February 22, 2004

The Decline and Fall of Adbusters Magazine

A few years ago I was a big fan of Adbusters magazine. I loved the way it mimicked the obnoxious manipulation techniques of TV and magazine ads and flung it all right back at ’em. The skewering of shallow consumer culture really struck a chord with me.

After 9-11 I put this project on my own back burner. It was suddenly all so trivial. The writers, designers, and editors of the magazine must have sensed what they were doing was getting shunted off to the side by momentous events. So they ramped it up. They pushed their previously mild subversion into overdrive.

The current issues of Adbusters would have turned me off even then.

Here are some excerpts from a current piece by the editor Kalle Lasn. It’s called World War IV.

It has come down to this: a fight to the finish against the evil forces of capital that would wage a terror upon terror upon terror without end.
The evil forces of capital? I don’t remember the old Adbusters ever publishing sentences like this. Kalle Lasn has previously written that he has a visceral hatred of Communism. That wasn't so hard to believe. He’s from Estonia and knows Communism up close and personal. But it looks like some of the propaganda got hard-wired into his brain.
In time we will learn to modulate our resistance — to raise it to the point where airport-type security systems are needed just to let customers into stores, until the daily pain and cost of doing business as usual becomes simply too high to bear.
In other words, he wants to terrorize his community.
Then, at our pleasure, we will lower our resistance to reward the concessions being made.
Well that’s nice. At least he still has some sense of restraint. Let’s hope his readers share it.
We don’t have to get the shit kicked out of us like we did in Miami. Instead, we grow the power and sophistication of our networks and ratchet up our disobedience. We attack in the dead of night and under the noonday sun. We hit them before, during and after world events. Bit by bit, hit by hit we bend them to our will.
“We bend them to our will.” This thuggish mentality is definitely not the Adbusters I used to know.
Military might does not count for much anymore. The global capital machine is now so finely tuned, so delicately balanced, that just one virus, one blackout, one bushfire, one mad cow, one hand-held rocket launcher, one gram of plutonium, has the potential to crash the whole deal. From now on, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to keep it together.

That’s the dirty, anarchic, kick-ass side of World War IV. [Emphasis added.]

From the context of the piece, it doesn’t look like Mr. Lasn expects his “culture jammers” to be the ones wielding the rocket launchers and the plutonium. I guess (although I am guessing) he expects Al Qaeda to carry out those attacks.

But it’s awfully telling, is it not, that he thinks downing a passenger jet with a rocket launcher or destroying New York with a nuclear weapon is “kick-ass.”

This brings to mind a powerful recent piece in Slate by Christopher Hitchens.

Having been screened by the special operations department of the Pentagon last August (see Charles Paul Freund's piece in Slate), The Battle of Algiers is now scheduled for a run at the New York Film Forum. Unless I am wrong, this event will lead to a torrent of pseudo-knowing piffle from the armchair guerrillas (well, there ought to be a word for this group). I myself cherished the dream of being something more than an armchair revolutionary when I first saw this electrifying movie. It was at a volunteer work-camp for internationalists, in Cuba in the summer of 1968. Che Guevara had only been dead for a few months, the Tet rising in Vietnam was still a fresh and vivid memory, and in Portuguese Africa the revolution was on the upswing. I went to the screening not knowing what to expect and was so mesmerized that when it was over I sat there until they showed it again. I was astounded to discover, sometime later on, that Gillo Pontecorvo had employed no documentary footage in the shooting of the film: It looked and felt like revolutionary reality projected straight onto the screen.

When I next saw it, in Bleecker Street in the Village in the early 1970s, it didn't have quite the same shattering effect. Moreover, in the audience (as in that Cuban camp, as I later found out) there were some idiots who fancied the idea of trying "urban guerrilla" warfare inside the West itself. The film had a potently toxic effect on Black Panthers, Weathermen, Baader-Meinhof, and Red Brigade types. All that needs to be said about that "moment" of the Left is that its practitioners ended up dead or in prison, having advanced the cause of humanity by not one millimeter.

Those on today’s radical left are having a similar “moment.” Plenty of these fools will end up dead or in jail. And even the strictly intellectual radicals aren’t doing a damn thing for the cause of humanity except reminding the rest of us that even after the fall of the Soviet Union there are enemies to the left. (No, not everyone on the left, just some of the radicals.)

It's depressing and sad to watch people I used to admire degenerate in this way. My consolation is that others, like Christopher Hitchens, who I admired at the same time for the same reasons, escaped from that quagmire, too.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 22, 2004 9:52 PM
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