I like this sign. It’s a ‘no logo’ logo. I’ve been admiring it on my walk through the McGill ghetto. The leaves have finally fallen away so I could get a picture.
As you can see, it’s not official Pepsi issue-it’s home made. Someone took a stencil and made their own. Why? Well, it’s a store front, isn’t it? And store fronts have signs. And probably (though this is hard to imagine) Pepsi wouldn’t give them one. So they made their own.
It is a ‘no logo’ logo in another respect. This insistence, that a commercial message is appropriate even when unpaid for, suggests that this sort of thing is so much a part of the furniture of contemporary culture that we must supply it even when it doesn’t exist.
What would the store be without it? Less identifiable, less formed. So much of our landscape is created by commerce, virtually all of it is, that it is part of our real and conceptual way finding system. What doesn’t exist, we are obliged to invent.
Naomi Klein, and you knew I was getting to her, didn’t you, would have us believe that logos are a blight, and more than that, that they are an invasion, and more than that that they are a predation. But in fact, no logo is bad anthro-a failure to see, to reckon with the fact that we are, whether we like it or not, almost nothing if not an artifact of commercial forces.
It may be that Klein is right to insist that there are costs and penalties to such a thing, and it is certainly true that we need people to ferret these out and sum them up. What we should not do, I believe, is to make our unhappiness with commerce grounds for a constant posturing against it. If only because the argument is well and truly made. Enough already. But no. The argument is returned to again and again as if it contained difficulties and complexities we hadn’t quite got to the last time round. Some version of this argument has been with us throughout the Western tradition (see Brantlinger, Carey and Docker, below). Certainly it has been robust since the Frankfurt school, and more recently as a result of the efforts of the likes of Ewen and Stuart Hall and the Birmingham school. But it keeps coming back with unexpected freshness, as if the argument were brand new, or, as I say, somehow hard to think.
Here’s something fresh and hard to think. So much of commerce is warp to culture’s woof that it is now almost impossible to distinguish them. To insist on doing so is almost single handedly responsible for the troubling ironies that so amused, but why preoccupied, the 1990s: oh, that Klein is reported to be getting rich from the sale of her book, that Michael Moore is rumored to have bought 3 condos, that Moby used clothing stores and advertisements to sell his music, that Courtney love sold Kurt’s memories for $4 million. No good things can come from commercial motives. No authenticity can come from something touched by the market place. Commerce is pandering. These are a few of our favorite things to think about the commercial culture. They prevent us from the real intellectual challenge here: not how to think about culture and commerce separately, Klein demonstrates that anybody can do this. The real challenge is thinking about how they go together. Not to celebrate that they go together. God knows we have had enough of that. But to understand what it is to live in a society where culture and commerce live out of one another’s pockets. Like it or not, this is who we are and how we live. It will decide what becomes of us.
The time has come to stop protesting the effect of commerce on culture and see how the two run together. How else are we to understand why someone would make a logo for their store front.
Brantlinger, Patrick. 1983. Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay . Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Carey, John. 1992. The Intellectuals and the Masses: pride and prejudice among the literary intelligentsia, 1880-1939. London: Faber and Faber.
Docker, John. 1994. Postmodernism and popular culture: a cultural history. Cambridge. New York: Cambridge University Press.