Posted by: lee E. | October 8, 2012

Commodification of Cool

In the late ’80s, Shepard Fairey made a bunch of stickers of wrestler Andre the Giant’s face…and wrote the Obey manifesto, which said “The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning.”

Apparently Fairey’s goals have changed a bit since then.  Obey‘s readings sound more like this:

“Freaks Need T-shirts, too!  It’s that time of year again where the weirdos come out! We did up a super limited Halloween tee available exclusively on our site…Click HERE to grab one.”

You can also “grab” an Obey “thrift” t-shirt for $37 or a vinyl “Classic Varsity Jacket” for $114.

This week’s readings made me want to light a bunch of stuff on fire.  I teach high school students who can’t eat without federal assistance, and they all want Obey-ish crap for Christmas.

According to Althusser, “The ruling ideology is then the ideology of the ruling class.  But the ruling class does not maintain the ruling ideology…the bourgeoisie has to believe its own myth before it can convince others.” (M&S pg 195)

I read Althusser to say that there doesn’t have to be a purposeful conspiracy by us richies to “maintain consent”—We perpetuate control naturally.  It’s our world; the poor are just living in it.

In a world where ideology can be turned into a slogan on an overpriced t-shirt, how can movements for social change be formatted so they’re not so easily co-opted as fashion?

*Recommended reading:  Commodify Your Dissent by Thomas Frank


  1. Lee,

    I love that you posted about Obey – I did some research on Shepard Fairey and the Obey campaign in college and I’m still grappling with whether Shepard is the ultimate hypocrite, or if he is conducting the ultimate social experiment (and profiting wildly from it..).

    I think the questions of at-what-point-does-subversion-turn-into-pop-culture and how-do-we-prevent-the-commodification-of-dissent are really interesting ones. And I definitely don’t know what the answers are.


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