Frank, T. 1997. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism.

Frank, Thomas.  1997. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

In 1980’s, culture referenced to 1960’s – “Caught up in what appeared to be an unprecedented prosperity driven by the ‘revolutionary’ forces of globalization and cyber-culture, the nation again became obsessed with (of all things) youth culture and the march of generations” (ix)

Chapter One:

Political tensions and interpretations of the events and outcomes of the sixties; media representations of this “madness” and chaos sourced from the social movements and unrest of the era. Commercialism taking hold of this unrest and counterculture – appropriating phrases, artifacts, anthems, art, and modified ideologies of this era – “a host of self-designated ‘corporate revolutionaries’” (4). Woodstock II as evidence of corporate endorsement in relation to the idealism and youth culture that was attributed to the original one. From onset, business enhanced or reiterated countercultural ideas, where mainstream publishing companies and advertisements would attempt to harness the psychedelia that was used within common art and cultural forms. Difficulty in distinguishing between authentic counterculture and that which imitated it – “by almost every account, the counterculture, as a mass movement distinct from the bohemias that preceded it, was triggered at least as much by developmetns in mass culture […] as changes at the grass roots” (8). “… the story of the bohemian cultural style’s trajectory from adversarial to hegemonic; the story of hip’s mutation from native language of the alienated to that of advertising” (8). To vilify co-optation, or no? The advanced business owners despised conformity, routine, organization, dullness – promotion of resistance, not to incite cultural revolution, but to revitalize business through youth consumption. Promotion of homogeneity had limited lifespan, individuality erased both through consumption and ideology, in the post-war years.  Aesthetic modernism and rebellion often associated with deviance, racial stereotype, urban living.
“According to the standard binary narrative, the cascade of pseudo-hip culture-products that inundated the marketplace in the sixties were indicators not of the counterculture’s consumer-friendly nature but evidence of the ‘corporate state’s’ hostility.  They were tools with which the Establishment hoped to buy off and absorb its opposition, emblems of dissent that were quickly translated into harmless consumer commodities, emptied of content, and sold to their very originators as substitutes for the real thing” (16).  Appropriation of ‘youth signfiers’ – created, produced, invented by industries for youth consumption to signify.  Re-use and deconstruction of these same products by youth subculture, in novel ways.  Transgression and deviance as critical to youth resistance. Homogenizing consumer culture must appeal to notions of heterogeneity – liberation, carnival. False dichotomy between corporate culture and counterculture.  Corporate culture as hegemonic, power bloc, or technocracy – presumed as static, patriarchal, conformist.  (LEACH ^ 38) – early consumerism not as traditionalism or hierarchy, but the adulation of change, individuality – “what is most ‘human’ about people is their quest after the new, their willingness to violate boundaries, their hatred of the old and habitual…, and their need to incorporate ‘more and more’ – goods, money, experience, everything” — modern capitalism and consumption portrayed as means to liberation.  Group-mindedness of war-time era as producing homogeneity – a ‘creativity crisis’ where groupthink dominated agencies – rejection of this mindset through business models and hiring. New use of market segmentation tactics to advertise and deliver same product. Consumption and production shifting from centralized modes to hyperconsumerism – importance of image, consumer and corporate identity, publicity.  “As culture increasingly became the battleground of business competition, the frenzied obsolescence of fashion was introduced into all manner of cultural endeavors, providing ‘a means to accelerate the pace of consumption not only in clothing, ornament, and decoration but also across a wide swathe of life-styles and creational activities (leisure and sporting habits, pop music styles, video and children’s games, and the like)’” (25, see footnote ^53).  Corporations not concerned with sourcing signifiers or meanings to symbols used, but cornered and captured some of their subversive associations. “Hip capitalism wasn’t something on the fringes of enterprise, an occasional hippie entrepreneur selling posters or drug paraphernalia. Nor was it a purely demographic maneuver, just a different spin to sell products to a different group” (26). Countercultural craving for authenticity, distrust of tradition.  “Bohemia could not survive the passing of its polar opposite and precondition, middle-class morality. Free love and all-night drinking and art for art’s sake were consequences of a single stern imperative: though shalt not be bourgeois.  But once the bourgeoisie itself became decadent – once businessmen started hanging nonobjective art in the boardroom – Bohemia was deprived for the stifling atmosphere without which it could not breathe” (Harrington^58).  “In this commercial sense, the hippies have not only accepted assimilation…, they have swallowed it whole.  The hippie culture is in many ways a prototype of the most ephemeral aspects of the larger American society; if the people looking in from the suburbs want change, clothes, fun, and some lightheadedness from the new gypsies, the hippies are delivering – and some of them are becoming rich hippies because of it” (Hinckle 1967 see in Ramparts).  Strong relationship between countercultural ideology and practice with music genre and fashion. “The enthusiastic discovery of the counterculture by the branches of American business studied here marked the consolidation of a new species of hip consumerism, a cultural perpetual motion machine in which disgust with the falseness, shoddiness, and everyday oppressions of consumer society could be enlisted to drive the ever-accelerating wheels of consumption” (31). Reluctance of countercultures to acknowledge youth culture’s symbiosis, business relationships.

Chapter Two: xxx

Chapter Three:  Use of irony or self-deprecation as a means to advertise; controversies

Chapter Four, Five: xxx

Chapter Six and Seven:  “The kids are on an entirely different kick. Sex isn’t the object, nor is the ability to let go.  They have both in reasonably good supply.  Their groove is to feel more, see, taste, hear, and enjoy (more.  The kids are hedonistic; we’re puritanical” (Fladell here quoted on 107).  – adolescents preoccupied with romanticism, virtue, nobility, high purpose (107 see ^7). Increased permissivity in workplace décor and decorum.  Experimentation with drugs as points of inspiration, new ways of interpretation. Lack of strong standard as to delineate who is the  ‘youth’ in youth market – age, demographics? “The counterculture seemed to have it all: the unconnectedness which would allow consumers to indulge transitory whims; the irreverence that would allow them to defy moral puritanism; and the contempt for established social rules that would free them from the slow-moving, buttoned-down conformity of their abstemious ancestors” (119). Older consumers imitating youth culture, bringing in affluence and material wealth to support these designs.  “…consumers could not all be young, but they could all be encouraged to think as though they were, to assume the attitudes of the young revolutionaries.  The function of ‘youth’ in advertising was symbolic, an easy metaphor for a complex new consumer value-system.  The really remarkable fact about co-optation isn’t that Columbia records ran pseudo-hip ads in ‘underground’ publications; it’s that a vast multitude of corporations ran pseudo-hip ads in Life, Look, and Ladies Home Journal. Madison Avenue was more interested in speaking like the rebel young than in speaking to them” (121).  Noting of the simultaneous antimaterialism and obsession with the new – “These young people have a different idea about thrift.  They have a new definition of value.  They accept obsolescence.  They want the new, improved version tomorrow.  Very important words. New, improved.  More than ever before.  Everything is instant.  Now.  Everything is faster” (Fearon in ^54). “The central theme that gives coherence to American advertising of both the early and late sixties is this: Consumer culture is a gigantic fraud. It demands that you act like everyone else, that you restrain yourself, that you fit in with the crowd, when you are in fact an individual. Consumer culture lies and seeks to sell you shoddy products that will fall apart or be out of style in a few years; but you crave authenticity and are too smart to fall for that Madison Avenue stuff (your neighbors may not be). Above all, consumer culture fosters conventions that are repressive and unfulfilling; but with the help of hip trends you can smash through those, create a new world in which people can be themselves, pretense has vanished, and healthy appetites are liberated from the stultifying mores of the past” (136). The understanding that consumption was a means to defy conformity, as an outlet toward individuality. Use of extremity, celebrity, the ordinary in non-ordinary functions – as spokespersons.  Promotion of authenticity over status, individuality over groupthink. Reverse psychologies, inverted speech patterns. Viewing the “American Dream” with cynicism, lack of scruples. Distaste for superficiality.  Rejection of protest, as it is something that everyone else does, tainted with conformity.  Advertising was rampantly sexist in its unidimensional representation of women – a “superficial alliance” of feminism and advertising  (152) – women’s liberation seen as potential outlets for consumption – economic freedom led to consumptive practices – freedom to look like a lady or a tramp – as herself or someone else – women as a direct actor to rebelling through increased consumption.

Chapter Eight: Liveliness and recreation as pitted against productivity and work – “Carnival may be dangerous, but it is not work” (176) – pursuit of leisure, framing it in more exotic ways – making mainstream products seem more dangerous, substitution of these products in for narratives surrounding drug use.

Chapter Nine: David Harvey (theorist) – “fashion is the cultural bulwark of late capitalism.  Its endless transgression of the established defines recent economic history” (185- seek Harvey citation). René Konig: “fashion is an immutable part of human nature, the product of a ‘permanent disposition for change’” (185 – seek Konig citation).  Fashion as perpetually, until 1960’s, as gendered- men as non-participation or staticness in fashion, fashion as a women’s pursuit and practice.  Uniformity in men’s clothing as critiqued as route to conformity. Marked by generation gaps – older middle class men wearing watered-down versions of what their children were wearing, purchased from elite companies. New styles came “with the Beatles, the hippies and the student revolts.  In short, when a new era of social expression was born in the United States, the dark ages of male fashion began to die…. Hipped on color and cacophony, whether it’s psychedelic art or discoteques, young people dress to fit their milieu – and their elders are picking up the beat” (^ 3) Discussion of evolution in fashion as a revolution in itself – impacts of Mods and use of color by rock and roll acts and their followers promoted major fashion lines to promote ideal types of sixties’ youth.  Media attention to the “gender-bending” practices of fashion – use of scarves, caftans, etc. by men.  Roland Barthes: “Calculating, industrial society is obliged to form consumers who don’t calculate; if clothing’s producers and consumers had the same consciousness, clothing would be both (and produced) only at the very slow rate of its dilapidation; Fashion like all fashions, depends on a disparity of two consciousnesses, each foreign to the other” ( ^22)  Fashion as an expression of marketplace, as economic-driven consumption; also, consumer-driven economics.  Origins of countercultural fashions in ‘boutique’ agencies – flexibility in management, small purchasing, easy obsolescence, quick turnovers.  Large retailers cast as inflexible  – “It’s harder to be hip when you’re big” (here 199, MensWear ^39) – response to this in forms of basic models with customizable fashion options, and charging for the ability to be different and have say in your wear.

Chapter Eleven:  Resistance against counterculture – against advertising, against stereotypes (particularly gendered ones) – and stronger regulation for true-to-advertisement products – promoted the return to “classic” wear, and abandonment of countercultural fashions, marked by media (magazines) remark on the obsolescence of counterculture.  “What changed during the sixties, it now seems, were the strategies of consumerism, the ideology by which business explained its domination against the soul-deadening world of products, to put us in touch with our authentic selves, to distinguish us from the mass-produced heard, to express our outrage at the stifling world of economic necessity” (229).  The translation of symbol, music, jargon of counterculture into mass marketing and culture.  Charles Reich: “Smoking dope and hanging up Che’s picture is no more a commitment than drinking milk and collecting postage stamps.  A revolution in consciousness is an empty high without a revolution in the distribution of power.  We are not interested in the greening Amerika except for the grass that will cover its grave” (^8).  Parody, irreverence, mocking – inverting critiques of media by having media outlets critique themselves first.
“Co-optation is something much more complex than the struggle back and forth between capital and youth revolution; it’s also something larger than a mere question of demographics and exploitation. Every few years, it seems, the cycles of the sixties repeat themselves on a smaller scale, with new rebel youth cultures bubbling their way to a happy replenishing of the various culture industries’ depleted arsenal of cool” (235).


William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York: Pantheon, 1993), pp. 385, 381, 290, 291.

Warren Hinckle: “A Social History of the Hippies,” Ramparts, March 1967, reprinted in Gerry Howard, ed., The Sixties: Art, Politics, and Media of Our Most Explosive Decade (New York: Paragon House, 1991), p. 226. Marshall Berman: “Sympathy for the Devil: Faust, the ’60s and the Tragedy of Development,” American Review, January 1974, reprinted in Howard, The Sixties, p. 496.

David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), pp. 287, 285.

Richard Lorber and Ernest Fladell, The Gap (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968), pp. 16, 25, 6. Excerpts from The Gap were printed as a cover story by none other than Life magazine, May 17, 1968.

Madison Avenue, December 1967, p. 16.Chapter Nine:

Rent Konig, A La Mode: On the Social Psychology of Fashion (New York: Seabury Press, 1973), pp. 78, 157-58.

Male Plumage ’68,” Newsweek,November 25, 1968, p. 70.

Amy Teplin, “Boutique-ing,” MW, August 7, 1970, pp. 82, 83. Emphasis in original.

Ad for Moss shirtmakers, MW, September 19, 1969, p. 77. Ellipsis in original.

Chapter Eleven

Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book (New York: Pirate Editions, 1971), p.


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