Calvin: ...See, he's his own man! Nobody tells him what to do, and he buys this product as a reflection of his independence! Hobbes: So basically, this maverick is urging people to express their individuality through conformity in brand-name selection? Calvin: Well, it sounded more defiant the way he said it. Hobbes: Ah.
A type of Straw Hypocrite. When a large commercial corporation tells you via commercial that the best way to rebel against corporate social assimilation is to buy their products. Will often involve what Lindsay Naegle of The Simpsons refers to as a "spokesrebel".
Also can refer to any commercial that attacks its general field, but claims they are rooting for the underdog, and are taking a stand against the greed of all the others. So give them your money. See: Lawyers, car salesmen, phone providers, etc. There is conspicuous consumption at work here.
May come about as the result of two competing incompatible functions of "The Man". For instance, "The Man" is often as representative of censorship and regulation. A company that makes billions out of manufactured edgy and offensive content would thus call upon people to "stand up" against censorship groups. However, being motivated by profit rather than altruism is also a characteristic of "The Man".
Remember, that Tropes Are Not Bad. While there is inevitably going to be some inherent hypocrisy in almost any well known media talking out against The Man, it's also because of The Man that these works gets such wide coverage in the first place. Furthermore, the creative minds behind many of these works aren't always part of the establishment. While some given corporation may be happy to let itself be insulted as long as they profit, the people who write those insults in the first place aren't necessarily part of the problem they criticize. Writers subject to excessive amounts of Executive Meddling have just as much a grudge against their corporate overlords as do most people.
The antithesis of the Bandwagon Technique, and often used by competitors of companies that can use said technique. Tends to invoke the Rule Abiding Rebel, since by nature they're telling you to rebel by joining a status quo. For the record, Hipsters tend to not merely fall for this sort of trick, they often seem to eagerly seek it out just to swallow it, as the proverb goes, "hook, line and sinker", and they hate being called out on this hypocrisy, often trying to cop-out by claiming to only be embracing it 'sarcastically' even though their act doesn't fool anyone, except these people
The commercial may refer specifically to The Man. Compare We Don't Suck Anymore and Biting-the-Hand Humor.
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Possibly the Ur Example: In 1968, Columbia Records ran a notorious ad in Rolling Stone showing a bunch of picket sign-toting young radicals in a jail cell with the caption "But The Man can't bust our music." For extra hilarity, the albums shown in the ad are all Classical Music. (Wendy Carlos' early electronica Switched-On Bach was a bit more far out then.)
Often the theme of Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign, particularly in later commercials, where they make fun of commercial gimmicks to get you to buy their products, by using commercial gimmicks to get you to buy their products. The initial ads of this type were more like 30-second motivational spots that were sponsored by Sprite. e.g. A teen sees Grant Hill drinking Sprite and then effortlessly dunking. The teen thinks, "Grant Hill drinks Sprite". He gets a Sprite, drinks it, and tries to dunk, while a deep voiceover says, "If you wanna make it to the NBA..." The kid fails miserably, landing on his ass. "...practice." Then, the little tag at the end, which seemed to say, "Incidentally, Sprite can't make you dunk, but it quenches thirst, so why not get some next time?" Eventually, however, they sunk so low as to introduce a small, annoying character named Thirst into their commercials, as if to say, "Obey your thirst... and here he is! He wants Sprite!"
Acknowledged in a commercial for a specific cellphone carrier, Orange:
CEO: This is my way of "sticking it to The Man."
Underling: ...but you are The Man.
CEO: I know.
Underling: So... you're sticking it to yourself?
Apple's famous "1984" commercial equated the then-dominant IBM with Orwell's "Big Brother", and offered the new Macintosh as a way of reclaiming your individuality. The motto "think different" was quite emblematic of the "everyone have the same difference" mentality. To this day, Apple emphasizes its distinctiveness, though it's become large and successful enough that it can no longer present itself as the rebel minority. It can be argued that they still do, but it's more presented as being "cooler" than the competition—see the "I'm a Mac"/"I'm a PC" ads. Whether that's better or worse depends on whether or not you agree. But in any case, considering the whole strength of the line is in its lower compatibility, which gives you fewer options in using their products (and allows better performance in the things you can do), the success of this tactic is somewhat ironic.
Apple seem to do this a lot. Look at their "Crazy Ones" Commerical. Remember everyone: If you buy an Apple-brand computer, you TOO can be just like Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lennon!
Apple seem to have pulled the trick of making millions from people who like to imagine that they're not part of the sheep-like consumerist majority, right before they queue-up for the iPad 2. This may be because, around the late 1990s and early 2000s, Apple got kudos for nothing more than not being connected with Microsoft and people liked to think that buying anything that deprived Bill Gates of money was sticking it to The Man— little knowing that The Man has many forms.
The Hot Topic chain of clothing stores is built on this, with an edgy, rebellious image carefully crafted by some marketing suit in City of Industry, CA, where the main offices are located. Yeah, the city looks exactly like you think it does. The Hot Topic building is generally non-descript, but driving past at night you can see that the lobby is decked out with a 27-foot tall gothic altar, and the receptionist sits at an antique autopsy table. (First photo.) Apparently the rest of the building is no let-down either.
The infamous "Don't Be So Mayo" Miracle Whip commercials apply this trope to eating mayonnaise.
Used in a very odd and somewhat creepy Scion commercial, painting people in other cars as "Sheeple" and Scion owners as rebellious "Little Deviants" who feed on them. Yes, we're all going to blindly buy your car in order to reclaim our own free will.
Dr. Pepper's "Be part of an original crowd". No, seriously.
As well as "Always One of a Kind." Show your individuality by wearing a red-and-white shirt all but identical to everyone else's!
An old drug PSA used the tagline of "Be An Original". How does doing what the commercial tells you to do make you an original?
Reebok's U.B.U. campaign, which was brazen enough to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous essay on self-reliance.
Budweiser beer is now viciously and sarcastically attacking morons who drink beer in some of their ads, such as the "Real Men of Genius" series. Weird, huh? Some of the guys in Marketing must really hate their own company...
Advertisements for Total Gym have Chuck Norris giving a runby of how the workout equipment works and stating how while other commercials use gimmicks to sell their product, this stands on its own. Hmm. Using a washed up celebrity to advertise a product? And one whose tears can cure cancer to boot? Not a gimmick at all!
Sega ran a campaign of "pirate TV" ads advertised by sticking flyers on billboards, because flyposting and pirate transmissions are cool and edgy. But also illegal, so they put up their own billboards for fictional products and flyposted them.
In the nineties Subaru ran spots of a know-it-all skater kid explaining how "This car is like punk rock." Which probably drove their business with actual punk rockers down by 75%.
Not that something as middle-class and suburban as buying a brand-new car is punk in any way, shape or form...
OK Soda. Made by the Coca-Cola Company in 1993 to target the Gen-X/grunge demographic, it's... well, just read the page on The Other Wiki. And somebody thought that angsty grunge teens would by into this?
Looking at the advertisements and artwork for the soda makes you wonder if it didn't turn its target demographics into alcoholics.
The campaign itself Lampshaded and Parodied this trope, rather than played it straight. The campaign assumed that the Gen-X market believed they were being exploited and manipulated by advertising in general, and so was simply transparent about it.
Dove has received a great deal of attention for their Campaign For Real Beauty, that includes commercials like Evolution and Onslaught. What they don't advertise is that their parent company, Unilever, also owns the Axe/Lynx deodorants which have inflicted us with commercials like this and this. Arguably, both Dove and Axe/Lynx are trying to "stick it" to each other, with Unilever cheerfully raking in the cash they make off both sides.
Considering that the Axe/Lynx spots are parodies, they're doing basically the same thing, just from a different direction.
Axe isn't even the bad part. The company, Unilever, also sells skin-lightening creams to women in other countries, with some pretty atrocious commercials. There's one from India where a woman is finishing up a news report and a male coworker gives her this nasty look. She complains about how her dark skin is holding her career back. (which is a little strange given her skin isn't that dark to begin with, but whatever)) She uses the skin-lightening cream, she moves foward in her career, and the male coworker smiles at her. Contradicts the "Campaign For Real Beauty", no?
The "Campaign For Real Beauty" itself began receiving flak when it was revealed they were looking for a very specific type of real beauty - women who were between a certain weight range, with unblemished skin, around a certain height...not to mention the inherent contradiction in a make-up company telling people to appreciate their natural beauty.
7-Up's short-lived "Are You An Un?" ad depicted their competitors as Orwellian overlords hunting down the "Uns," people who thought for themselves by drinking...7-Up. Viewers saw right through it, and it was soon pulled.
Equally amusing was that one of the ads featured a Butthole Surfers song that was released on a major label and proceeded to bleep out the word "Hell" in said song.
More irony: Nintendo was using this ad campaign during the tail end years of their having mandatory guidelines that forced licensees to censor their games of violence and religious imagery. The campaign was largely damage control after the fiasco that was Mortal Kombat's Bowdlerized SNES release, which caused people to buy Sega Genesis units en masse.
In 2004, a short-lived ad campaign for V — The Ultimate Variety Show appeared in at least one Las Vegas freebie magazine (publications left in hotel rooms, etc. for tourists), encouraging potential theatergoers to "Dare to be different" and choose this show over Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil, and/or Celine Dion. It even had a cartoon illustration with a black sheep choosing the variety show while tons of white sheep chose the others. (The show is a B-list, low-budget production compared to those A-list ones, so the ad was assuming the target audience did not know that...)
An infamous example of The Woman Sticking It To The Man is Virginia Slims' "You've Come a Long Way, Baby" campaign from The Sixties.
Pepsi's 2010 "Refresh Your World Campaign", at least in the Czech Republic. In this ad they reach out to some young "edgy" types to help put some stickers on the communist landscape but Obstructive Bureaucrats get in their way. This one shows a pair of hip pensioners painting a bus stop to a hip hop beat. Also, the project's website is noted by its use of colloquial spoken language, which indicates some unplugged executive is behind it all.
A short time ago Levis ran ads for their "go forth" campaign in black and white, showing young models doing things like standing alone in a field with either recordings of a Walt Whitman poem or a voice over that that spends the entire commercial calling the people in the commercial (and by extension everyone who wears Levi's jeans) "pioneers." What makes it more confusing is that without the last three second of the commercial, there is no way of telling who made it, what they are selling or if it was just some film class project someone got on the air. Needless to say Levi Strauss & Co. is just another clothing company and are hardly the revolutionary game changers they think they are. Alternately, they're trying to create an association between their product and a really good poem.
Pace Picante Sauce commercials: Pace is made by a big company, but to differentiate themselves from other picante sauces, they point out that their competitors' sauces are made in big factories that aren't in Texas.
The "Hold Fast" series of advertisements for Sailor Jerry purport to chronicle nonconformists and rebels...who all drink Sailor Jerry
McDonalds ran a series of ads in New Zealand for its new "Lamb Burger", one of which had a man complain about how New Zealand is now overrun by overseas influences, such as American TV shows and European cars, until he is told that McDonalds now offer Lamb Burger. All this, coming from an American franchise.
Several commentators on the documentary The Corporation note this trope's existence in Real Life. However, it's not presented as all doom-and-gloom — they also note that, as long as demand for anti-corporate material exists, the corporations within a capitalist system will always provide supply to meet that demand, thus allowing for resistance and possibly even eventual subversion of them.
The Adjustment Bureau references this when Norris, a Senatorial candidate, admits that despite his small-town anti-conformist tone has his entire appearance dictated by careful studies from large corporations to find what will get the best reaction from the population.
Warner Brothers was one of the smaller and lower-budget studios during The Thirties, and frequently dipped into this trope by setting themselves up as the gritty, populist alternative to the star-studded musicals of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In the '30s, when a lot of people were working very hard and seeing no benefits to their lives, a criticism of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps optimism of capitalism could made pots of money. Money that went to executives at Warner Brothers.
Little Caesar, a gangster film starring Edward G. Robinson, has been read as a critique of capitalism, with a plot eerily resembling Andrew Carnegie's advice on how to get rich, except with, you know, organized crime.
Primarily, the film's goal is to unapologetically target the cruelty, corruption, and racism of the chain gang penal systems still in use in many Southern states. This made it a very popular film among black audiences, whose money was as green as anyone else's. It's hard to say whether the studio genuinely cared about the issue or not.
More subtly, the film also criticizes the government's abandonment of World War One veterans, starting with a Travelling Salesman Montage of the war hero protagonist trying to find a job all across the States and being told that every employer is letting people go, rather than firing. He tries to pawn his old badge only to be shown a box of similiarly-pawned badges.
Interestingly, the one critic who pointed this out on Rotten Tomatoes got almost nothing but hatred for it in the comments section.
Hannah Montana: The Movie. The main antagonist of the film wants to build a mall. That's right, the corporate manufactured, Merchandise Driven, fashion obsessed, consumistic Hannah Montana is telling us that malls are bad.
This is the main theme of the non-fiction book The Rebel Sell by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. Namely, there is no "system" against which to rebel, and the desire to fight conformity and make ourselves distinctive is essentially the very thing which promotes consumer capitalism.
French literary critic Roland Barthes called this "Operation Margarine" in his book Mythologies.
Hilariously inverted in the fifth Captain Underpants book. The school puts up posters saying things like "Mindless Conformity - It's Fun!" or "Individuality Causes Pain!"
Live Action TV
Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report often take positions that are critical of high-powered corporations in spite of the fact that they are employed by a high-powered corporation. Their jokes often lampshade the irony.
MA Dtv episode #213 had an opening sequence with a statement from "The Man". He makes it quite clear that it is impossible to Stick It To The Man, to Put One Over on The Man, or to Get By The Man, because The Man is watching at all times.
Jack O'Neil(l) from Stargate SG-1 complains about his inability to do this after he gets a promotion: He likes sticking it to the man. But now he is the man. At which point Jackson helpfully suggests he could try sticking it to himself.
One episode of Coupling has Patrick thoroughly shred one of Sally's political views, since she was trying to claim that the Lefties are essentially the "struggling rebels". He pointed out that not only had they been mainstream for quite some time, but had held a majority for several years. Howard, a Gay Conservative Jane is trying to seduce, sides with Patrick despite Sally insisting that as a gay man he should be on her side.
Sally: Come The Revolution—
Patrick: What revolution? You guys are in power, we're the revolution now.
Howard: Yes! It's like Star Wars, and Patrick and me, we're the Rebel Alliance.
[They start humming the Star Wars theme]
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Detective John Munch is an avid conspiracy theorist and actively voices suspicion of all branches of government, including the justice system of which he is a part.
The show itself often has the characters scowl and tell off news reporters who just want to show shocking footage of their crime scenes to get publicity. Even though the show's entire premise is differentiated from other Law & Order series by presenting the most extreme and horrifying crimes possible to viewers and became the most popular work in the franchise because of it.
Producer Harry Thompson (of Have I Got News for You amongst other things) pointed out that a newspaper opinion piece once featured the captain of a 'satirical panel game' protesting vigorously that Cedric Brown over at British Gas was getting £10,000 of public money for just three days of work a week. Harry Thompson pointed out that the satirist was getting £10,000 of public money for three hours of work a week.
Anti-corporate, left-wing musicians who sign on to prominent record labels. Of course, not all of these bands are actually arguing that wealth is in and of itself evil. Many of them defend themselves by saying that major record labels are the only way they can get their music out to wide audiences. Others are simply unashamed of the fact that people pay them for a product that they provide. Both types will usually point to their charitable donations and public services to bolster their credibility.
Sara Bareilles' "Love Song", a catchy, major-label "corporate" pop song, is a slam by Bareilles against her record label for trying to force her to write a love song before they'd allow her album to be released.
The entire post-Illmatic career of Nas can be considered playing this trope straight, as he's been long considered an icon of antithesis to "commercial" hip hop while also owing his career to radio-friendly songs and media hype. The most glaring moment was him naming one of his albums "Hip Hop is Dead" as a response to what he feels is extensive Executive Meddling in the genre; it also happened to be his first album released under Def Jam Records, the the biggest hip hop label in the world and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Universal Music, and the album itself was made in collaboration with many mainstream artists and producers.
Tool's "Hooker With A Penis" lampoons this trope. In it, the speaker is confronted by a former fan who accuses him of "selling out" with his latest album. The speaker laughs in his face and tells him that he sold out long ago. That's how the fan ever heard of him in the first place.
Famously averted when Alice Nutter of Chumbawumba went on Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher to encourage those who could not afford the band's latest album to steal it from some of the larger record stores. Many began to pull the album off the shelves and stow it behind the counter.
Similiarly averted by artists like 50 Cent, who say they don't mind people pirating their music.
Devo's whole concept was based on pointing out the dehumanizing nature of corporate society. And yet, they never claimed to be anything other than a commercial venture. In their latest album, they advertised the fact that they focus-grouped many of the artistic decisions.
Psychosocial by Slipknot brings this up with the line about "Packaging subversion."
The 2005 Live Aid concert- deliberately timed and located to coincide with the G7 summit held in Britain that year, as well as an upcoming British General Election- got a lot of slack for its message being that governments should do more to fight global povery, despite most of the artists and producers involved being millionaires who many felt could have made a pretty big dent in global poverty by themselves, and were seen by some as both part of the problem and part of the establishment. Less well known is the controversy surrounding the rubber wrist bands that supported this and various other charitable causes- turns out most of them were mass manufactured in sweat shops in Third World countries. Not helped by the fact that many people admitted they only wore them because they were fashionable and didn't care about any of the causes said wristbands supported, and likewise went to the concert for the music and the artists more than the message.
Pretty much all of KISS's music has become this over time. Sure, back in the 70s, when everyone thought they were pure evil, their message of partying, living their lives however they want and being the badasses who didn't care what everyone thought was good, but now, they're rich beyond measure, Gene Simmons has gone on record supporting anal rape for pirates (sadly, not a joke) and they've always been open about being money first (which is a part of their narmy charm, seeing as it gives us things like the Kiss Kasket and toothbrushes that play Detroit Rock City while you brush that are marketed at kids), it just makes the lyrics of songs like Flaming Youth and Rock N Roll All Nite ring hollow.
Ayria's song "Selling Rebellion" is pretty much all about this trope.
Every so often, the music industry will promote a usually female singer-songwriter as a "genuine" alternative to the "fakeness" of, well, the music industry (e.g. Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton, Michelle Branch, Norah Jones). This isn't a regular occurrence because of course, someone who is truly Doing It for the Art will naturally be unwilling to simply do everything a record label says and is inclined to break away for more creative freedom. For a more recent example, Adele's popularity based on this image came naturally and was unexpected by the industry compared to Lady Gaga and the like, but that didn't stop them from running with it.
Calvin: Mom, can I have some money to buy a Satan-worshiping, suicide-advocating heavy metal album? Mom: Calvin, the fact that these bands haven't killed themselves in ritual self-sacrifice shows that they're just in it for the money like everyone else. It's all for effect. If you want to shock and provoke, be sincere about it.
A cartoon in a high-school political science textbook showed the hypocrisy of teenagers objecting to uniforms in public schools. It shows a long line of "cool" hip-hop aficionados wearing identical brand-name athletic clothing and saying "School. Uniforms. Would. Make. Us. All. Look. The. Same." in creepy "cult member" fashion.
John Lydon said something similar about gigging with the Sex Pistols and being annoyed that the audience were all dressed like him and the other band members rather than being individualistic: "I didn't get into punk to join the army".
Shadowrun invokes this trope and plays it unashamedly straight.
In Shaun White Skateboarding, the theme is to fight against the totalitarian regime of the man: as you skate, you bring back colour and excitement to the bland greys. One of the things you do, however, is to replace a "NO CHEWING ALLOWED" billboard with an ad for Stride gumnote For those who don't know, that's a real-life brand.. And you get an achievement for doing it. Nothing says sticking it to the man like putting up billboards advertising corporate products!
The aforementioned color restoration also has the apparent side effect of causing Wendy's restaurants to magically appear.
In a similar vein, Tony Hawk, the world's oldest teenager. He's still one of the go-to sports celebs for being "rebel" and "extreme" and "edgy", when the man has more games under his name than there are versions of Street Fighter.
Also applies to a skating gang in American Wasteland. They believe that wearing shirts and shoes supports corporations, yet pants are fine. Not to mention that every member of the gang (except the player character) has a skateboard advertising the game itself!
Done more literally than usual in an episode of Homestar Runner. Homestar needs to buy some paint from Bubs' concession stand, but he doesn't have any money. Then he asks Bubs if he'll bum some paint for him, and Bubs says that he never misses a chance to stick it to the man (who is actually himself), and gives Homestar the paint free of charge.
Satirized on The Simpsons, on the episode where the elementary school puts in "edgy" vending machines—Ralph Wiggum says, "It's fun to obey the machine." The corporate mascots Scammer and Z-Dog are described by their creators as "spokesrebels".
Several commentators have also noted that The Simpsons in general frequently satirizes corporate culture and capitalism while significantly benefiting from them; it often rips into Fox, its home network, while at the same time being one of Fox's flagship shows which is merchandised and promoted up the ying-yang.
Fox News and Fox's entertainment division are generally masters of this trope. The Simpsons show has been making fun of its home network and lambasting Murdoch as a right-wing fascist "billionaire tyrant" since long before he even launched Fox News. So far, Fox's network of affiliates and Murdoch himself seem to be taking all of this in stride, and why not? For all the viewer ratings they've got and as much money as they're making, they're probably laughing all the way to the bank and know they already got a lot of enemies.
Daria sums up this trope nicely in "The Lost Girls":
"As far as I can make out, 'edgy' occurs when middlebrow, middle-aged profiteers are looking to suck the energy- not to mention the spending money- out of the "youth culture". So they come up with this fake concept of seeming to be dangerous when every move they make is the result of market research and a corporate master plan."