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The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerismby Thomas Frank
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 07:30 PM
Powell's City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR
There's never been a better time to be outside the consensus — and if you don't believe it, then peer into the genre-defying essays in No Future for You: Salvos from 'The Baffler' (MIT). The Baffler founding editor Thomas Frank and editor-in-chief John Summers will be joined by contributor and political historian Rick Perlstein to unleash a fresh round of political invective.
Synopses & Reviews
The most evocative and representative symbol of the 1960s is its youth counterculture. Yet as we learn in Thomas Frank's fascinating and revealing new study, the youthful revolutionaries were joined — and even anticipated by — such unlikely allies as the advertising industry and the men's clothing business.
In the fifties, Madison Avenue deluged the country with images of clear-eyed junior executives, happy housewives, and idealized families in gloriously tail-finned American cars. But Frank shows how, during the "creative revolution" of the sixties, the ad industry turned savagely on the very icons it had created, celebrating irrepressible youth with the Pepsi Generation, and imagining brands as signifiers of rule-breaking, defiance, difference, and revolt. Even the menswear industry, erstwhile maker of staid, unchanging garments, ridiculed its own traditions as remnants of intolerable conformity and discovered youth insurgency as an ideal symbol for its colorful new fashions. Thus, the strategy of co-opting dissident style that is so commonplace in today's hip, commercial culture emerged.
Accessibly written in an engaging and energetic style, "The Conquest of Cool" is a thorough, enlightened history of advertising as well as an incisive commentary on the evolution of American sensibility. Frank adds detail to a part of the sixties canvas that has remained blank, while pointing the way toward a reconsideration of an almost mythic decade.
"A forceful and convincing demonstration of the cunning of commercialism. Advertisers knew what was hip before hippie entrepreneurs, and this story, told here with verve and lucidity, is well worth the attention of all serious readers". — ToddGitlin
"The Conquest of Cool is the remarkable debut of a cultural critic whose work we can look forward to reading for many years to come". — Earl Shorris, Author of A Nation of Salesmen
Book News Annotation:
Frank, editor-in-chief of cultural criticism journal The Baffler, shows how the youth counterculture of the 1960s was encouraged and even anticipated by the advertising and fashion industries. He presents a history of advertising as well as commentary on the growth of a peculiarly American sensibility, the pervasive co-optation that defines today's hip commercial culture.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
While the youth counterculture remains the most evocative and best-remembered symbol of the cultural ferment of the 1960s, the revolution that shook American business during those boom years has gone largely unremarked. In this fascinating and revealing new study, Thomas Frank shows how the youthful revolutionaries were joined - and even anticipated by - such unlikely allies as the advertising industry and the men's clothing business. In both areas, each having also been an important pillar of fifties conservatism, the utopian, complacent surface of postwar consumerism was smashed by a new breed of admen and manufacturers who openly addressed public distrust of their industries, who recognized the absurdity of consumer society, who made war on conformity, and who finally settled on youth rebellion and counterculture as the symbol of choice for their new marketing vision. The Conquest of Cool is a thorough history of advertising as well as an incisive commentary on the evolution of a peculiarly American sensibility, the pervasive co-optation that defines today's hip commercial culture. By studying the devices and institutions of co-optation rather than those of resistance, Frank offers a picture of the 1960s that differs dramatically from the accounts of youth rebellion and sell-out that have become so familiar over the years. The Conquest of Cool forsakes the stories of campus and bohemia to follow the Dodge Rebellion, chronicle the Pepsi Generation, and recount the Peacock Revolution - by so doing, it raises important new questions about the culture of that most celebrated and maligned decade.
While the youth counterculture remains the most evocative and best-remembered symbol of the cultural ferment of the 1960s, the revolution that shook American business during those boom years has gone largely unremarked. In this fascinating and revealing study, Thomas Frank shows how the youthful revolutionaries were joined—and even anticipated —by such unlikely allies as the advertising industry and the men's clothing business.
"[Thomas Frank is] perhaps the most provocative young cultural critic of the moment."—Gerald Marzorati, New York Times Book Review
"An indispensable survival guide for any modern consumer."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Frank makes an ironclad case not only that the advertising industry cunningly turned the countercultural rhetoric of revolution into a rallying cry to buy more stuff, but that the process itself actually predated any actual counterculture to exploit."—Geoff Pevere, Toronto Globe and Mail
"The Conquest of Cool helps us understand why, throughout the last third of the twentieth century, Americans have increasingly confused gentility with conformity, irony with protest, and an extended middle finger with a populist manifesto. . . . His voice is an exciting addition to the soporific public discourse of the late twentieth century."—T. J. Jackson Lears, In These Times
"An invaluable argument for anyone who has ever scoffed at hand-me-down counterculture from the '60s. A spirited and exhaustive analysis of the era's advertising."—Brad Wieners, Wired Magazine
"Tom Frank is . . . not only old-fashioned, he's anti-fashion, with a place in his heart for that ultimate social faux pas, leftist politics."—Roger Trilling, Details
Includes bibliographical references (p. 245-272) and index.
Table of Contents
1. A Cultural Perpetual Motion Machine: Management Theory and Consumer Revolution in the 1960s
2. Buttoned Down: High Modernism on Madison Avenue
3. Advertising as Cultural Criticism: Bill Bernbach versus the Mass Society
4. Three Rebels: Advertising Narratives of the Sixties
5. "How Do We Break These Conformists of Their Conformity?": Creativity Conquers All
6. Think Young: Youth Culture and Creativity
7. The Varieties of Hip: Advertisements of the 1960s
8. Carnival and Cola: Hip versus Square in the Cola Wars
9. Fashion and Flexibility
10. Hip and Obsolescence
11. Hip as Official Capitalist Style
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