Naomi Klein was a teen rebel—but in a way very different from most young activists at political rallies. The daughter of ’60s radicals and granddaughter of a trailblazing labor organizer, Klein became at a young age a wholehearted consumerist. Obsessed with the allure of name-brand products, she wheedled her parents for Barbie dolls, designer clothes, and dinners at McDonald’s. In her high school yearbook, she was named “mostly likely to be in jail for stealing peroxide.”
Today, if she’s ever locked up, it will probably be a result of her strong views on the dominant power of corporations. Klein helped define the anti-globalization movement with No Logo, her corporate-busting manifesto against consumer culture.
No Logo, which has been translated into 16 languages and serves as a guidebook of sorts for many young activists, catapulted this 30-year-old Toronto journalist to international fame as an eloquent critic of the corporate domination of our lives. In clear, no-nonsense prose, Klein outlines her thesis: that the relentless commercialization symbolized by logos, “the closest thing we have to an international language,” are deadening our culture, and the mounting corporate power behind them is slowly warping our society.
Klein skillfully dissects the way corporate giants have co-opted alternative politics and culture through sophisticated media campaigns and veiled use of popular imagery. This technique, Klein told the British newspaper The Guardian, is a “mask for capitalism. It was making it more difficult to see the power dynamics in society. Because this was a time when there was a growing income gap between rich and poor that was quite staggering all over the world—and yet everything looked way more equitable, in terms of the imagery of the culture.”
With No Logo (dubbed by The Guardian “the Das Kapital of the growing anti-corporate movement”), Klein hopes to inspire and encourage a new generation of activists, young people who, like her, were raised in a mind-numbing, corporate-controlled world.
The public’s new awareness of the perils of globalization does not mean that 'the revolution is just around the corner,' Klein told an audience at Concordia University in Montreal in June. The challenge of the movement, she said, is “to prove globalization is built on . . . destroying protections to health, housing, schools. We need to focus not on trade, but trade-offs.”
Tough words for a former mall rat, but who better to lead the charge against our consumer culture?