Adbusters' Kalle Lasn: the flawed genius behind Occupy Wall Street

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"All it was was this idea that one of the editors cooked up. I don't think he wants to take credit because it's no longer Adbusters thing. It was just an idea and people ran with it."

Lasn has turned down television interviews. He's refused them so far, because he doesn't want to be seen as the face of this thing, sources say.

In an interview with The Tyee, Lasn revealed that he's "very buoyed" by how the protest has grown.

"When that first Saturday came, Saturday, Sept. 17, then I did have this feeling that the whole damn thing could fizzle ... the whole thing could be just a puff of wind that came and went. It has grown beyond anything I thought was possible in the early days."

At the same time, he expressed concern that the movement lacked a clear idea of its demands.

"We thought it was a mistake for [the protesters] not to discuss what some of the demands could be, and we pushed them very hard to get some of their demands together ... And we believe that one thing could be the Robin Hood tax ... a one per cent tax on all financial transactions."

A source said that despite his criticism, he has high hopes for the movement.

"He's an incredible optimist," a journalist who works at Adbusters said.

"He would tell you it's going to spread from city to city and eventually Obama's going to do something in America to change the financial system."

"His sense is that finally it's starting."

Radical viewpoints and visual audacity

In the course of my six years working in media in Vancouver, I've never met Lasn, but he's a legendary, almost mythological figure amongst the newly graduated journalism professionals who come to work for The Vancouver Observer, after or before a stint at Adbusters.

These are young people who have a passion for their work and who hope for an inspired career in journalism and a job where they can truly make a difference. They hope to shine a light on social inequity and write creatively about problems in the society that corporate news organizations increasingly refuse to touch. Lasn not only addresses these issues, but brings a design brilliance to express radical viewpoints. That's been his secret to success.

Adbusters is a sophisticated, high-gloss magazine which seeks to subvert the reader's acceptance of capitalism by deconstructing the advertising industry. Although its website claims its circulation is 120,000, a source said that the real figures are 10,000 subscribers and 40,000 to 60,000 in newsstand sales, depending on the issue. First published in 1989, it is published bi-monthly by the Adbusters Media Foundation, a non-profit organization.

I first subscribed to the magazine when I lived in New York City, partially because it made me feel smart and cool and on the edge of things. It also disturbed my capitulation to the images around me, making me look at them with a more critical eye. I lived in a neighborhood dominated by giant posters of teen-aged models looking perversely mean, staring out over the traffic on Houston Street in bras and panties or lying down on the sides of buses shirtless, thronged by men. 

With "front covers" on both sides of the magazine, Adbusters' pages were windows into the forces of marketing that shape our psyches.

The magazine sought to shock with images, like that of a doctor marking a woman's body and preparing to perform plastic surgery on her. Degraded by violent sexualization and objectification, she looked mean and hard and ultimately brutalized.

It had a raw quality and when it arrived in my mail box. I was especially blown away by the issue that came out after 9-11, with two front covers.

Adbusters' visual commentary during those years was spot on, although, for me, the writing in the magazine paled by comparison to its imagery. The images lorded over the word. Lasn has been at it with Adbusters for many years, inspiring young design students globally. Many who produced content for the magazine went on to push radical edges in their own contexts after leaving. Saying what others wouldn't in any respectable or mainstream media won Lasn great loyalty from adherents.

Adbusters first raised my awareness, but then it offended me

 But after the 9-11 issue, I started to find the magazine predictable. The message screamed from its pages and the articles were like manifestos that I'd heard a thousand times. I flipped through it quickly and felt I was learning nothing new.

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