect the market, not abolish it.”
The rebels are wrong, the countercultural movement is misinformed, and they are driving consumerism as much as anyone. Rebellion changes nothing. The system does not care. The market will react and respond to your specific tastes – including rebellion.
“Thanks to the myth of counterculture, many of the people who are most opposed to consumerism nevertheless actively participate in the sort of behaviour that drives it.”
And here was me thinking I was so cool.
 Heath, Joseph, and Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture. Chichester: Capstone, 2006, 131.
 Heath and Potter (2006), 341.
 Heath and Potter (2006), 133.