Politics. In some form or other, it's something that burns inside many of those who claim a genuinely alternative mindset. But it's also something that's crushed easily by sheer weight of cynicism - frustration at the arcane complexities, flawed ideologies, endless arguments and lack of real progress that are associated with any attempts to formulate viable political goals. Like many of my kind I dabbled in left-wing politics during my early teenage years. Each ideology I looked to for some form of meaning, I soon found to be based on shaky principles. Call it apathy if you will, but it's easy to reach the stage where your own small scale world takes priority over a seemingly futile attempt to change the world at large. It is an ugly world and it often seems your only form of protest or escape is to define yourself as an individual - using whatever forms of expression come to you. Being the overriding passion of this scene, music is where I look for my own personal space. But at heart the passion of real political belief and action never dies - and while there is no coherent movement I could claim to follow with any conviction, I remain an essentially political person.

I think it's important to set the scene in this way, to give some idea of the impact of some of my recent reading. The book I'm talking about is 'No logo' by Naomi Klein. It is an intriguing book which has received a lot of publicity and picked up recommendations from media figures such as Thom Yorke. I was a little dubious initially, expecting perhaps a heavily politicised collection of righteous diatribes and economic complexities. The book's subject matter is in fact hard to summarise, but it draws on many areas of modern life and what is referred to as the "new global economy", using fact,figures, anecdotes and arguments to highlight flaws and frightening trends, from the American schoolboy expelled for wearing a Pepsi t-shirt on day of a visit by the school's commercial sponsors (Coke), to the story of a third world labourer dying from exhaustion after spending over 24 hours sewing brand-name garments for the American import market. This is a book that really lifts the lid on the branded corporate world we live in. While 'No logo' doesn't shy away from serious analysis, I would describe it as the most accesible, dynamic and interesting book I've ever read on the subject, and one that is directly relevant to anyone who lives in the modern world, whether fiercely political or fiercely cynical or both. Or neither.

Reading this book filled me with a real buzz. For a long period I've felt that there is no set of political beliefs or actions I could follow that wouldn't self-destruct under the weight both of heavy opposing arguments and pervading post-modern cynicism. I think what 'No logo' does is alert you to the fact that you can be radical, indignant and impassioned about the direction of the modern world without having to fall into the offputting realm of tired political ideologies, stereotypical left/right arguments, and shallow bickering between reactionary twats and their slightly-less-reactionary counterparts on the opposing benches of Parliament. The issues described and analysed by Naomi Klein transcend this popular view of politics and address the system as a whole, dissecting it in front of our eyes and alerting you at first to the sheer ugliness lurking behind current trends and then to a growing wave of resistance, whether individual and spontaneous or collective.

Naive it is not. 'No logo' is at the same time an objective, intelligent piece of journalism, and an empassioned manifesto. It highlights the flaws in all the arguments and movements it describes, but the sheer analysis is enough to convince you that things are not right. I don't have room to paraphrase all the arguments here, but a few of the many issues it addressesare:

1. The increasing invasion of advertising and corporate sponsorship into public spaces and every aspect of our lives - massive spending of large corporations on abstract brand-named campaigns leading to branding of every cultural and artistic movement.

2. Something potentially very relevant to readers here - the 'co-opting' of alternative music and youth culture by large corporations - the influence of MTV on popular tastes, the overbearing commercialisation of the original Seattle punk/grunge movement, the sad situation where 'indie-cool' and irony are just as marketable as brand-name sportswear, when armies of Fred Durst clones parade like empty ghosts of a true underground ethos, and our indie-rock heroes appear in the soundtracks of Gap adverts.

3. The expansion of franchise chains like Starbucks and McDonalds replacing independent shops and homogenising high streets. Also large out-of-town superstores and the expanse of suburbia at the expense of real community in the cities

4. The 'McJobs' phenomenon - How jobs in the western world are increasingly low-paid and temporary, downsizing and streamlining of corporations with production being moved offshore.

5. The impact of all this on the third world - sweatshops, free trade zones,the large-scale exploitation of foreign workers.

6. The many flaws of "globalisation" - the inequalities of third-world production and attempts by large corporations to homogenise worldwide culture into a marketable "global teens" concept.

I'm sure I haven't done justice to all the concepts in this book - it's all backed up with evidence, anecdotes, stories, journalism and argument. It's very readable and whatever your views there will be parts of it which should make you positively seethe with anger... with me I think it was the corporate impact on youth culture and music more than anything. To give you some idea I'll paraphrase the introduction to one of the earlier chapters - something which I can identify with a lot.

It's the feeling when you're at the start of your life... you're not sure quite who you are or what you want to be but trying to find some individual form of expression. And it seems like every option you can take, has already been done a thousand times, has already been converted into a marketing opportunity and bought out before you even reach it. Don't like mainstream pop acts? Maybe you want to try being an indie kid. Here, buy this major-label Travis/Coldplay CD... or punk... why there's a whole industry in producing hooded Greenday sweaters and Offspring CDs. Pissed off with the world? Buy into the whole Slipknot/Limp bizkit marketing bonanza. Maybe you're looking for something more intellectual? Check out the latest trendy Slint-a-like post-rock band. Wherever you turn all you can find is a new groove to fit into... one that's been laid out a thousand times before and looks tired before you can even get to it. The pure concepts of subversion and originality seem irredeemably sullied by the commercial value of watered-down clones, until the point where they smother the original scene.

There seems no room left for the individual in branded culture.

Naomi goes on to explain that while she long since grew out of this sense of desperation, it is as much a reflection of the deficiencies of the corporate world as some teenage sense of existential despair. We need to reclaim our public spaces and our rights to real art and expression. While it would be easy to read this and let it do nothing more than push you deeper into depressive cynicism about the world, this book did the exact opposite and instead filled me with inspiration to seek out and fight for a true underground scene. I think the crucial point is not to allow the underground to be defined as some elite "cool' concept, which is essentially empty and can only be bought out in time and sold ("cool" being the most marketable quality which all advertisers seek to attribute to their products), but to define the underground as any collection of individuals who have reclaimedthe right to define their own culture, music and forms of expression.

Alongside this cultural revelation, "No logo" also contributes greatly towards a new form of political awareness. The many issues described should give the most hardened cynic something to fight for. A large section of the book is devoted to the reporting and analysis of a new wave of worldwide protest - it's disconnected nature and freedom from any large-scale organisation gives it a distinct advantage over the radical political movements of the past which relied on, and often failed because of, attempts by parties and organisations to homogenise radical protest. Of course organisation is essential, but increasingly tools like the internet are used to coordinate varied individuals and organisations into new forms of protest and campaign which are often more spontaneous and expressive. Examples include the well-reported large-scale protests in Seattle and Prague and the "Reclaim the streets" events, which blur the boundaries between street parties and protests. She details how many campaigns and boycotts have forced large companies to clean up their act somewhat, a widespread backlash against the labour practises of large brands such as Nike. On top of this the whole concept of culture-jamming is analysed in some depth - the appropriation of commercial media for non-commercial messages, as pioneered by Adbusters and the Billboard Liberation Front.

So to round off. 'No logo" is an essential read for anyone who anyone who is willing to delve beneath the shiny surface of the modern world. I can't guarantee you'll be as inspired as I was but it will certainly give you a lot to think about, and force you to reconsider views on many subjects. The book as a whole is comprehensive, intelligent and empassioned and I strongly recommend getting hold of a copy of it.







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