Readers of Adbusters got a shock when they picked up the September/October issue of the anti-corporate, anti-consumer culture set's flagship magazine. The back cover sported not one of the publication's famous ad spoofs but a genuine advertisement for the soon-to-be-produced Blackspot sneaker.
The shoe, explains Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn, is being sold as an anti-Nike brand, a way of "kicking Phil Knight's ass." Blackspot sneakers will be made in a South Korean factory that was abandoned by Nike when it unionized. Lasn hopes you'll be able to pick up the shoe in independent stores, or order it from blackspotsneaker.org, within six to nine months. "It depends how well our marketing campaign works," says Lasn. "Of course, if we're lucky and get some investors, it could take off very rapidly."
Some of Lasn's fellow activists are less than sanguine about the shift from a strategy of opposing corporations to one of beating them at their own game. Among the skeptics is Naomi Klein, author of the anti-corporate bible No Logo. "Writers and publications who analyze the commercialization and privatization of our lives have a responsibility to work to protect spaces where we aren't constantly being pitched to," Klein told Canada's Globe and Mail. "This can be undermined if they are seen as simply shilling for a different, 'anti-corporate' brand."
Lasn has little patience for this attitude. "Old leftists like Naomi Klein hang on to an old, 'pure' activism that hasn't had any success for 20 or 30 years," he says. "There's a lot of people now who want to jump over the dead body of the old left. We've decided to stop whining about Nike; why not make $10 million and use it to run a media literacy campaign instead? I'm really sick of the whiners."
Blackspot represents a departure from the traditional tactic of logo-demystifying détournement exemplified by Adbusters' spoofs. Instead of exploding the symbolic power of brand imagery, Lasn hopes to substitute the "nuclear glow" of his own anti-logo, but this "glow," he avers, will be rooted in sincerely held beliefs and values rather than the "cynical mindfucks" of corporate marketers.
Ironically, Blackspot may demonstrate the virtues of markets to activists on the left. "There's a certain undeniable power that capitalism and even free markets have," says Lasn. "My problem is with top-down corporate consumer culture. This way of activism is one way for people to take back their culture."