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Author Topic: Branded Literary Prizes: Good or Bad?
-=+=-
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posted 12 April 2007 03:40 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
We have the "Scotiabank Giller Prize" in Canada, and Britain's Booker Prize is now the "Man Booker Prize" (Man is a London investment firm). Atwood, Munro and Ondaatje have been shortlisted for the Man Booker's lifetime achievement award.

I would be curious to know your opinon on these branded awards. Is corporate branding acceptable, or is it corrupting? Also, is someone like Atwood less progressive for standing for such a branded award?

(I'd also observe that these branded awards seem to exist almost solely for literature. The Oscars, Emmies, Junos etc. have not yet been branded.)

[ 12 April 2007: Message edited by: -=+=- ]


From: Turtle Island | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
Farmpunk
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posted 12 April 2007 04:09 PM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think anything that hypes reading should be encouraged.
From: SW Ontario | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged
-=+=-
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posted 12 April 2007 04:19 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Farmpunk:
I think anything that hypes reading should be encouraged.

I take your point to be this: since reading is underappreciated, corporate sponsorship of awards is acceptable.

Would you say the same thing about public schools: Since public education is undervalued, corporate sponsorship of public schools is acceptable?

If corporate sponsorship of public schools is unacceptable, why is it acceptable for awards conected to literacy (i.e. getting people to read)?


From: Turtle Island | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
Farmpunk
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posted 12 April 2007 04:34 PM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Gotta start somewhere. Use the system if it works.

I personally don't enjoy either branding or corporate sponsorship of authors I consider inferior to others. But if Ondaatje's name gets out there, and more people read his books (including my personal favourite of his, In The Skin Of A Lion), then that's for the overall good of reading and writing. Ditto with Atwood. I enjoy other authors more, but I'm not going to ignore the contributions of those two, either.

It's not like Rush Limbaugh is winning prestigious literary awards.


From: SW Ontario | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 13 April 2007 06:30 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
There was a great article in the last issue of Geist that skewered the coroporatization of the Giller prize:

quote:
The Giller Prize is the most conspicuous example of corporate suffocation of the public institutions that built our literary culture. True, the Giller hasnít done as much damage as the throttling of the book market by the Chapters-Indigo chain. Until the early 1990s, a Canada-wide network of independent bookstores made it possible for a well-received small-press short story collection to sell 700 to 1000 copies, and sometimes more. Today the omnipresent outlets of Chapters-Indigo make it possible for a well-received small-press short story collection to sell 250 copies. But if Chapters-Indigo is the disease, the Giller Prize is the symptom. Nothing signalled the collapse of the literary organism as vividly as the appearance of this glitzy chancre on the hide of our culture. Year after year the vast majority of the books shortlisted for the Giller came from the triumvirate of publishers owned by the Bertelsmann Group: Knopf Canada, Doubleday Canada and Random House Canada. Like the three musketeers, this trio is in fact a quartet: Bertelsmann also owns 25 percent of McClelland & Stewart, and now manages M&Sís marketing. From 1994 to 2004, all the Giller winners, with the exception of Mordecai Richler, lived within a two-hour drive of the corner of Yonge and Bloor.

Rest of Stephen Henighan's column

I haven't read Bloodletting, the last winner of the Giller Prize, but this column articulates well my thoughts on these kinds of prizes. I was happy to see John Bannville win the Booker Prize last year, but I don't know if his book deserved to win. It's kind of like seeing Scorcese winning an oscar for The Departed. I guess the movie was alright, but it wasn't the best of the year, and it sure as hell was no Taxi Driver.

I should also mention that while I think Henighan does a good job of pointing out some of the problems with having a corporate literary prize (that he calls a "symptom" not a "cause") I am uncomfortable with his assertion that one of the only reasons Lam won was that he was acceptably "multicultural"; that is, he's a visible minority, but has a white wife.

ETA: Oh, and it appears like Henighan's column has caused quite a stir. Here are some responses:

Quill and Quire
The National Post
The Province

[ 13 April 2007: Message edited by: Catchfire ]


From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Farmpunk
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posted 14 April 2007 03:34 AM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Good points.

Don't you think the net and direct ordering has countered the loss of indy retailers? It is much cheaper to operate online than brick and mortar. Jim Munroe at Nomediakings has a great set of stats and personal anecdotes about big vs small vs self publishing. His books are by no means literary, or mainstream, but I like them and have bought them all.

If everyone who talks about supporting small presses actually bought more titles, then I suspect their sales would improve.


From: SW Ontario | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged
-=+=-
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posted 14 April 2007 05:53 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Farmpunk:
Good points.

Don't you think the net and direct ordering has countered the loss of indy retailers? It is much cheaper to operate online than brick and mortar. Jim Munroe at Nomediakings has a great set of stats and personal anecdotes about big vs small vs self publishing. His books are by no means literary, or mainstream, but I like them and have bought them all.

If everyone who talks about supporting small presses actually bought more titles, then I suspect their sales would improve.


Where are the indy online bookstores? Online sales are dominated by Chapters-Indigo and Amazon in Canada, and Barnes and Noble in the US. These large online operators are just as much to blame for the demise of independent bookstores as any bricks and mortar giant

I'm not sure about your point re: Munroe -- he may publish his own books but he still sells them through WalMart.com and all the other giant booksellers. Munroe also presents himself as "the guy who left Harper-Collins" -- the insider who left, and who is still playing off the inside connections.


From: Turtle Island | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
mayakovsky
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posted 14 April 2007 07:28 PM      Profile for mayakovsky     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I am all for 'indie'. Indy I am not so sure. They get writers going put people on the map challenge whats being published. Believe it or not all the bigwigs in Canlit used to be small press so you know that there is always the possibility that your cutting edge star will become establishment.

A writer wants to get heard by a large audience (i hope). So they use what ever avenue possible and small presses will also use larger distributors to get their books out to a larger audience. And when they sell more than 20 copies their indie audience turns the collective back and cries 'sell out sell out!' I don't care. As a writer I would read my anti-war poems at a Wal-Mart and at the Carrot Common. I want to reach people. Whether its the hipster or butcher the baker and the candlestick maker.

Operating a website and doing sales for one or for a small bookstore is financially difficult. Unless you have the input.$$ As farmpunk said " If everyone who talks about supporting small presses actually bought more titles, then I suspect their sales would improve." Math is not always big for some parts of the indie crowd but farmpunk's equation is correct!


From: New Bedford | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged
Sven
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posted 14 April 2007 11:51 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by mayakovsky:
A writer wants to get heard by a large audience (i hope). So they use what ever avenue possible and small presses will also use larger distributors to get their books out to a larger audience. And when they sell more than 20 copies their indie audience turns the collective back and cries 'sell out sell out!' I don't care.

I agree. I don't understand the fetish many people have for the local "independent" bookstore and press. So, an author gets a small press run of books printed and a few people happen to see it in their neighborhood bookstore...and that's it. The author still has to work as a waitron to earn a living.

For some, that's more of a victory (and "authentic") than if the same author's works were read by 100,000 people or more. And then, what's worse, is when an author (or musician) starts to see some (god-forbid) success, then it's okay to download or copy the artwork and not pay for it.

It's like a very miniscule amount of success for an artist is okay. But, if the artist starts to gain widespread attention and to make a good living, then it's "corporate" and something to be shunned.


From: Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!!! | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged
-=+=-
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posted 15 April 2007 02:11 AM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Sven:

I agree. I don't understand the fetish many people have for the local "independent" bookstore and press. So, an author gets a small press run of books printed and a few people happen to see it in their neighborhood bookstore...and that's it. The author still has to work as a waitron to earn a living.

For some, that's more of a victory (and "authentic") than if the same author's works were read by 100,000 people or more. And then, what's worse, is when an author (or musician) starts to see some (god-forbid) success, then it's okay to download or copy the artwork and not pay for it.

It's like a very miniscule amount of success for an artist is okay. But, if the artist starts to gain widespread attention and to make a good living, then it's "corporate" and something to be shunned.


So this is one particular area of our society -- book-selling -- where corporate dominance is okay? Does it follow then that corporations should also be the predominate force in healthcare, media etc. ? Or, if someone says that communities should own radios and newspapers -- are they making an irrational fetish out of community ownership?

Nowhere has it been said that an artist should starve or not succeed. But why do you think it is easier for a writer to suceed through a corporate controlled system than through a system of independent bookstores? How do you think CanLit became such a powerhouse, with internationally successfuly authors such as Munro, Atwood, and Ondatjee? Through the 60s and 70s there was an incredible network of independent booksellers in the country e.g. Mel Hertig. You actually believe Chapters will nurture our culture like Hertig? If you think that, I feel sorry for you.

Its a capitalist system we have, and the artist lives in it like the rest of us. But just because it is, does not mean it is the best of all possible worlds. In fact, the current system of book-selling we have is worse than it was in the 60s and 70s. (Funny -- just like healthcare, public education and all the other common goods that have deteriorated. Think there's a connection?)

[ 15 April 2007: Message edited by: -=+=- ]


From: Turtle Island | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
Farmpunk
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posted 15 April 2007 04:30 AM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
"Where are the indy online bookstores?"

I usually surf the publishers' sites, and if they don't have a direct buy system, or a fast link to where you can buy their books online, then I question their grasp of modern retail commerce. Repeating that "things ain't like they used to be" is odd, in my mind, because that's ignoring the possibilities in modern book market.

Valid points re. Munroe. But, as he says repeatedly, he's doing and you can, too. And Jim is certainly not writing WalMart Rocks books.

"Operating a website and doing sales for one or for a small bookstore is financially difficult."

I'd dispute that somewhat. Sign up for paypal, find an emerging net geek-artist to design a site, to build their experience and portfolio, and voila. Not saying running a retail business is simple, or easy work, mind you.

Indie vs Indy? Am I making a snytactical small press error?

The branding issue does bother me. But the pain is on a reader's level, not a writer's. When a certain style of literature-writing becomes qualified with Top Prizes, then there's a long standing after effect, an echo, in the big presses as they rush to find a similar author. Vindication though immitation.

Sunday morning lit sermon over.


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bigcitygal
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posted 15 April 2007 05:34 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
As someone who worked in the independent bookseller business for over 8 years my comments on branded literary prizes is, firstly, ick, and secondly, surprise that it hasn't happened sooner.

That recent winners of prizes have come from huge publishing conglomerates shouldn't be a surprise either. And Atwood Monroe and Ondaatje don't need the publicity, or the accolades; we already know who they are. I heard Atwood express dismay when nominated for an award a few years ago, feeling that she's had enough awards and attention, and that emerging writers should be given the focus. I greatly respect her for that.

As for the independent bookstore/small publisher comments, how's about you don't talk about stuff you don't know anything about, Sven? Let's take a small Canadian publisher, let's take Between the Lines, a progressive lefty press housed in downtown Toronto. This press is distributed by University of Toronto Press (U of T Press is a publisher as well as a distributor). U of T press has salespeople that go all over Canada promoting their own books (U of T Press) as well as for publishers that sign up to U of T Press for the express purpose of getting larger distribution. Small presses may be small but they're not stupid! They want their books to be sold across Canada, and beyond, some sign up with US and UK and AUS distributors. BTL produces those "No-Nonsense" guides, maybe you've seen them?

As for independent bookstores, most are small with one location (Pages, This Ain't the Rosedale Library, Toronto Women's Bookstore), some have a few locations (Book City, McNally Robinson). Independent means non-coporate and community-based. It means stores reflect the communities they are based in, as well as reflecting the specialty, if they are a specialty bookstore. Heather Reisman's empire long ago took the power of buying away from individual stores, so even an attempt to reflect the neighbourhoods of their corporate candle-selling monoliths is gone. Which is good news for independents, and more reason to stay away from those places. Myself, I hiss when I pass them, cat-like.

Why should progressives care about independent bookstores/publishers? Well, unlike the corporatization of fast food, drug stores and clothing stores (and I don't mean to minimize the closing of small independent businesses in all these areas because of big chains) books are powerful in that they hold and can create ideas, and the more that ideas are sold and packaged by fewer and fewer conglomerates, the fewer and fewer progressive voices, through books, will be available. I know I sound a bit idealistic here, what with print being dead and all, but access to the web is still quite limited and books in libraries remain one place where almost everyone can access such knowledge and ideas.

Giving dollars to Am.azon or Crapters/Indi.glo, even if you buy Chomsky, Guevara or Angela Davis, is still supporting a framework that cares less about the ideas and more about books as product. As books are seen more and more as products, what can we imagine happens to new authors, out-there-political authors? Publishers already balance a new author against a guaranteed sale, such as "Chicken Soup for the Hang-Nail Sufferer's Soul".

As for websites and independent bookstores, well, from personal experience I can tell you that the monetary investment is something that a) the store needs to be able to afford in the first place, which eliminates many stores right there (yeah, even the hosting fee is out of the budget of many small bookstores), and b) any money/time invested must be seen as a long term payoff that will very likely not result in paying for itself. Think of a website as a very expensive ad. Plus there's ongoing costs/time of keeping it updated. If a volunteer does it, staff time still needs to be taken up to provide the volunteer with info. Been there.

As for making a living off being an author, only someone who has no clue about the book industry would posit this as an argument. No author, particularly fiction authors, believes they will make enough money to earn a living that way, off one or ten books. Anyone know what royalties are? Pittance. A handful of authors can earn a living in Canada, less due to sales of books (except maybe Atwood, but she's published dozens!), but to selling the rights to US and UK publishers, movie rights, speaking fees. And many still have day jobs.

quote:
-=+=-: The Oscars, Emmies, Junos etc. have not yet been branded.

Emphasis on "yet".

From: It's difficult to work in a group when you're omnipotent - Q | Registered: Apr 2005  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 15 April 2007 09:28 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Wow. I love blanket reductions of corporatization concerns. This is not the same thing as Arcade Fire fans turning their back on Funeral when it became popular. I am so happy that mayakovsky would be perfectly happy with WalMart or Chapters selling his poetry. How's that working out, by the way?

The point is, is that when big box book stores control the market, they reduce the ability of smaller stores to survive. And, as bcg pointed out, big stores have very little interest in carrying low-sellers like short fiction collections (the high school of prose writers) or poetry (no poet makes a living on poetry anyway. Except for Jewel.) Why stock Jaspreet Singh's latest book of short stories when Oprah's latest selection is a surefire bestseller? Local bookstores like the recently deceased Double Hook in Montreal, which has aided the career of almost every single Canadian writer worth her salt in the last thirty years, are much more likely to carry books from little-known or startup authors, hence giving them a chance to sell a thousand books, instead of a couple hundred to friends and family.

Chapters etc. gives the illusion of choice when every single franchise has the same selection. Their websites, easy to use because they can afford the security, the programming and the hosting space that is out of reach for indie stores that struggle just to afford rent, further their stranglehold on the industry. Not to mention, even if an indie store did manage to put up a website, how could they even lift its head above the wave of information on the internet that already privileges indigo.com, amazon.com, barnes & Noble, etc.? Believe me, if it was as easy as some of the posters here seem to think, there would be a lot more of them.


From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Farmpunk
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posted 15 April 2007 12:16 PM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Strange, I just ordered a book direct from a new indie press. The site was very basic, link to paypal, free delivery within Canada. And I got to talk with the publisher, who answered my email.

No doubt it's a rough game, and an uneven trade. The books are usually worth the hassle of trying to find a way to buy the titles.

Jim Munroe doesn't seem to have any problems setting up a site and selling, and promoting, books.

Mayakovsky, you have a collection of poems out there? If so, PM me the title.


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Sven
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posted 15 April 2007 01:21 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
The point is, is that when big box book stores control the market, they reduce the ability of smaller stores to survive.

Rather than having (expensive-to-run) brick-n-mortar indie bookstores all over the place, why not have a centralized book seller online that is owned/controlled by authors? Even owners of small, independent bookstores need to earn a living and they are going to sell...well, what sells!!

I think competition with the big box stores is good. But, running hundreds of little bookstores all over Canada may not be the most efficient way for new authors to find a widespread following.


From: Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!!! | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged
bigcitygal
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posted 15 April 2007 02:12 PM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Authors are published by a gajillion (okay not that many) small publishers. It's good that we have so many little publishers, across the US and Canada. Some publish as few as 2 books per year, probably some labour of love for a literary nerd out there. It's wonderful!

For authors to get together to sell books on a joint website, it's actually a good idea in theory, but given the role that selling has in authors' lives, and that by the time that a book comes out they are likely well into working on the new one, plus the fact that their publishers have established distribution paths, it seems less practical.

Now, if we're talking self-published authors, that's kinda all they have is their own self-promotion machine. But self-published work is a whole other can o' worms.

No, booksellers don't sell what sells. Booksellers get "galley" copies of books, unbound or soft bound copies of uncorrected proofs, the ones that reviewers get, so that the staff can read them before they're officially released, without having to purchase them, and can recommend the books to customers (or not). It's a great way to move books and introduce new authors to audiences, but it's a slowly vanishing art known as "hand-selling". Booksellers actually create markets for lesser-known authors. Imagine that.

Farmpunk: most presses, small, medium and large, have websites and sell directly to the customer. This nets them more money than selling through a distributor. Not tons more, but it makes a difference. But presses aren't the same as bookstores.

As for the "most efficient" way to sell books, well, books aren't shoes. For emerging authors especially, it may take a bit of time, 6 months, a year, longer, to filter out into the ether. Crapters doesn't give books that much time to move, as if they'll go stale on the shelves like a loaf of bread. They're actually changing how publishers see books, decreasing the "shelf life" before books get remaindered, it's hearbreaking.

Did I mention I hate them?


From: It's difficult to work in a group when you're omnipotent - Q | Registered: Apr 2005  |  IP: Logged
Farmpunk
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posted 15 April 2007 04:49 PM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hey, whatever happened to Marginal Distribution? I ordered many books from them, and still have some of the catalouges kicking around.

Not many Giller Winners in those catalouges. But almost a lifetime of reading.

Guess I'm letting my retail\small business experiences wedge my opinion.

For those curious: http://nomediakings.com/, including a podcast, Happy Birthday Canada Council, which might be of interest to the discussion here.


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-=+=-
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posted 15 April 2007 04:57 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Farmpunk: I'm curious why you think Munroe is independent. How is someone who sells his books through Wal Mart independent of the corporate system? What exactly is he independent of?

(This is not to disparage Munroe, just a question).


From: Turtle Island | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
Farmpunk
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posted 15 April 2007 05:12 PM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I can't explain it any better than Munroe himself can, on his site.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with him using the system when it works for him. He's certainly not pulling many punches in his fiction and journalism\activism. He clearly states that when you buy a book directly from him, he makes more money. I appreciate the honest approach. And I don't mind giving him a bit more money if I can bypass buying his books at Walmart.


From: SW Ontario | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged
bigcitygal
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posted 15 April 2007 05:20 PM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm pretty sure Marginal folded, about 3 years ago. Sad. They were great, distributed some really wonderful small presses and magazines.
From: It's difficult to work in a group when you're omnipotent - Q | Registered: Apr 2005  |  IP: Logged
-=+=-
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posted 15 April 2007 05:33 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Farmpunk:
I can't explain it any better than Munroe himself can, on his site.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with him using the system when it works for him. He's certainly not pulling many punches in his fiction and journalism\activism. He clearly states that when you buy a book directly from him, he makes more money. I appreciate the honest approach. And I don't mind giving him a bit more money if I can bypass buying his books at Walmart.


I certainly undertand this point of view. Within the system as it is, spend your money at places whose way of operating you support -- including buying directly from the artist.

What you also appear to be saying though is that Munroe's "attitude" is indepedent. Which is great, but isn't that the "rebel sell" i.e. our blue jeans are anti-authoritarian and independent; if you buy them, you will be too.

[ 15 April 2007: Message edited by: -=+=- ]


From: Turtle Island | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged
Farmpunk
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posted 15 April 2007 05:46 PM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Solid point. Jim did formerly work for Adbusters. He knows how to sell what he's doing.
From: SW Ontario | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged
-=+=-
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posted 15 April 2007 06:35 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Farmpunk:
Solid point. Jim did formerly work for Adbusters. He knows how to sell what he's doing.

That's my fundamental objection to "culture jammers" like Munroe -- they really seek to master or manipulate the system as it is, rather than change it.

Which is in itself fine, but you can't also call yourself independent at the same time.

[ 15 April 2007: Message edited by: -=+=- ]


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Farmpunk
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posted 16 April 2007 02:45 AM      Profile for Farmpunk     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Part of the problem or part of the evolution? I don't know. But Munroe strikes me as being honest.
From: SW Ontario | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged
-=+=-
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posted 16 April 2007 03:33 PM      Profile for -=+=-   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Farmpunk:
Part of the problem or part of the evolution? I don't know. But Munroe strikes me as being honest.

I've think you put your finger on it. Murnoe is a reformer (evolution of the status quo), rather than a radical.

The problem is he presents himself, or allows himself to be presented, as a radical -- the guy who opted out of the corporate system, but who really hasn't. This doesn't exactly seem honest.

In fact, its the kind of false consciousness the Liberal Party of Canada provides.


From: Turtle Island | Registered: Oct 2004  |  IP: Logged

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