TORONTO -- Cocooned in the spiral staircase of a downtown bookstore recently, Naomi Klein gleefully
popped corporate marketing balloons as she brought her war on
modern corporations to hundreds of
office workers who had skipped
lunch to hear a fire-and-brimstone
treatment of their bosses.
"Branding means selling us our
desires," said Ms. Klein, whose new
book, "No Logo," has made her Canada's 29-year-old media meteor and
the most visible face of a sometimes
scattershot anti-corporate youth
movement, which is planning a show
of force in Washington in mid-April.
"If you listen to Starbucks," she
said, "we long for community. If you
listen to Barnes & Noble, we long for
libraries. If you listen to Microsoft,
we long for communications."
Her book has become something of
a movement bible here, staying on
Canadian best-seller lists since its
release in January, just weeks after
days of protests at a World Trade
Organization meeting in Seattle
thrust the complaints of her generation before a global audience.
Mixing activism with analysis, she
has filled university auditoriums,
has won a column in The Globe and
Mail and has been kicked off a television debate show by an angry conservative writer. In the first week of
April, she will hopscotch from debates in New York to "counter-summits" in Washington, where protesters are preparing to demonstrate at
meetings of the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund.
While her book is being published
simultaneously in Australia, Britain
and the United States (Picador),
translations are in the works in
French, German, Italian and Spanish, and a documentary is being negotiated with British filmmakers.
Her war on modern corporations
boils down to a central theme: as
companies' marketing budgets become more and more lavish, they
maintain profit margins by farming
out manufacturing to sweatshops in
the poorest corners of the globe.
In so doing, they break with a
basic, Henry Ford principle of 20th-century manufacturing: create a
mass market by paying workers well
enough so they can buy the products
At same time, Western
consumers are the targets of what
she calls "Big Brother branding."
"My generation has grown up
completely under the marketing microscope," she said.
Energetic and optimistic, Ms.
Klein incarnates that generation's
reinvention of the North American
left. One of Ms. Klein's grandfathers,
a Marxist, was fired by Walt Disney
for trying to unionize the animators
of "Fantasia." Her parents left the
United States in the late 1960's to
protest the Vietnam War, her mother
becoming a feminist filmmaker and
her father, a doctor, a supporter of
Canada's national health system.
As an adolescent in Montreal, she
rebelled against her socialist parents
by becoming a self-described "mall
rat," working after school in a chain
At the University of Toronto she
edited the campus newspaper, becoming, in her words, "Miss P.C."
She denounced campus violators of a
lengthening list of "isms." Recalling
that phase of "identity politics," she
said, "I watched the left get smaller
After college she edited This Magazine, a leftist review in Toronto that
limped along on dwindling circulation. Pulling dusty back issues from
the stacks, she discovered that once
upon a time there was "a movement
on the left."
At the same time, she remembered that when advertisements
started to infiltrate bathroom stalls
at the University of Toronto, students fought back, wielding felt-tip
pens against the omnipresence of
Four years later, her book contains some of her favorite "culture
jamming" examples: perky models
morphed into skulls; Nike's "Just Do
It" slogan tweaked into "Justice. Do
It"; Apple Computers' "Think Different" campaign mysteriously embellished with a photo of Stalin and
the ominous slogan "Think Really
Gloria Steinem recalls watching
Ms. Klein at a book promotion in
New York, handing out little cutting
tools to allow people to cut designer
labels off their clothes.
"In the women's movement, in the
labor-left movement, we focused on
how much money was earned and by
whom," said Ms. Steinem, who has
published Ms. Klein's essays in Ms.
magazine. "Now, Naomi is focusing
on the next step, which is how the
money is spent."
The resonance of Ms. Klein's ideas
speaks volumes here about how Canada sees itself today.
While Americans generally see
Canadians as economic equals, Canada missed the American boom of
the 1990's. After a decade of economic stagnation, Canadian per capita
income fell in 1998 to $16,487, or 13
percent below that of Mississippi, the
poorest American state.
At the same time, Canada has
moved away from the isolated, nationalist economy of years past. In
the last 15 years, foreign investors
have roughly tripled their holdings in
Canada, controlling about 13,000 corporations, which are worth about
$500 billion and responsible for about
a third of the country's corporate
Once an economic hinterland, Canada became the industrialized world's most trade-dependent
country in the 1990's, with 43 percent
of its economy tied to trade.
In such an economy, Ms. Klein's
anti-multinational message has appealed to people who complain of a
loss of local economic control.
"Canadians feel a little bit on the
sidelines in the way the global economy is changing," said Paul Tough,
who published many of Ms. Klein's
essays in Saturday Night, an intellectual monthly here. "In the states you
feel you are in the center. In Canada
sometimes you feel you are in the
center, but sometimes you feel you
are in Indonesia, the Philippines or
somewhere where you are being acted upon, not acting."
It is that kind of anti-corporate,
anti-marketing anger that boiled
over in Seattle. "The real anarchists
in Seattle," Ms. Klein said, "were the
businessmen, who were saying, 'We
don't want any rules.' "
Then, warning that her generation's activists are not going to abandon their critique of laissez-faire
globalism, she looked ahead to another meeting of World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund, in
Prague in September, and predicted
with ill-disguised glee, "Prague is
going to be nuts."
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company