I'm disappointed with Adbusters lately

When I first subscribed to Adbusters, it was pretty informative: I used to learn things by reading it; it actually had articles. It had things like family trees showing corporate ownership; it was the place where I first learned how corporate personhood came about. They used to regularly run brilliant parodies of advertisements.

But for the last couple of years, it seems like they've totally run out of things to say: the magazine still looks good, and still contains interesting (and occasionally entertaining) pictures, but instead of articles, it seems to have become a hundred pages of navel-gazing: they no longer make arguments about anything, they just spend their time deconstructing the Nike logo or whatever. They no longer support their claims (when they get around to actually claiming anything, that is), they just assume you agree with them already.

Here's page six of the latest issue (I only know it's page six by counting, page numbers being a tool of oppression):

Where are we? The well-heeled experts answer: Globalization. Postmodernism. Communications Revolution. Economic Liberalism. The terms are tautological and evasive. To the anguished question of Where are we? the experts murmur: Nowhere. Might it not be better to see and declare that we are living through the most tyrannical -- because the most pervasive -- chaos that has ever existed?

It doesn't get any more coherent after that. After reading this, I was expecting to find a dry, crusty white powder on the magazine in my hands, because clearly someone had jerked off all over the page I was holding.

I washed my hands, just in case.

(Though, to be fair, I did get the ClearChannel quote via the latest issue.)

I'll probably renew my subscription anyway, as a way of donating to their TV commercial campaigns, but I wish the magazine itself was... less choir-oriented, I guess. Less shrill.

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9 Responses:

  1. andrewducker says:

    When a magazine starts writing exclusively for its perceived readership or a band starts playing for its perceived audience, it's a short spiral downwards into navel-gazing and mediocracy. There's no need to persuade people any more, because you know they already believe. There's no need to speak in anything but inner-church cant because you know you're speaking to the believers. There's no longer any need to even pretend to believe that any other plausible opinion other than your own exists.

    Wired went this way, and it saddened me. Slashdot frequently sounds this way (although, strangely, the comments on the stories tend to display contrary opinions and highlight the hypocrisy).

    When people try to claim that the USA, which despite its numerous problems is still democratic, educated and freeer than many, many other countries is in "the most tyrannical chaos that has ever existed?" it just leads me to discount anything else they might happen to say.

    • slithytove says:

      When a magazine starts writing exclusively for its perceived readership or a band starts playing for its perceived audience, it's a short spiral downwards into navel-gazing and mediocracy.

      William Gibson, from his blog (which he says he's giving up shortly), saying what sounds to me like something similar, an intellectual/moral peril of blogging in particular:


      You see the initial lift into heightened language, into intent, but when the wings begin to wobble (as they invariably will) there's always the option of safe and instantaneous descent back into a fundamentally informal relationship with the reader. There's no risk involved.

      Unless, if you're accustomed to playing for higher stakes, it's the risk of some edge being taken off your game.

    • great_dame says:

      What he said! lol

      (surfer girl)

  2. gucky says:

    I write advertising. I read Adbusters. And so does everyone in my department, and in every other advertising creative department I know. Adbusters sits between "Communication Arts" and "Creativity" on the magazine rack.

    We've read "Under the Radar" and "Cutting-Edge Advertising", books talking about how to make ads look like anythign but ads and suggesting to steal guerilla and grassroots techniques to make great ads. We're stealing ideas from Adbusters in order to make more relevant ads. Both in design and concept.

    Hell, part of my master's thesis were mock ads for TV Turn-Off week. I got a degree in advertising creating ads for Adbusters. They were the ads most widely praised by my school's advertising department. (But no, they were never in Adbusters.)

    Adbusters is the rock star of the anti-advertising movement and their power has eaten by their own fame. They've become a symbol for a mindset more than a relevant cultural force. But they're still chocked full of great ideas for jeans ads. (sigh)

    • jwz says:

      That's got to be making their heads explode...

      • flipzagging says:

        It's very, very common now. I quit the field of communication arts mostly because of this. Young people graduate with a very Adbustersy attitude, but almost immediately begin using the analysis for evil, not good.

        I agree with you about Adbusters. They've been seduced by the David Carson concept circa 1993 -- a magazine purely about attitude, layout, images, poetry and lastly content. That's hard to resist because it makes wanking with Quark seem radical. (DC himself is an experimentalist genius that happens to work in the mass market, and thus not a wanker.)

    • hochi666 says:

      If I may interject for a moment -- here's something late comedian Bill Hicks had to say about "anti-advertising" marketing. (This of course, nothing personal).


      "By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself. No, this is not a joke: kill yourself . . . I know what the marketing people are thinking now too: 'Oh. He's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market.' Oh man, I am not doing that, you fucking evil scumbags."

  3. ammonoid says:

    I guess they've made the mistake of believing their own propaganda. It bugs me that people like the guy from Adbusters never seem to realize (or maybe they do and just don't talk about it) that what they're doing is propaganda, just on the other side. An image is not the same thing as a discussion.

  4. omnifarious says:

    That is often the source of my disillusionment with most widely promulgated political or social philosophies. The promulgators seem to think they've hit on something good, and they don't need to think or grow anymore.