July 1, 2018 by Cláudia
No Logo was written in 1999 by Canadian author, journal and human rights activist Naomi Klein, after 4 years of research. Therefore, the book is filled with collected data, interviews excerpts, charts and graphs, allied with commentaries and observations. Written in an extremely persuasive way, the book is thorough in its analysis and manages to, while presenting the problem as systemic and extremely complex, still encourage militancy and action. No Logo, or any of Klein’s books for that matter, is not about sharing information – it is about triggering a reaction. And not any reaction – not the individual change, not the unorganized protest – but a coordinated movement with specific demands and solutions.
The book shows us how economic, social and environmental problems are interconnected and leaves us with the disturbing realization that Governments, and even less individuals, no longer dictate the rules by which our societies function. Now big corporations control our society, through small and subtle techniques, leaving us in an almost Orwellian reality in which we are all pawns that serve only capitalist interests.
The book is divided into four sections, each one presenting one side of the large socio-economical-political system that we are inserted in – and its consequences. The first three ones present consequences of the corporate and capitalist dominance – No Space, No Choice and No Jobs and the last one, No Logo, presents different ways by which people are organizing and resisting the current paradigm.
No Space demonstrates, through a historical analysis of marketing techniques, how brands have invaded every nook and corner of our private lives, even subjugating culture and education. The big takeaway from this chapter is that marketing is so malleable that is able to incorporate all sorts of social movements and even the opposition.
This new obsession with marketing and branding has a very specific reason, consequence of a crucial transition in corporate thinking. If companies used to be producers of products and used the brand as a way of selling those products, nowadays companies are producers of brands and use products as a means to sell the brand. The creation and adaptation of the brand is now the most important area when it comes to managing a company and progressively gets a bigger slice of the investment. Companies have begun to think of the brand as an almost spiritual entity that largely transcends the product that consumers end up purchasing. Conversely, what companies are trying to sell is the brand as a concept, as an experience, as a lifestyle and as a set of values with which consumers identify.
“The products that will flourish in the future will be the ones presented not as “commodities” but as concepts: the brand as an experience, as lifestyle.”
Brands are trying to be ubiquitous – be everywhere, reach everyone. Therefore, they invade spaces that are traditionally public and that foster critical thinking, such as schools and Universities in which, because of the corporate intervention, the public rules don’t apply anymore. You cannot criticize the brand in a branded space.
No Choice unmasks the illusion that we have a vast array of choice while actually real choice is compromised by corporate censorship, predatory franchising, mergers and synergies. In an almost imperceptible way, companies keep getting bigger and keep getting more powerful, while remaining legally unscathed. They start to interfere in the way artists create, by threatening to not sell the CD or book on their department stores. They invoke copyright violations and libel when their brands end up being under discussion. They wanted their brand to be omnipresent, however, they do not want to be the subject of critical thinking or criticism. Many artists and activists end up facing million-dollars libel processes for as much as using a brand’s name.
“When we lack the ability to talk back to entities that are culturally and politically powerful, the very foundations of free speech and democratic society are called into question.”
Through legal processes, intimation and synergies, the biggest corporations end up swallowing the competition and opposition – because companies only truly care about one thing and that is profit. No Choice shows us the contradiction between the never-ending sea of products available for us to consume, but the progressive restriction of real choice, democracy, unbranded space, which is intentionally orchestrated by huge corporations that aim at being dominant economic, political and social forces.
No Jobs is probably the most important chapter in the book in the sense that it presents the biggest and most revolting consequence of the current paradigm focused on economic growth at all costs – the transition to precarious labour. Klein was in Cavite’s export processing zone (EPZ) and reports a bleak and hopeless reality: young women working in silence in poorly lit and unaired buildings, on the verge of exhaustion due to extreme schedules and military supervision.
Because these are extremely fragile communities, the companies demand the wages to be as low as possible and the productivity as high as possible. Workers report having to work 16-hour shifts for three days in a row and if they refuse they are fired. The Governments also fear the migration of the foreign companies, which is why they end up suppressing protests and dissolving trade-unions. Like the author observes,
“Fear pervades the zones. The governments are afraid of losing their foreign factories; the factories are afraid of losing their brand-name buyers; and the workers are afraid of losing their unstable jobs. These are factories built not on land but on air.”
But even in what we would call “developed countries” we see this labour transition in action – the increase of part-time contracts, of temporary contracts and unpaid internships leaves more and more people in unstable living situations. In the end, we are left with a new conception of work that no longer grants sustenance and of a boss that is no longer responsible for its workforce. Even though it is extremely unfair to compare the conditions of sweatshops to the comparatively privileged conditions of developed countries, what is happening in both situations is that companies are unapologetically putting their profit in front of the dignity of their workers. And, as Klein states, the biggest companies are nowadays creating the worst jobs.
No Logo is the final chapter and probably the less clear. It starts with the hypothesis that the growing erosion of stable employment is the biggest factor when it comes to fueling the anticorporate movement and then goes on to describe ways in which organized communities showed their discontent – with different levels of success. Even though different “solutions” are showed, what is clear is that none of them is the “movement of movements” that Klein yearns for and the purpose of the chapter gets a bit lost.
However, we are left with a ray of hope that all the incongruences and injustice of the current economic system, particularly the megalomaniac and unscrupulous focus on economic growth are going to be the levers for something different; for something better.
All in all, No Logo is a book that awakens a systemic vision and helps the readers to make connections between what may be thought as separate issues. It lifts the veil and unmasks the corporate dominance of our lives, presenting them as much as more powerful than we normally think. By showing us the full picture, Klein manages to convey a realization that is not intuitive in our modern world – that the problem is far bigger than our individual choices.
“The hard truth is that the answer to the question: “What can I do, as an individual?” is: nothing. (…) The very idea that we – as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals – could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts. We can only meet this tremendous challenge together. As part of a massive and organized global movement. (Klein, “We can only do this together” The Nation. 2015.
In conclusion, this book manages to describe an extremely difficult reality in an appealing way, being simultaneously extremely persuasive. Even though we haven’t (yet) seen the massive revolution Klein hopes for, the spread of anti-corporate sentiment because of and following the publication of No Logo shows that this is truly a book with a remarkable potential for mobilization and change. Never losing sight of realism and critical analysis, Klein’s writings manage to inspire enough hope and optimism to trigger action. This is one of the reasons why reading No Logo, or Klein’s writings in general, is essential for building a fairer and better world.