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Adbusters as Survivalist Romance
Dawn Danby, 17 Oct 04

adbusters56cover.jpg I've been meaning to cancel an old subscription to Adbusters for a while. Their catalogue of glossily reprinted, vapid anger had been getting me down, and the writing felt toxic, a litany of complaints too light on solutions. This month, however, much of that is gone. They've started writing fiction. By setting the story in an alternate present, society, as we know it, is conveniently swept away, leaving social disorder and an unpolluted Mental Environment.

The issue alludes to S11.2, a single, catastrophic event that causes the whole global machine to crash. The lights go out, the US government relinquishes power, and the world's cities empty. Where the people go is not clear. Those who felt this coming all along cleverly begin to plant victory gardens on rural property and urban rooftops. The scenario is implausible, but its device - an unspecific post-apocalypse, led by anarchists turned back-to-the-landers, is in many ways deeply familiar. Adbusters' tone has changed, and the writing is almost buoyant. In the S11.2 world, the culture jammers have won. Somewhat fittingly, after years of ballooning, the magazine has lost half its weight: the pages are thin, like newsprint.

Kalle Lasn describes an oddly totalitarian society:
"These fired-up anarchists will be our new leaders. They have an almost pathological, taboo-like disgust for the old world and – Coke or no Coke – they're determined to never let it rise again. The price was too high, for all of us, for everything. Their world is about bioregions, true-cost farming, keeping every corporation on a tight leash, and building a new media that delivers truth."

This young person's depopulated America reminds me of the idealistic/myopic vision that some anarchists share with libertarians: both worlds operate much better if you take the elderly, the very young, and the sick out of the equation.

In August, Chris wrote about Lasn's call for submissions, and articulated some of the trouble with negative scenarios as well as the way they frequently turn up in human mythology. (The comments from his post are worth checking out. I noticed that How to Kill a Chicken made it to print.) The issue describes a fantasy that is instantly recognizable, in equal measure CoEvolution Quarterly, survivalist romance, and thin philosophy. It's full of references to Edward Abbey, letters from triumphant luddites, instructions on creating sod-roofed shelters out of the husks of cars, and a visual survey of apocalyptic engravings, early SF movie stills, and prescient 20th century prewar art. As an elucidation of a particular post-catastrophe dream, it's spot on. The suffering is countered by I-told-you-so. I'm not sure that it even qualifies as terriblisma; the tone is too pleased.

WorldChanging has frequently posted about the trouble with this vision when applied too liberally. Single, all-encompassing global collapses are unlikely; the wilderness, such as it is, can't hold the lot of us; and clean-sweeping revolutions are far uglier than we pretend (take a look at Alex's recent post about his visit to the Hoover Dam for a wonderful portrayal of this impulse). Being as subject to chaos fantasy as anyone, I don't know quite what to think. It's rather like having someone shine a light on a very silly, but very real, part of my unconscious.

It'll be interesting to see where Adbusters goes from here. This feels like a sendoff. In all its years of complaint, the issue reads like a strange wish, a collective fantasy of societal revolution, minus the consequence.

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I took a look through this in the book store this afternoon. It's very reminiscent of Tyler Durden's madness in Fight Club... tear the whole thing down, and somehow we'll all be free...

The 1% of us who survive.

Pro- and Anti- are very attractive each pushing back and forth the knobs and dials of society. The real solutions are elsewhere - adding new dials, new possibilities. Agriculture really solved the dispute between the Pro-Deer and Pro-Bison hunting factions of the Hunter Gatherer Political Spectrum, you know?

Posted by: Vinay on 17 Oct 04

One thing I've noticed recently: Kalle et al were always fighting against Big Media to get access to an audience for its messages. In the wake of the mass-pileon of Rathergate, it's becoming apparent to even regular (i.e. non-geek) people that the web and blogs are the new media. Why bother continuing to fight for space on CNN and others, when you can just take your message directly to the people?

Which begs the question: why doesn't Adbusters have a blog? Maybe because there's no money in it? I don't know - and when I asked them via email, I never received a response, so I can only guess they don't know either.

Posted by: Brendon J. Wilson on 17 Oct 04

I have a hard time thinking anything bad about Ad Busters.

They've saved me a lot of money!

I frequently think: "Those three issues of ad busters I bought payed themselves back a thousandfold, by converting me to frugalism."

They did a great job of showing me how social conventions and psychology are abused to take our money from us, and showed me a lot of ways to counter that.

Posted by: Lion Kimbro on 17 Oct 04

I recently read _The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time_ (Mark Haddon), a mystery novel of sorts.

The narrator is a high-functioning autistic teen who becomes a detective when he finds a neighbor's dog dead . . . skewered with a pitchfork.

I mention it here because at one point John describes his favorite dream. In it, all of the normal people in the world die catching a disease that causes them to march to the sea and drown themselves. John could then go about his day, persuing his geeky persuits, untroubled by the infuriating, chattering, bewildering masses of normals.

The sheer creepiness of this scenario made me think of all the world-emptying scenarios, by authors of many political stripes, that I've encountered reading SF.

How many of these seemingly ideal-driven utopias are rooted in a neurotic desire to see a world cleansed of the sheeple, the infidels, the mud people, the californicators, the welfare bums, the Man, or other despised group?

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 17 Oct 04

Reading this issue of Adbusters, I began to feel like it was a mirror-image version of all those fundamentalist christian "Left Behind" books. An Adbusters version of The Rapture, if you will.

They seem pretty certain that all those "fired-up anarchists" (and Adbusters staff & readers) won't be among the first to buy the farm in the S11.2 aftermath...

Posted by: Robert Curry on 18 Oct 04

Gotta agree with Mr. Curry, and I'd like to add for myself that this magazine is a total waste of time. Don't waste your time or money that is.

Posted by: Jack on 19 Oct 04

As a subscriber I too was feeling like the content drift was dragging me down. Ironically what kept me reading was the same sort of "success" as Lion. It both helped me turn to simple living as a lifestyle and see the disaster linked with antidepressants (Adbusters May/June2002). The antidepressants topic alone opened my eyes to how much trouble we are in and I am very thankful for adbusters for this alone. However more recently it felt like the content was just griping and so I am very curious to see where things go.

I am feeling like the amount of violence is still to high in the content and that they need to link their content to real actions but perhaps that doesn't sell magazines.

You certainly have to wonder if in the more recent times if they have shifted to better profits which means a less selfless approach to what motivates them.

If that makes any sense?


Posted by: Dale on 19 Oct 04

At first, I was disapointed by this issue. However, I'm hoping that the point was to demonstrate to readers that it isn't enough to "tear down" society without having a viable alernative plan.

I'd like to see their next issue take the tone: OK, back to the present, what are we gonna do to make sure that doesn't happen?

Maybe I'm too optimistic.

Posted by: Another Dreamer on 22 Oct 04

I like beans

Posted by: henry on 23 Oct 04

This stunt, reminiscent of Orwell's war on the worlds, had me tricked, for a brief while.
Living in a small town in ONtario, without cable television and only dial-up internet, I had to wonder: is S11.2 for serious?
The apocalypse staring me right in the face, I sort-of liked what I saw, because I knew that I'd be a survivor if it were the truth.

"Imagine," Tyler said, "stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. Jack and the beanstalk, you'll climb up through the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you'll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles."

Posted by: D/\ve on 26 Oct 04

The thing is...Tyler was a psychotic fantasy. His vision of the world may be attractive, but at the end of the day, it's a selfish, adolescent and facistic one. I haven't had chance to read the issue of Adbusters in question yet (literally only just bought it), so I don't know if s11.2 follows this or not. I love Fight Club, and all of Palahniuk's work, but I think that if you sees Tyler Durden as a viable figurehead, you're kind of missing the point completely.

Posted by: Hopkirk on 29 Oct 04

I'm interested to kno why some of you think 'this magazine is a total waste of time' .... I'm a relative newcomer to Adbusters, and find it a very interesting read, whilst not having any political affliction myself, I still find myself warming to it's thinking.

Whilst it may come across as depressing at times, I find inspiration and hope in there.

What other magazine alternatives are there?

Posted by: I like snails on 30 Oct 04



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