Adbusters: Landfill Of The Mental Environment

Last Friday Buy Nothing Day went largely unobserved in the United States despite being heavily promoted by the magazine Adbusters. That’s mostly because, like Adbusters, Buy Nothing Day is bullshit.

Adbusters was founded in 1989 by Canadians Bill Schmalz and Kalle Lasn, apparently after the latter had an incredibly boring realization while clashing with a supermarket shopping cart. The organization picked up Buy Nothing Day as one of its campaigns following the holiday’s invention by a fellow Canuck activist in 1992. It makes sense, considering both the event and its chief promoter suffer from a glut of vanity and lack of substance that would make Paris Hilton cringe.

Though Adbusters credits itself with being an anti-consumerist clarion call of responsible social and political activism in a world gorged on sitcoms, designer sneakers and lattes, it’s actually a deluded rag that takes advantage of the same marketing techniques it denounces. Simply put, Adbusters isn’t worth the high gloss pages it’s printed on.


Adbusters co-founder Kalle Lasn deflecting reality with his magazine

Whether the folks at Adbusters are completely insulated in anarchist book fairs or vegan baking classes, I don’t know — but they sure as hell don’t understand where the rest of society is coming from. This quote about Buy Nothing Day from an interview with Kalle shows just how out of touch the people behind the magazine are:

“It is quite a powerful personal experience if you try to suppress the impulse to buy for a whole day — it is very difficult to do, and you really learn something.”

What kind of Valley Girl considers it hard to keep from purchasing something for 24 hours? I don’t know if Kalle realizes it, but a lot of people spend most of the year not buying anything. That’s partially why they do go out shopping on days like Black Friday: They’re preparing for a special occasion during which they buy things to give to the people they love. They spend every other day of their lives not buying shit, having Buy Nothing Days in practice because they either: a) don’t have any money; b) don’t have any time; c) aren’t pathological shoppers as Kalle appears to be.

Are hoards of Americans lining up at 4 A.M. outside of Best Buy or fighting for the last copy of Halo 7 in GameStop on Black Friday clues that our society is too preoccupied with material things? Yeah. But it’s still a lot better than a bunch of yuppies giving themselves congratulatory handjobs because they postponed their Christmas shopping.


Q: How many poor Kenyans would it take to “get” this Adbusters cover?
A: None, they’re too poor to afford it!

The only person I’ve ever known to have a subscription to Adbusters is my friend’s dad, a wealthy Frenchmen who owned a marketing company and lived just off Wall Street. A quick survey of people promoting Buy Nothing Day also shows how committed these revolutionaries are to The Cause: This self-described Hollywood socialite pushed responsible consumerism between plugging artisan chocolate and Costco granola.

Of course Adbusters doesn’t acknowledge their moneyed audience driven by white guilt, the $1,000 armchair activists or the junior ad execs, but even their choice of readers to recognize is revealing.


This poster and the instructions accompanying it — “Slap this poster up all over your school’s economics department” — are typical of Adbusters egging undergrads to “rock the boat,” “stick it to the man” and do other dumb shit that’s more annoying than enlightening.

What’s interesting about Adbusters targeting these kids is that they also belong to a relatively privileged class. Without generally needing to worry about rent, food or drinking money, undergrad students have the spare $9 in allowance to fork over for each bi-monthly issue of Adbusters, which is a must if you want to stay on the cutting edge of the revolution because, for some reason, new issues of Adbusters are not available for free online. The New York Times and even The Economist, that bible of globalist capitalist pigs, make their latest issues available to all for no charge — yet Adbusters seeking to “change the way information flows” doesn’t.

While spending about the equivalent of a six-pack on a magazine isn’t going to break the bank for Adbusters readers, it’s gotta be noted that it is definitely out of reach for third world revolutionaries, a population the magazine repeatedly expresses solidarity with and even denounces the rest of society for ignoring. But what does it say about a magazine that champions the dispossessed when the people it claims to side with can’t even afford an issue?


Besides the inherent hypocrisy of hawking a magazine that calls for an end to hawking, Adbusters also engages in the very same practices it condemns the media and corporations of using to encourage useless, destructive consumption. On a very basic level, Adbusters leverages the same economies of scale by selling a single issue for around $9, a yearly subscription for $38, a two-year subscription for only $58, etc. They even sweeten the deal by throwing in a free Adbusters calendar for multi-year subscriptions — just like banks giving away shitty toasters back in the day!

But that can be defended by common sense, as it’s the only way to run a self-sustaining business. Less defensible by Adbusters own standards is the magazine’s commodification of rebellion. Just like the companies it criticizes for packaging “authentic” youth culture and selling it back to young people, Adbusters gift-wraps activism, revolution, Che Guevara shirts and anything else that fits into a black bandanna, and attempts to pass it off to the next young rebel or ad exec.

Besides filling its magazine and plastering its site with riot police, black-clad protesters and other hackneyed anarchist imagery in a poor attempt to offer readers a revolutionary experience, Adbusters also actively peddles what it calls “tools for activists.” Whether it’s the $75 Converse ripoffs, the hideous $99 boots (above), the $27.50 corporate American flag or co-founder Kalle Lasn’s memoir, the question remains: How do any of these things amplify social activism? Obviously, they don’t. They all simply amount to Adbusters doing what all its corporate counterparts are doing: Grabbing something that makes money and running with it. The fact that Adbusters does it with more ecological or humanitarian consideration would be worth mentioning if the entire endeavour didn’t create such a gaping blind spot in its smug politics.


Aside from maybe that anti-Semitic piece, the only article most people have even heard of from Adbusters is “Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization.” Considering that this was the cover story, it’s only natural to believe it was one that Adbusters was totally behind and felt good about. And how sad that is.

In case you haven’t read it, I’ll summarize: Author goes to party, hates on music, hates on other guests, goes to another party, hates on guests, etc., plus an interview with Gavin thrown in. How a DJ “making a mix that sounds like he took hatchet to a collection of yesteryear billboard hits” or a girl “wearing big dangling earrings, an American Apparel V-neck tee, non-prescription eyeglasses and an inappropriately warm wool coat” are the ultimate insurmountable boulders in the progress of almost 3,000 years of Western culture is beyond me, even after re-reading the article.

But that’s just it: There is nothing else. Almost all Adbusters’ content is made up of posturing and masturbatory prose, like this taken from that same article about hipsters:

“The half-built condos tower above us like foreboding monoliths of our yuppie futures. I take a look at one of the girls wearing a bright pink keffiyah and carrying a Polaroid camera and think, ‘If only we carried rocks instead of cameras, we’d look like revolutionaries.”

It’s all such nonsense. The burden of proof in making claims, no matter how outrageous, is usually never even weighed in an Adbusters article.


Since Adbusters simply peddles a charade of revolution to the same yuppies it claims are the problem, it’s no surprise that the magazine fails to accomplish much. For example: Despite heavy promotion leading up to Buy Nothing Day, people spent almost $4 billion dollars more during this year’s Black Friday than last year’s.

You know who’s better at furthering responsible consumption than Adbusters? Anyone not frantically waving an anarcho-syndicalist flag with one hand and jacking off to the thought of how cool they look with the other, simply because those people have a free hand to actually do something with. A collection of nerds like The Pirate Bay do a lot more to foster anti-consumerism than Adbusters and they rarely even mention politics. And although I doubt Kalle would ever admit it, American Apparel has done more to promote to sweatshop-free manufacturing than the poorly selling Blackspot campaign ever has — and Dov Charney doesn’t even consider himself in the ranks of “the Left.”

Ultimately, I guess it’s a good thing that Adbusters doesn’t have any real impact. We don’t need anymore twats spray painting their ads around town.

During high school a friend was scrambling to find a senior quote five minutes before the deadline for submissions. He decided to snatch something from an issue of Adbusters that happened to be handy. It was “All is well if the suit be won.” He no longer remembers what it means.

Essentially, that’s all Adbusters is: Something kids associate with because they’re angsty and it’s offering up angst in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing. It’s the same logic as kids who are into rap buying The Source because it’s full of hip hop gossip and black chicks with fat asses. The only difference is that Adbusters takes its posturing way more seriously than its productions, making it overly earnest and ignorantly misguided. Eventually, even angsty kids notice that.

The latest issue of Adbusters hit news stands on November 23rd. I wonder if they planned around Buy Nothing Day.





  • Sally December 10, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Yea Adbusters is an absolute load of bollocks, anyone who says they are anti-capitalist can tell you that. Surely you’re not really in a position to criticise them, this website is full of exactly the same amount of ‘posturing and masturbatory prose’. Aren’t you just professing to all the middle class white kids that they shouldn’t bother with the fake anarchist spiel that the upper middle class adults read? As if anyone in their right mind would look to Adbusters for their guide to revolution anyway!

  • John December 13, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    As soon as I read the title of this piece I knew it was some typical Gavin McInnis buttfucking Pat Buchanan style conservative bullshit. Hey Gavin! Why don’t you go shut down the border and hide in your bunker with all your guns and explosives so the FBI can come blow you the fuck up and we won’t have to read your brainless frothing at the mouth conservative rants. Better yet, go have a baby with Rush Limbaugh so we can all put him on death row!!! ha ha ha ha!!!


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    • links for 2010-12-11
      Dec 11 2010 at 13:01
      Adbusters: Landfill Of The Mental Environment Though Ad­busters cred­its it­self with be­ing an an­ti-con­sumerist clar­i­on call of re­spon­si­ble so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism in a world gorged on sit­coms, de­sign­er sneak­ers and lattes, it’s ac­tu­al­ly a de­lud­ed rag that takes ad­van­tage of the same mar­ket­ing tech­niques it de­nounces. Sim­ply put, Ad­busters isn’t worth the high gloss pages it’s print­ed on.

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