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Book review: <i>No Logo</i> by Naomi Klein

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the cover of the book

If this was... my copy of the book, handed to Ms Klein, I'd be interested to hear her thoughts. My brother bought it in Thailand and it's obviously pirated. The cover looks OK until you try to bend it, the body paper is almost transparent, and there's evidence of low-grade scanning every other page. Large-scale piracy of Western goods, as the flipside of sweatshop labour, is a topic she leaves untouched.


There aint 'no logo'!!!!!!!!! (Except on the back, obviously). There's just a lot of black space with red and white text in the centre. Simple, instantly identifiable and visually effective. Like a logo, really.


Ms. Klein follows the evolution of modern branding and visits sweatshops which prop up the gaudy bulk thereof. I'd
love to describe No Logo as a chronicle of branding's "rise and fall", but, while the label-as-lifestyle frenzy of the
eighties and nineties may have faded, brands and branding are every bit as healthy as their union-free workers aren't.

Corporations, their marketers and the sweatshop zones which pay the bills of both continue to evolve alongside
progressive efforts to decry them; Ms. Klein tracks this parallel evolution, then, in an addendum to my edition, she examines the function and impact of anti-corporate resistance in a post-WTC world.

The good

I don't know about you, but I find books like this an emotional catharsis. Perhaps it's my moralistic LMC upbringing, but tell me a tale of millionaires made on the sweat of third-world teenagers (and the psychological manipulation of first-world teenagers which helps us ignore it) and I get sad. And angry. And self-righteous. And then I read about people wittily defacing billboards, and I feel happy. Because, although I'm in three minds regarding the legitimacy of graffiti as either an art form or means of expression, I'm right beside Banksy when it comes to your right to interface with advertising which you have not consented to ingest ("going outside" does NOT constitute consent). And then I hear Nike CEO Phil Knight sounding slightly mystified as to how he has come to represent everything shitty about disposable Western culture, and I feel even happier (correct answer: because you spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting for the spot, Phil). Then I remember the prevailing sense of positive change in the Western world before George Bush Jr was "elected" and the WTC destroyed, and I feel sad again. And then I think about Donald Trump's haircut and feel a bit better. (That's right, Tom's can't-fail secret to mental stability is: being shallow.)

All of which is a silly way to say that No Logo has a measured impact, and is neither a didactic tract nor a Franken-esque tear-down of that which the author opposes. It seems I've also implied that No Logo is emotionally manipulative, which is far from the case. Klein's prose is as precise as a gearbox, and though her personality is not hidden, it does blend with the text into something which is almost...prim. It sounds an odd style for such a politically engaged book but it works, I promise. The prose serves to calm and control the ire and outrage buried beneath, and in the process adds to the reader's sense of the Klein's objectivity and investigative standards. If I was a psychic mind reader who's telepathic (and can read minds) I might suggest that it's Klein's ability to control her prose which helps her keeps her own (completely justified) fury in check.

On the other hand, this IS a personal work. The author's involvement in the issues of her city and the lives of
the semi-indentured teenage factory workers she visits in various countries lend the book a humanity that somebody
like Chomsky will never achieve, for all his unflinching social conscience. How would you feel visiting union organisers in China, harassed for decades, who recently had their government on the verge of allowing a legitimate union for Chinese workers, and then watched it get shot down by the motherfucking management dirtbags running Western companies who didn't like the idea of whatever miniscule decrease in profits this would have cost them? And that's before you'd even entered the factories themselves, or the concrete bunkers where workers sleep three to a cubicle in the brief daily period when they aren't sewing your underpants?

I'd been meaning to read No Logo for a long time, and in fact I'm glad I waited, because the post-9/11 chapter really is the only possible conclusion. In fact this one chapter demonstrates, as much as any cheap political rhetoric, the difference in the Western weltanschauung between the Clinton years and Bush Jr. Klein demonstrates that what took place after 9/11, behind the war-on- terrorism rhetoric, was a wholesale, governmentally encouraged lunge back to unfettered free market excess, adopted even among many leftist elements.

I can't vouch for Klein's research, but she's done a lot of it, even excluding her on-ground work. In No Logo, she manages to get the thermostat steadily set between chilly academic writing and sweaty polemic, which is a real achievement. Her focus is similarly fine-tuned - there are occasional digressions from the stated topic (typically for a bit of human-sized scene setting) but the topic itself is so thoroughly fleshed out that it's hard for me to paraphrase. Anyone who's ever read Adbusters and been asked to explain its purpose will know what I mean, but Klein (whose territory definitely overlaps Adbusters') is yet more disciplined, and doesn't allow emotion (however righteously felt) to sway her writing.

The bad

Though very readable, you couldn't call this a page-turner. Klein is sometimes too detached for popular tastes; this
is OK if you're aiming at a smart audience (and Klein is resolutely un-patronising throughout) but I can't imagine
this book converting people either to or from the corporate cause. What I mean is, it's not going to grab a casual dabbler, and even if it did, Klein's semi-objective style is not the manipulative kind - it doesn't need to be, and she, refreshingly, knows it.

That said, the core conflict - First-world shell companies versus Third-world sweatshop workers - is one we can all identify, given the sheer amount of our possessions made by this sorry manufacturing base. As Klein (and others in the book) say, once you know about sweat shop conditions, you see Made In China tags in a new light and EVERYWHERE, including your own wardrobe. As Klein never states (perhaps because she assumes it to be obvious), but I found most damming, the worst part of this system is that it's completely unnecessary. Western countries COULD employ their own workers, allow them to unionise, and pay them a living wage, because, of course, that's exactly what we used to do. The cheapest, shittiest, most environmentally wasteful products would increase in price, but the mark-ups on any brand with any sort of recognition factor would easily absorb the costs. Only one group would suffer - executives, managers, and shareholders of large companies - and when we say "suffer", of course, we don't mean "work seven days a week in a lightless box for pennies without any rights or recourse to justice" but "accept a fractionally less retarded amount of money for doing your barely justifiable job".

In fact, if there's one area where I'd say Adbusters has it over No Logo, it's this: Over this hefty hunk of pages
Klein travels, interviews and investigates her way through the intertwined mechanisms of branding and sweatshops,
phenomena which almost seem to have irreversibly melded with Smith's basic capitalist ideas while our backs were
turned. The concept that they were turned because we willingly turned them, and why we chose (and choose) to do so is one Klein doesn't investigate. There's only so much you can blame on advertisers, after all; unlike the workers in many of the countries who make our shit, we have economic freedom - we might get two and a half electoral votes per decade, but we also vote with our wallets every day.

A seasoned cynic would probably detect occasional notes of naiveté. Then again, this cynic might also be inclined to project them onto a young female author who's done her research and been out on the ground to boot. This is the book that earned Ms. Klein recognition and a reputation, and rightly so. It's dated a little, perhaps, but her newest book Shock Doctrine proves that this has nothing to do with the author and everything to do with the speed of history. It's only going to get faster, too, so let's hope that there are a few more Kleins working up through the ranks while I sit here blathering on.

If No Logo slipped through your fingers but you're interested now, or if, like me, you keep forgetting to read it, then now's the time. The relevant parts have never been more relevant, and even the dated parts will serve to remind you what we've lost (and, possibly, gained) in less than a decade. Shock Doctrine is probably a more pertinent and devastating book in global terms, but No Logo feels more human and hopeful.

What I learnt

A lot about sweat shops. China still has most of the worst, and that's partly because they've picked up on the shittiest parts of capitalism without bothering to worry with the whole "voting" thing. Yes, it's a bloody-fingernailed barrel-scraping competition, with the trophy being the right to perform the worst possible job under the shittiest possible conditions for the tiniest amount of money for the enormous personal benefit of some wankbag on the other side of the planet who you'll never meet. I'm sure Mr. Bush is jealous.

In short

Title: No Logo
Author: Naomi Klein
Publisher: Picador; 10th Anniversary Edition edition
ISBN: 978-0312429270
Year published: 2009
Pages: 544
Genre(s): non-fiction, political
Review Type: