Strange Love: Or How We Learn To Stop Worrying and Love the Market
reviewed by Michael Massey - 2003
Title: Strange Love: Or How We Learn To Stop Worrying and Love the Market
Author(s): Robin Truth Goodman and Kenneth J. Saltman
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 0742516350, Pages: 234, Year: 2002
Search for book at Amazon.com
Ambrose Bierce wrote in 1911 that a corporation is “an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility” (Bierce, 1993, p. 19). Perhaps this explains the strange love held by Americans for corporatizing and consumerizing national culture, then cheerfully exporting the results around the planet, dangling the bait of possible local economic integration with the globalized Über-economy.
However, corporatization and globalization are under increasing scrutiny from points across the political spectrum. Global activists of diametrically opposed ideologies have joined in historically unlikely coalitions to resist what they see as the relentless encroachment of corporate culture and consumerist values into many facets of global society - including psychologically, philosophically, and politically vulnerable kids’ and teenagers’ subcultures. They seek the global survival and development of human, not financial, capital.
Canadian activist, Naomi Klein, recently commented,
For [my generation], maybe it’s the seductiveness of brand culture that makes it harder. Our parents’ generation was fighting against social conventions and class structures that they found suffocating. The codes of consumerism are really restrictive and stifling and sometimes nasty, but they’re also incredibly beautiful and shiny and geared toward supposedly making us happy, particularly for kids, since it’s really a juvenile culture. It’s tailor-made for the youth demographic, so it’s naturally hardest to resist at that stage in life. Marketers understand that the teenage pitch is one that will last an entire lifetime, with some variation. (Sandler, 2002, p. 57).
That is, capture a youngster’s brand loyalty for Coke or Sony or The Gap or Exxon, or many thousands of other registered trademarks, and you’ve gone a long way toward creating a life-long customer. You’ve also captured markets worth tens of billions of current dollars and, perhaps, trillions over young buyers’ cumulative lifetimes. With corporate advertisers’ fingers deeply ensconced in the American pocket via ubiquitous television, Internet, newspapers, radio, and product packaging, the next logical question for growth-driven marketers becomes: Now that we’ve deeply penetrated the home, how do we extend our efforts to reach, penetrate, and capture kids’ share-of-mind when they are not at home? The logical answer is to target and reach them where they spend the next highest percentage of their daily time – clustered together in American classrooms. A recent editorial in The New York Times says, “Students are the ultimate in captive [target] audiences…” (2002). Run a search on Amazon.com for “kids and marketing” to see the abundance of related how-to books. The Times’ editorial observes, “Even in difficult economic times, children should not have to be bombarded with pitches from Nike and Coca-Cola in order to get a decent education” (2002). So what should we conclude about a culture that permits this commercial intrusion of its children’s minds before the age-of-consent? According to scholars, Robin Truth Goodman of Florida State University and Kenneth J. Saltman of
In the early Fall of 2001, as their book, Strange Love: Or How We Learn to Stop Worrying and Love The Market, was going to press, Goodman and Saltman could not have known of the egregious corporate scandals about to erupt around ENRON, Worldcom, and quite a number of corporate others. Yet, they correctly anticipated the need for a multidisciplinary scholarly investigation of corporate actions affecting education. Their passionately argued book is based on a detailed examination of selected privatization schemes against education as a public good. Goodman and Saltman examine these themes within cultural, literary, and media studies’ contexts of power and oppression relative to the values of democratic citizenship, contributing to an emerging literature on these critical issues. The sardonic title plays off Stanley Kubric’s brilliant 1964 antimilitaristic film-satire, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. “Strange Love seeks to answer the question of how varied cultural forms – in this case, curricula, multicultural literature, and popular films – educate the public ideologically” (p. 32).
The book is divided into six parts. The first is a wide-ranging Introduction to the work’s major themes, commercialization, globalization, and corporate propagandization of education. Their analysis builds on Alex Molnar’s seminal Giving Kids the Business: The Commercialization of America’s Schools (1996) and Saltman’s previous, excellent Collateral Damage: Corporatizing Public Schools - A Threat to Democracy (2000).
The second part comprises the first two chapters of the book. Chapter 1, “Junk King Education,” presents a powerful indictment against the acquisitive motivations of the post-Drexel Burnham Lambert, post-incarceration educational entrepreneurialism of Michael Milken and his holding company, Knowledge Universe. A version of this chapter was recently published in the journal, Cultural Studies (v.16, n.2, 2002). Chapter 2, “Rivers of Fire: Amoco’s Impact on Education,” clearly illustrates the dangers of corporate-sponsored curricula by examining Amoco’s “free” science curriculum through which the global oil company advances its branded strategic marketing strategy before captive audiences of middle school students without disclosing its conflicts of interest with environmental and other issues.
Detailing “how corporate initiatives in education are presenting themselves as philanthropy, entertainment, and even progressive pedagogy, when in reality they are part of an attack on the public sector and democracy” (p. 32), Chapters 1 and 2 should be valuable to school practitioners and elected officials in learning how such materials are distributed and for developing screening strategies against one-sided marketing communications distributed under the guise of free curricular materials for overworked and underfunded teachers. The authors write, “As Amoco and other corporate curricula continue to turn schooling into a propaganda ground for their own destructive interests, one solution is clearly to stop using them. Another is to provide teachers with resources for researching the agendas of the corporations that finance and distribute such products in public schools...” (p. 88).
The third and fourth parts, comprising two chapters each, focus on partial deconstructions of selected multimedia cultural artifacts (in this instance, books, and films) which the authors analyze. Chapter 3, “A Time for Flying Horses: Oil Education and the Future of Literature,” and Chapter 4, “The Mayor’s Madness: So Far from God,” examine two fictional accounts of multicultural life, Keri Hulme’s 1984 Maori novel, The Bone People, and Ana Castillo’s 1993 Chicana novel, So Far From God. These chapters show “the ways some recent multicultural and postcolonial literature purports to further democratic inclusion and ‘humanize the other,’ yet show how it supports neoliberal doctrine and neoliberal foreign and domestic policies which undermine democracy in multiple ways and tend towards destroying others abroad for corporate profits” (p. 32). Chapter 5, “Enemy of the State,” and Chapter 6, “A Hilarious Romp through the Holocaust,” provide related views of two films, Tony Scott’s 1998 action film, Enemy of the State, and Roberto Benigni’s award-winning 1999 farce, Life Is Beautiful.
In Chapters 3-6, the analysis focuses briefly on the works to highlight selected language, imagery, and political symbolism, then moves to the authors’ interpretive conclusions. “We are criticizing here…a symbolic structure that limits people’s capacities for imagining any possibilities for the future except for a world saturated in consumption, where minds are ensconced in corporate slogans while credit and identity become one, where the desire to consume becomes the primary motivation for an array of cruelties easing the corporate colonization of everything” (p. 9). However, nowhere in these chapters appears a deconstruction equal to that of the “Coke” brand name in Saltman’s earlier book (2000). Indeed, that artful dissection would illuminate every marketing course in every business school.
The fifth part is a Conclusion that less summarizes than offers new content, examining the applicability of a number of previously unmentioned postmodernist and poststructuralist philosophies to the authors’ case. This section examines possible theoretical frameworks within which to situate the authors’ call for cultural struggle against the reported corporate hegemony advanced in earlier chapters. “Strange Love is fundamentally concerned with possibilities of resistance and the politics of hope, in short with changing the social vision of the world that corporate capitalism imposes” (p. 34).
The sixth part is an unusual three-page Coda written three weeks after the events of 9/11, when emotions were running hot throughout the USA, including in many faculty offices. In language that some may embrace and others may revile, the authors write forcefully against the political inevitability of homeland attack:
However, Goodman and Saltman conclude the Coda and the book with a wider vision:
We are suggesting that this tragedy opens the possibility for posing a series of far deeper questions about how to rethink and transform this way of life…. If the
The authors provide a remarkable multidisciplinary breadth and depth of documentary research, although restricted to a decidedly radical leftist orientation. Strange Love draws theoretically from a variety of disciplines, including, but not necessarily limited to, neo-Marxist, post-colonialist, eco-feminist, plus cultural studies and media studies, and post-Habermasian, Gramscian, and anti-Deleuzean philosophies. While it is commendable that the authors have chosen to make their case with multiple lenses in examining issues of such extreme complexity in education – the world’s oldest non-discipline – the book does not synthesize these views. Rather, portions of these frameworks are used to construct a complex polemic shrouded in the same degree of leftist rhetoric of which the authors accuse their rightist targets. The result is an anti-capitalist, anti-profit, anti-corporate, anti-globalization, anti-neoliberal, anti-online education, and anti-Thomas L. Friedman critique of the universal set of all corporations. (Friedman is the at-large foreign affairs columnist of The New York Times and the author of arguably the best-selling lay introduction to globalization.) (Friedman, 2000)
The pervasiveness of this tone leads to this reviewer’s most serious criticism. The book begins with a tacit presumption of guilt on the part of all corporations as negative contributors to global culture. That is a big assumption whose rhetorical "proof" can only fail–this reviewer alone can provide multiple counterexamples–thus falling back to argument by shared ideological values. The authors’ use of multidisciplinary lenses does inform their conclusions necessarily; however, despite their passionate attempts, they cannot achieve a deterministic sufficiency with this line of reasoning. Perhaps it is good to be “anti” all those things, but doing so provokes a perception of an ideological fervor that may undermine the authors’ case despite the importance of both its content and context.
A further criticism lies in the ways that key terms are used without definition. Corporatization, globalization, and neoliberalism appear repeatedly throughout but are never carefully defined; the latter does not even appear in the index. This results in their reduction to slippery, if fashionable, buzzwords. This is not semantic sniping. Without boundaries, ambiguities and misunderstandings are bound to occur. For example, Doctors Without Borders is a corporation. Is it, therefore, guilty of the original sin of corporatization, as the authors’ arguments would suggest? What do the authors mean by corporatization?
Whether Professors Goodman’s and Saltman’s arguments will find broad acceptance in American culture is open to debate. This reviewer, while generally sympathetic to the authors’ important ends, experiences discomfort in some of the means by which those ends are reached. Nevertheless, Strange Love: Or How We Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Market charts important new investigative and humanistic territory among related works. It will be of value to faculty, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates interested in further research on educational corporatization and globalization, especially within humanistic, aesthetic, ethical, and cultural traditions.
Bierce, A. (1993). The devil’s dictionary.
Friedman, T. L. (1999, 2000). The Lexus and the olive tree.
Molnar, A. (1996). Giving kids the business: The commercialization of
Saltman, K. J. (2000). Collateral damage: Corporatizing public schools--A threat to democracy. Culture and Politics Series. General Editor, Henry A. Giroux.
Sandler, L. (2002). Rock the boat: A conversation with Naomi Klein. Heeb Magazine, v1 n2, pp. 57-59 and 78.
The New York Times. (