Two New Anticorporate Books
by Douglas Rushkoff
(Random House, $26)
Belching Out the Devil
by Mark Thomas
(Nation Books, $16.95)
When Douglas Rushkoff was mugged in front of his apartment building in a posh Brooklyn neighborhood, he did what just about any affluent white academic would do in response: First he felt guilty for his part in gentrifying Park Slope and leading his young attacker to a life of crime, and then he wrote the introduction to his new book, Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back (intro title: "Your Money or Your Life: A Lesson on the Front Stoop"), citing the mugging as a symptom of colonialism and, therefore, corporatism. This is classic Rushkoff, taking a personal experience or opinion and, without any supporting information, exploding it to the broadest scope possible. His book does not improve from this inauspicious beginning.
Rushkoff has been a cultural critic since 1994, the author of books with titles like Media Virus!: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture and Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say. You can find Rushkoff's influence everywhere in the alternative media: Most of the writers who contribute to antiadvertising magazine Adbusters plagiarize Rushkoff's tone if not his content, and his work has been published by virtually every countercultural publication worth noticing over the last 15 years. He even hosts a show called The Media Squat on grizzled independent radio station WFMU, in which he gleefully picks apart the corporate media for a worldwide audience...
While Rushkoff whines luxuriantly, other authors are actually fighting meaningful battles on the anticorporate front. Mark Thomas's Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola isn't as flashy a book as Life Inc. It received a low-key paperback original release in the United States, and it didn't make national best-seller status like Rushkoff's book. But instead of airing bloated complaints against Coca-Cola's advertising strategies, Thomas actually travels the world, discovering injustices and unfair business practices committed in the name of cornering the world's soda market.
In chapter after chapter, Thomas investigates dubious activities around the world that can be attributed to the Coca-Cola corporation. He lists eight trade unionists who have been killed after speaking out against Coca-Cola, and he uncovers legal agreements that would require other Colombian pro-labor activists to never criticize Coca-Cola again. In El Salvadoran sugarcane fields, he witnesses children being forced to work in clear violation of international child-labor laws. He interviews citizens of an Indian village whose water has been stolenat a rate of just under a million liters a dayfrom beneath them by a local bottling plant. With the help of an internal informant, he levies charges that Coca-Cola deliverymen aresometimes by forceremoving competitor's sodas from neighborhood bodegas in Mexico. And he discovers a church in Mexico that has incorporated the soda into its rituals, inciting belches that purportedly push out negative energy.