Hello, I'm Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity

Hal Niedzviecki, Author . City Lights $15.95 (259p) ISBN 978-0-87286-453-5

When nonconformity has become not only cool but also consumable, and everyone is told they are special, what happens to our definitions of rebellion and individualism? Are our real rebels against "conformist nonconformity" now the "neo-traditionalists" who exchange their individualism for membership in a community that offers meaning in backward-looking ideologies? These questions are pertinent but hardly original, and Niedzviecki's approach doesn't refresh the cultural debate. Niedzviecki (We Want Some Too ) details lively examples from pop, consumer and counterculture—e.g., backyard wrestlers who assert their uniqueness while participating in mass culture; the "philosophy" brand of health and beauty products that sells its lotions with "moral maxims." But he molds these cases to fit his often predictable arguments: celebrity culture has been confused with individualism; the "semi-collapse" of traditional culture has led some to rebel by embracing orthodoxy; marketers have exploited ideals of individuality; and political activism is often just a way for protestors to "affirm their specialness." Falling short of a richer, more contradictory and more provocative analysis of these cultural items, Niedzviecki only grazes the surface of many of the issues Christopher Lasch (The Culture of Narcissism ) and Thomas Frank (The Conquest of Cool ) have already explored with depth and complexity. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/27/2006
Release date: 04/01/2006
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