The Marketing of Rebellion

A new book suggests it's survival of the most marketable


| June 15, 2006


In Western China a certain population has been struggling against government control for decades. The people face suppression at the hands of a strong centralized government implementing top-down development plans and anti-terror policies. But they aren't the Tibetans, whose cause has been championed by rock stars, aid groups, and college activists. These are the Uighurs. 'Uighurs who?' you may ask. The root of that question -- why one group's cause commands the world's attention as another's languishes in obscurity -- is at the center of The Marketing of Rebellion, a recent book by Clifford Bob excerpted on The Globalist.

'In this global morality market, challengers must publicize their plights, portray their conflicts as righteous struggles, and craft their messages to resonate abroad,' says Bob, an assistant professor of political science at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The fact is, with the number of international causes far outweighing the nongovernment organizations (NGOs) available to help, only a few can garner media attention and international aid. And who gets what isn't entirely a matter of need or chance, Bob argues. Even in conflict and disaster, the name of the game is marketing.

Bob writes that in today's streaming newsfeed of conflicts, it's less that NGOs and media seek out causes, and more that causes find them. To do so, local movements have to be savvy about getting their messages out, and sometimes that means shifting priorities to garner interest from journalists and granting outfits. What gets one group's cause on the front page and another's buried on A24? Bob found the most successful movements had knowledge, resources, and previous international coverage -- resources that not all those in need are afforded. 'At stake, is more than a global popularity contest,' writes Bob. 'For many challengers, outside aid is literally a matter of life or death.' What's more, Bob warns, it's not just the unseen and unheard who are at risk. Catering to a foreign NGO's conceptions can alienate a movement's base and set groups up for a fall: 'Challengers, enticed to attention-grabbing tactics or extreme stances, may find distant stalwarts absent or helpless at moments of gravest peril.' -- Rachel Anderson

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