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Commodity Activism

Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times

Roopali Mukherjee, Sarah Banet-Weiser

Publication Year: 2012

Buying (RED) products—from Gap T-shirts to Apple--to fight AIDS. Drinking a “Caring Cup” of coffee at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to support fair trade. Driving a Toyota Prius to fight global warming. All these commonplace activities point to a central feature of contemporary culture: the most common way we participate in social activism is by buying something.

Roopali Mukherjee and Sarah Banet-Weiser have gathered an exemplary group of scholars to explore this new landscape through a series of case studies of “commodity activism.” Drawing from television, film, consumer activist campaigns, and cultures of celebrity and corporate patronage, the essays take up examples such as the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign, sex positive retail activism, ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover, and Angelina Jolie as multinational celebrity missionary.

Exploring the complexities embedded in contemporary political activism, Commodity Activism reveals the workings of power and resistance as well as citizenship and subjectivity in the neoliberal era. Refusing to simply position politics in opposition to consumerism, this collection teases out the relationships between material cultures and political subjectivities, arguing that activism may itself be transforming into a branded commodity.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This project would have had little chance of getting off the ground had it not been for an entirely exhilarating late-night conversation with Radhika Parameswaran in which the central paradoxes of “commodity activism” first emerged in the form of a tentative but ambitious...

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pp. ix-xi

The sense of a crucial historical shift is a key structure of feeling of our times. Upheaval, restructuring, shift, and dramatic social and economic change are not only the prevailing contemporary discourses but also likely to be how our moment in time will be characterized...

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Introduction: Commodity Activism in Neoliberal Times

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pp. 1-17

Buying Product RED items—ranging from Gap T-shirts to Apple iPods to Dell computers—means one supports the Global Fund to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. Consuming a “Caring Cup” of coffee at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf indicates...

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Part One: Brand, Culture, Action

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pp. 19-92

The titles are revealing: Love Marks; Emotional Branding; Citizen Brand. All are books written in the past several years meant to guide marketers and advertisers on how to navigate the increasingly blurred relationships between advertising, branding, emotion...

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1. Brand Me “Activist”

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pp. 23-38

In 2006, Time magazine named “YOU” person of the year. Arguing that the Internet and social network sites had facilitated the emergence of “community and collaboration on a scale never seen before,” the magazine went on to celebrate...

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2. “Free Self-Esteem Tools?”: Brand Culture, Gender, and the Dove Real Beauty Campaign

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pp. 39-56

In October 2006, promotion company Ogilvy and Mather created “Evolution,” a viral video for Dove Soap, the first in a series of videos stressing the importance of girls’ healthy self-esteem and encouraging critique of beauty industries...

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3. Citizen Brand: ABC and the Do Good Turn in US Television

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pp. 57-75

In 2008, the ABC network presented an ethical twist on the reality game. Instead of competing for love matches, celebrity status, or cash prizes, contestants on Oprah’s Big Give helped the needy. Backed by Winfrey and corporate sponsors, they crisscrossed...

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4. Good Housekeeping: Green Products and Consumer Activism

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pp. 76-92

“Green products” in many ways seem to embody what this book terms “commodity activism” par excellence. Every year more products labeled as “green” hit the shelves, raising questions about the extent to which environmental awareness is changing...

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Part Two: Celebrity, Commodity, Citizenship

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pp. 93-194

As the liberal welfare state and its apparatuses of social justice are battered by populist and legal assaults, and as the legitimacy of and resources for public programs wither within the cultural imaginary, celebrities and privatized philanthropies...

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5. Make It Right? Brad Pitt, Post-Katrina Rebuilding, and the Spectacularization of Disaster

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pp. 97-113

In today’s entertainment-saturated world, the notion of “spectacle” has become a key concept in the social sciences, arts, and humanities even though scholars contest its meaning and societal effects. Spectacle refers to the dominance of amusement...

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6. Diamonds (Are from Sierra Leone): Bling and the Promise of Consumer Citizenship

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pp. 114-133

Late in the summer of 2005, hip-hop superstar Kanye West released his highly anticipated second album, Late Registration.1 Among the songs on the album, West unveiled the music video for the single “Diamonds (Are from Sierra Leone)” that offers...

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7. Salma Hayek’s Celebrity Activism: Constructing Race, Ethnicity, and Gender as Mainstream Global Commodities

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pp. 134-153

Mexican-born telenovela star Salma Hayek first crossed the cinematic border between Mexico and the US in 1995 when she appeared in her first Hollywood film as a gunslinging, sultry bookstore owner and Antonio Bandera’s spitfire love interest...

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8. Mother Angelina: Hollywood Philanthropy Personified

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pp. 154-173

Angelina Jolie sets the scene. Over a sea of provocative and heartwrenching images of hardship and disease, she intones: “Extreme poverty means not having enough food to feed your family; walking long distances barefoot to collect safe water...

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9. “Fair Vanity”: The Visual Culture of Humanitarianism in the Age of Commodity Activism

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pp. 174-194

These are the opening lyrics of Global Night Commute: A Musical to Believe In, a seven-minute spoof—with a serious twist—of the 1986 Disney film Captain EO that featured Michael Jackson singing “We Are Here to Change the...

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Part Three: Community, Movements, Politics

In 2010, a new Levi’s billboard campaign featured “workers” from the steel belt town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, engaged in various poses of industrial labor using the slogan “We Are All Workers.” What does it mean that such an iconic slogan...

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10. Civic Fitness: The Body Politics of Commodity Activism

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pp. 199-218

The past three decades have witnessed an exponential growth in physical activity–based fundraising events, or “thons.” During this time, all the major health foundations in the US began to stage national networks of charitable walks, runs...

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11. Eating for Change

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pp. 219-239

Food shoppers are now regularly invited to practice their politics through their purchases. Whether it is upgrading to a fair-trade brew at a coffee shop, choosing organic milk at the supermarket, or perusing local fare at farmers’ markets...

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12. Changing the World One Orgasm at a Time: Sex Positive Retail Activism

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pp. 240-253

In May 2001, Babeland, the women-run sex toy company, held a rather unusual press conference at its retail store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Provocatively dubbed a “Masturbation Summit,” the event brought members of the press together...

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13. Pay-for Culture: Television Activism in a Neoliberal Digital Age

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pp. 254-272

As television has undergone significant industrial, technological, and cultural transformations with the expansion of cable/satellite delivery and its “convergence” through the Internet, so too have the strategies and orientations of television activism...

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14. Feeling Good While Buying Goods: Promoting Commodity Activism to Latina Consumers

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pp. 273-291

This chapter examines the ways in which commodity activism is marketed to Latina/o consumers, one of the fastest-growing and most diverse marketing segments worldwide.1 Currently, nearly 45 million Latinos reside in the US, and by...

About the Contributors

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pp. 293-296


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pp. 297-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780814763018
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814764008
Print-ISBN-10: 0814764002

Publication Year: 2012