What is the Rebel Sell?

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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2014
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The Rebel Sell is a concept set out in a book of the same name by Canadians Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath. The book takes to task anti-globalization themes such as consumerism and counterculture politics. Whereas Naomi Klein’s book No Logo rallied for the counterculture political activist, The Rebel Sell has an ironic take. The concept subscribes to the view that the counterculture actually feeds consumerism, although the activist may think otherwise.

The counterculture has always been a by-word for the concept of cool. Cool people, or the business world's idea of cool people, are the ones who buy and sell the products. They are the first to spot new trends and new ideas. Usually, by the time the business world has cottoned on, the idea is years old. However, now businesses are hiring the cool people in order to predict the products ahead of the crowd. For a price, you can be cool, and from there, a consumer circle begins.

The Rebel Sell is the way that businesses sell the idea of the counterculture and the subversive. Everyone wants to be an individual; no one wants to be the same, yet individualism costs more than your supermarket brand. People pay more to appear individual, though they may claim to hate consumerism and the concept of the consumerist society. The Rebel Sell states that it is the counterculture individualist who is contributing more to consumerism than the average buyer.


This is the main point of the Rebel Sell. Che Guevara is now just an icon to be sold on t-shirts and necklaces. Who is selling out, the business man making the t-shirts or the person wearing them? Wearing the t-shirt defines in the wearer's head the idea of individuality, but by buying the t-shirt, he or she has just bought into the consumer business world’s idea of the counterculture.

The Rebel Sell is a dissection of supposed counterculture cool. For instance, some large corporations have the power to change the lyrics to a band’s song. The band Nirvana put out two versions of an album – one for the music stores and one for the Wal-Mart stores. Wal-Mart is a family store and would not stock Nirvana albums unless some of the lyrics were changed. Wal-Mart is so huge that failing to change their lyrics would potentially cost the band millions.

One of the theories for the suicide of Kurt Cobain is that he could not stand to see the way his music was being commercialized. If this were true, sad though it is, his suicide only made him more of a counterculture rebel. His image could then be added more powerfully to the cycle of The Rebel Sell. In death, the iconic stature is pushed to the ultimate level.

The problem with the concept of The Rebel Sell is that there are true individuals in this world. Kurt Cobain was a true individual. Such people always stay one step ahead of the trends and do not contribute to the fast food restaurant or coffee shop lifestyle. The trouble is, their free trade coffee usually costs a bit more than normal coffee. The Rebel Sell is a never ending circle.


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