Don’t sit on the fence

The explosive follow up to No Logo, Fences and Windows, saw its recent soft launch; Mike Exon outlines the book’s hard-hitting message

Naomi Klein’s follow up to No Logo – the biggest selling brand book of all time – hasn’t had the hype of its forerunner. Not off the circuit anyway. No Logo may have whipped up a media storm, but Klein’s latest book, Fences and Windows, fights a different front. After the overwhelming success of No Logo, says Klein, she decided against a big launch. It was deliberately released without a fanfare.

It makes sense. You don’t have to have read No Logo to know that the promotions game is not what she is into. Besides, the underground approach suits her subversive subject. And judging by the response of audiences at her recent UK lectures, the book should quietly shift itself anyway, which is exactly how she’d like it.

Fences and Windows is a very different animal – no sequel as such. Subtitled ‘Dispatches from the front lines of the globalisation debate’ it is a collection of Klein’s highly charged journalism, written guerrilla-style from her involvement in the political gatherings of Seattle, Toronto, Genoa and beyond.

These post-No Logo scripts go much deeper than just the branding debate. If No Logo lifted the lid on corporate morality issues, Fences and Windows puts the entire system that perpetuates it under the spotlight. Needless to say the quiet giants that watch over us, like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Uncle Sam, take quite a few hits. As do their efforts to respond to recent criticism, such as attempts to ‘rebrand’ US foreign policy.

A thorny piece called ‘America is not a hamburger’ seeks to explain to unknowing politicians why addressing the wave of anti-American sentiment around the world with a re-brand is a critical mistake. Having recruited a leading advertiser in the US to the position of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Klein catalogues the Bush administration’s attempts to ‘re-brand diplomacy’, which begin to look decidedly naïve.

Klein’s conclusion is sharp. She says the problem is that the government sees the ‘United States’ tattered international image as nothing more than a communications problem, whereas the problem is just the opposite’. It has actually marketed itself too well to the outside world, she maintains, but like good brands must, it just hasn’t delivered on its promises.

Wally Olins is quoted on the US image issue, making the point that most people actually have hundreds of ‘mixed feelings’ about their relationship with the United States – some of them good, some of them bad. The problem is there is little consistent enough to brand. Klein believes this is the way things should remain. She argues, when an authority gets all consistent, it tends to start waving flags with swastikas on.

Klein says the profits from Fences and Windows will be used to fund the legal defence cases of a number of activist groups and promote education about global democracy. You can tell she relishes the contribution to counterculture this book is going to have.

Her writing is always cutting and punctuated with opinion, yet, it often speaks to something deeply human in the reader. It is also thoroughly educational, regardless of your support for her ideas, and an easier read than No Logo, if only for its bite-sized sections. There’s no excuse not to read it this time – you may not like what this book has to say, but don’t stay ignorant of the post-No Logo arguments.

Fences and Windows is published by Flamingo, priced £8.99

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