On the front cover of Jennifer Government, the book by Max Barry, there is an endorsing quote from Naomi Klein. Now that I’ve read No Logo, I understand why. Because Jennifer Government is the future we can look forward to (with dismay) if the present that Naomi Klein has described so poignantly in No Logo continues on its path.
It’s more than fifteen years since this book was first published but I suspect very little has changed. I read the tenth anniversary edition with the added foreword discussing the marketing brilliance of the first Obama presidential campaign. It’s a collection of anecdotes about marketing, about how the ultimate goal of companies now is to produce nothing but a brand (all manufacturing is outsourced) and how there is very little they won’t do in order to achieve it – except, of course, the right thing. With little regard for human rights or the environment, they do only what is legal without any thought given to whether or not it is ethical. Sometimes they don’t even bother with making sure it’s legal.
All the big brand names come in for a good whacking – McDonald’s, Nike, Pepsi, The Gap, Shell and many more – and based on the anecdotes, it seems deservedly so. From factory workers who are paid as little as eight cents an hour and work 90 hour weeks to land owners murdered by police after being chauffeured to a protest occupation by the multinational they were protesting; from employees fired as full-time workers and rehired as part-time workers putting in exactly the same hours without any of the previous benefits to tax-free manufacturing zones where companies close up shop once they reach the threshold length of time to start paying tax simply to start up another company in the same place or another factory in a different tax-free zone.
The author has done a significant amount of research in order to accomplish writing this book and she bemoans the nature of the brands and the opposing anti-corporate movement that mean she can’t quite keep up. As soon as she writes an update, there’s another one to be written and another. But she has captured a snapshot of a particular time and it’s important. This book has been described as a cultural manifesto but it’s less a guide about what to do than it is information about why something needs to be done. Naomi Klein doesn’t offer any solutions. She’s just making it clear that solutions are needed.
This is a very long book. It took me more than two months to read, nearly three. It’s also a very dense book. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the first half of the book was about because I just wouldn’t have had room for comprehension of the second half of the book in my brain if I had completely retained it. There are so many stories. And the structure is like a very long conversation, jumping from here to there with loose tangents that as you read make sense but when you think back on them you struggle to remember how you got from here to there.
It is the book’s only downfall. Instead of remembering what you have read, you’re instead left with a sense of what the book is about. But that sense is so strong, so impactful, that the reader feels like a different person to who they were when they first opened the cover to begin reading. You understand that the petrol you buy, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the seemingly innocuous brands you support without knowing anything more about them that the shape and colour of their logos are all part of an economic system that is failing. The global economy was supposed to offer opportunities to everyone. Instead, it is oppressing everyone in ways and to extents never thought possible. But it’s okay, supposedly, because the bottom lines have never looked better.
Just this week I saw the autobiography of Phil Knight, Nike co-founder, chairman and former CEO, on the shelf in a book store. (Perhaps it was just coincidental that the cover was all black with white writing and just a red swoosh, which was eerily reminiscent of the cover of No Logo.) The blurb painted his story as one of plucky courage as he sold shoes from the trunk of his car and went on to become a legend. I didn’t buy it and I won’t be reading it. I don’t think I would have been able to stomach his version of the cover-ups. How many of the scandals so eloquently covered in No Logo about Nike would he be addressing? None, I suspect.
This is one of those books that should be required reading for everyone who is high school age or above. This shows where everything we consume comes from and it’s not a nice place. This shows where all the jobs we used to do went. This shows that the decent wages and benefits didn’t go with the jobs. This shows that the only people benefiting from the system are the rich and the powerful who simply keep on getting more rich and more powerful.
If you can make it through the sometimes difficult prose, you’ll be rewarded. It’s an eye-opener. It’s a sucker punch to the guts. It’s a first step. I just wish I knew what all the other steps after this were.
*First published on Goodreads 22 June 2016