Wed, Dec 26, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Magazine keeps up fight against overconsumption

Canada’s ‘Adbusters’ magazine has been trying to spark campaigns to combat the hyperconsumerism of modern society since the 1990s and, despite some critiques about its consistency, it inspired Occupy Wall Street, its anti-corporate ‘uncommercials’ attract thousands of readers and it continues to battle to spread social change

By Jeff Sommer  /  NY Times News Service, New York

Illustration: Mountain People

If you have not finished your holiday shopping yet, do not bother. Skip the mall and the neighborhood store, resist the urge to shop online and, by all means, do not buy anything you do not truly need.

So says Kalle Lasn, 70, maestro of the proudly radical magazine Adbusters, published in Vancouver, British Columbia. Lasn takes gleeful pleasure in lobbing provocations at global corporations — and his latest salvo is “Buy Nothing Christmas.”

“As our planet gets warmer, as animals go extinct, as the humans get sicker, as our economies bail and our politicians grow ever more twisted,” Americans just go shopping, Adbusters says on its Web site.

Overconsumption is destroying us, yet shopping is “our solace, our sedative: Consumerism is the opiate of the masses,” it adds.

“We’ve got to break the habit,” Lasn said in a telephone interview. “It will be a shock, but we’ve got to shift to a new paradigm. Otherwise, I’m afraid we will be facing a new Dark Age.”

Of course, retailers will be facing a Dark Age if people really stop shopping. Since consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the US’ GDP, an abrupt shift to non-consumption would drive the already faltering economy to its knees.

There are no signs that consumers are heeding Lasn’s call, NPD Group chief retail analyst Marshal Cohen said.

“I find that people are shoppers or they’re not,” he said. “Shoppers keep shopping.”

It is easy to dismiss this latest campaign as yet another empty gesture from a figure on the radical fringe. Why take Lasn’s words seriously?

Well, last year, a campaign prompted by Lasn and his magazine improbably caught fire. It was Occupy Wall Street.

Adbusters gave Occupy its name, opening date and designed the poster with Occupy’s defining image: an elegant ballerina perched atop Wall Street’s raging bull while gas-masked figures loomed in the background. The poster contained the text: “What Is Our One Demand? #OccupyWallStreet. Sept. 17th. Bring Tent.” A digital version went viral.

However, Lasn’s main role in the Zuccotti Park occupation pretty much ended there: He remained in Vancouver, never visiting the Lower Manhattan encampment and participating in the local organizational work that made it possible. Yet his contribution began long before then.

Born in Estonia, Lasn lived for several years in German resettlement camps with his parents after they fled the advancing Soviet army toward the end of World War II. The family moved to Australia when he was 7. He graduated from the University of Adelaide, where he studied theoretical and applied mathematics and then worked for the Australian military for four years, writing computer code for war games.

Then he moved to Tokyo, Japan, where the skills he developed in Australia served him well. He started a market research company and did computer-based studies of ad campaigns for global corporations, he said. The work was lucrative and he used his money to see the world. It was 1968, and a left-wing student rebellion in Paris resonated worldwide. He says he imbibed the spirit of rebellion and it changed him.

“Until Occupy, the greatest political movement I’d ever seen was the uprising of ’68. It really inspired me and I’ve been running on that energy — and have been trying to recapture it — ever since,” he said.

Last year, he did recapture it, he said. Stirred by the uprisings in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt — the Arab Spring — he and colleagues at Adbusters “began to consider the possibilities of achieving a soft regime change in the United States, of finding some way to tap into the revolutionary zeitgeist.”

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