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I Read a Book: Culture Jam

I had been aware of Kalle Lasn's Culture Jam for a while. I grabbed it recently at a local used book store, but left it sitting on my shelf until last week. His manifesto for a new way to understand consumerism is refreshing, convicting, and challenging.

I enjoy Lasn's passion, which is evident on each page of the book. He clearly has a desire to show Americans a better way for our county, economy and neighborhoods when he shares swaths of data and countless ideas for ways to reverse "America's Consumer Binge."

His thesis is simple:

America is no longer a country. It's a multitrillion-dollar brand.

Because of this, we "now live designer lives - sleep, eat, sit in a car, work, shop, watch TV, sleep again. I doubt there's more than a handful of free, spontaneous minutes anywhere in that cycle."

And that's just in the introduction. The rest of the text is a walk down the corridors of our capitalist structures, as Lasn pulls back the veil that so easily shrouds the reality of the system, lulling us to sleep while we carry on, overburden ourselves with debt, and hope the next product we see advertised will fix everything.

While it's easy to think he goes overboard with some suggestions, and while I'd like to think what he's asking is too over-the-top and completely unrealistic, if I'm honest with myself, I find that I only accuse him of such because I find it so difficult to loose myself from the chains of my own lust after the designer lifestyle.

But when I realized that, I knew I must change. That's the beauty of Lasn's book. Don't read it if you're not willing to consider his argument, and then be confronted with the reality of your own house and closet.

Here are some of Lasn's other great quotes:

The pursuit of freedom is what revolutions are all about.

The generations alive today - who cannot recognize an edible mushroom in the forest of build a fire without matches - are the first to have had their lives shaped almost entirely by the electronic mass media environment.

Fear breeds insecurity - and then consumer culture offers us a variety of ways to buy our way back to security.

The first time we saw a starving child on a late-night TV ad, we were appalled. Maybe we sent money. As these images became more familiar, though, our compassion evaporated. Eventually, these ads started to repulse us. Now we never want to see another starving child again. Our sensitivity to violence has been eroded by the same process of attrition.

Lack of diversity leads to inefficiency and failure. The loss of a language, tradition or heritage - or the foregoing of one good idea - is as big a loss to future generations as a biological species going extinct.

We, the people, have lost control. Corporations, these legal fictions that we ourselves created two centuries ago, now have more rights, freedoms and powers than we do. And we accept this as the normal state of affairs. We go to corporations on our knees. Please do the right thing, we plead. Please don't cut down any more ancient forests. Please don't pollute any more lakes and rivers (but please don't move your factories and jobs offshore either). Please don't use pornographic images to sell fashion to my kids. Please don't play governments off against each other to get a better deal. We've spent so much time bowed down in deference, we've forgotten how to stand up straight.

The GDP fails to assign any value at all to unpaid or volunteer work.

The GDP measures "goods" but not "bads." [That is] like driving your car without a gas gauge.

We sink billions into mutual funds and retirement plans, assuming these to be secure, broad-based, blue-chip investments. But what's in these funds? Just as with hot dogs, you don't really want to know. Some of your money may be bolstering the economies of dubious, often atrocious, even genocidal regimes.

[There has been] a devolution in the state of living: from "being" to "having" and then from "having" to "appearing to have."

On the American campus - the great waiting room, the traditional place for radical demonstrations to rage - not much is happening. There's no real rush to finish a degree because what lies on the other side but debt, pavement pounding and the potential shame of boomeranging back home? [Some say] "Life sucks." Okay. So fix a small corner of it. When so much is at stake, how can you be so complacent?

What if each shareholder was deemed personally responsible and liable for collateral damage to bystanders or harms to the environment? Why shouldn't it be so? If you're a shareholder, a part-owner of a corporation, and you reap the rewards when the going is good, why shouldn't you be held responsible for that company when it becomes criminally liable?

The fossil fuel-based automobile industry is being subsidized by unborn generations to the tunes of hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

For most of us the economy remains a mysterious abstract system. As with our microwave over, we don't know hoe it works and we don't really want to know. We just keep pushing buttons and hot dinners keep coming out.

In all revolutions, the agents of change - usually a small core of fired-up individuals - reach a personal point of reckoning where to do nothing becomes harder than to step forward.

Even as I read through the above to type them in, I once again found myself challenged. And perhaps that's the best feature of Lasn's work - it's a timeless affront to the powerful and fully-funded messages we receive daily that teach us it's easier to stay put, shop, and leave everything alone.

But we know better.

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