The working title of White Noise was Panasonic but that was dropped when the publisher was unable to secure rights to the trademark. The brand. No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, No Logo.
I lent White Noise to my dad in 2001, maybe 2002 and he gave it back after maybe 200 pages; “I can’t connect with these characters. They all have the same dialogue.” Well, actually, you’re not wrong about that but it’s not a problem for me. (Act 1: A Simple Postmodern Novel, or How I was Don DeLillo’d Into Submission) As we say now, No Plot – No Problem! And here was a book that did a whole bunch of stuff I wanted a book to do without really being very much of a novel at all.
Rereading No Logo is a wonderful coda to a long decade. I read it first in May 2001, just under nine years ago, at the very end of my last year in high school. I remember reading it on my way home from work, eating dinner at the old Thai Away Home location at Commercial and 4th. It felt great: I’m working in a mall, going to high school in Surrey, and reading a totally serious book while eating thai food on Commercial Drive. But No Logo was a coda – the end of where I was, no matter the several years of denouement left. And I sure didn’t get all of what White Noise was trying to do but enough of it took root that I can read it again today and see it all, 2001, and where I would end up.
Really, the bulk of No Logo was already gospel to me in 2001. I was tearing ads off of SkyTrain cars and putting ‘Buy Nothing Day’ posters up at my north Surrey high school. No Logo said “hey, kid, you’re totally right about everything.” 400 pages of affirmations.
Four years after No Logo, in 2004, the brands that mattered weren’t Nike or WalMart but suddenly Bechtel and Halliburton and Blackwater. And ‘de-cooling’ these guys didn’t matter because their contracts came from the government. Brown and Root, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell. Meanwhile, here at home there was something charming and quaint about Anne Roberts taking on Canadian Tire in 2004 – hey, we can play too, but we’re playing the Clinton game still. Between 2000 and 2010 you saw the US shift from soft power to hard power on a dime. You saw government decisions inspire reactions that certainly weren’t happening when I was in high school. Nothing could ever stop the eternal rule of Jean Chretien and David Collenette and John Manley and Allan Rock until, um, Paul Martin managed to make elections relevant again in Canada. And I remember a Naomi Klein piece from 2004 that said “Vote for John Kerry, even though he is actually on their side in the end.” The argument was that under Clinton we were finally able to develop a systemic analysis on a broad scale, because we weren’t worried about rollbacks of stuff we should take for granted by now or distracted by outsized personality flaws. So, vote for Kerry and keep on working. But Bush pushed us past the smug ‘Republicrat’ crap and now here we are, the number one issue is government involvement in health care and not only do elections matter, but votes in Congress matter even more. In 2000 I came back from Bumbershoot in Seattle with a Ralph Nader sticker that I was very proud to wear on my backpack to-and-from my high school and my mall job. No logo my ass.
The best chapter of No Logo looked back at what campuses were concerning themselves with in the early 1990s – battles over identity – and concludes that they missed the target. In 2001, when I started my undergraduate degree, until sometime in 2002 we were still talking about No Logo. But then we started talking about Islamophobia and the Middle East concentrations in History and Political Science started to fill up. By the time I left SFU, this space was entirely claimed by a shallow, technocratic environmentalism that seemed to be dominated by ‘green economy’ and entrepreneurial bullshit; some weird hybrid of Greenpeace and the Power of Positive Thinking. And all of No Logo‘s fears around ‘conscious consumption’ simply becoming a ‘Lemon-Aid’ guide to the mall became true but kinda without the ‘conscious’ part.
I feel as though No Logo has very little to say about our cultural landscape today but I am well aware of the fact that I am far more out of touch now than I was in 2001. The brands in my life today are mostly locally-owned beer companies. And comparing No Logo(2000) to White Noise(1985) – nothing in the last section of No Logo, the ‘call to arms,’ comes even close to doing what White Noise does to place brands outside of context and into the landscape in which we encounter them day-to-day. I can read No Logo again today and look at how far we have come – how far I have come – for better or for worse. And I can read White Noise again today, 25 years later, and still look forward.