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The Man Is Sticking It to the Man

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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.

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.

The concept was popularized by the economist Joseph Schumpeternote  as "creative destruction". The basic principle is that, in an economy with a finite amount of wealth, entrepreneurs and companies are incentivized to come up with ways to devalue the wealth controlled by "the establishment" and claim it for themselves, forcing the establishment to either evolve or collapse into bankruptcy. Often, this creative destruction takes the form of new technologies and more efficient production processes (like streaming services and ride-sharing apps putting video rental stores and traditional taxicabs out of business), but it can also include seizing on social trends and moral crusades (such as attacking companies over human rights or environmental issues to position their own product as the "moral/green alternative"). In Schumpeter's view, capitalism is not just a static, monolithic bloc of monopolies but an endless churn of businesses and entrepreneurs attacking and destroying the wealth of the old guard, rising in triumph to become the new old guard, and then being destroyed by the new new guard when their time is up.

Since the free market is a vast array of agents acting individually, the hypothetical singular "The Man", when used as the face of capitalist excess, has become associated with two competing functions. The Man is seen as a representative of censorship and regulation, yet The Man also favors demolishing censorship and regulation in order to pursue profit at the cost of altruism. So a company which manufactures edgy, offensive content will call on people to "stand up" against censorship groups as some kind of cry for freedom, yet the ultimate goal is to make more profit for themselves. They may also be driven to respond to changes in society and tensions of its time and appeal to the needs and sensibilities of the public, even if they themselves don't share the same inclinations or if the public sentiment is being manipulated by yet another business angling to make money. The main concern of any business is self-preservation, and changing with the times is a historically proven method.

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. Hipsters are known to fall for this sort of trick.

Stealth Cigarette Commercial is a specific instance where tobacco companies are required by law to make anti-smoking Public Service Announcements. Rather predictably, the resulting PSAs tend to be along the lines of Do Not Do This Cool Thing.

The commercial may refer specifically to "The Man". A type of Straw Hypocrite. Compare We Don't Suck Anymore and Biting-the-Hand Humor. See also Disobey This Message. A more violent example could lead to a Staged Populist Uprising.

In-Universe Examples Only:

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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 album Switched-On Bach was a bit more far out then.)
  • Also in the late 1960s was a TV ad for one of Dodge's muscle cars in which the driver is pulled over by a cop straight out of Easy Rider who eventually gets so offended by the car and its carefully-enunciated features that he ends up booking the driver for "sassin' a law officer."
  • 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?"
    • Sprite's later "Wanna Sprite?" campaign would repeat the celebrity endorsement ribbing. The usual setup would have LeBron James in the middle of filming a Sprite commercial or hang some pretty heavy fourth wall-breaking lampshades on his presence, with the slogan even coming from him asking the viewer if they'd like to drink what he's endorsing instead of demanding them. Some commercials like the infamous Sprite Cranberry ad would drop this aspect.
  • Acknowledged in a commercial for a specific cellphone carrier, Sprint:
    Underling: Is that your new Sprint Phone?
    CEO: Uh huh, with Sprint's new fair and flexible plans no one can tell me what to do. I can talk when and how I want. It is my little way of sticking it to The Man.
    Underling: ...but you are The Man.
    CEO: I know.
    Underling: So... you're sticking it to yourself?
    CEO: ...Maybe.
  • Apple's famous "1984" commercial equated the then-dominant IBM with George Orwell's "Big Brother", and offered the new Macintosh as a way of reclaiming your individuality. The motto "think different" was 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. In any case, considering the strength of the line is in its lower compatibility, which gives you fewer options in using their products (and ostensibly allows better performance in the things you can do), the success of this tactic is ironic.
  • 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. (Second photo.) Apparently the rest of the building is no let-down either.
  • The infamous "Don't Be So Mayo" and "We Will Not Tone It Down" Miracle Whip commercials apply this trope to eating mayonnaise.
  • Used in a 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.
    • "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? They probably meant: "Don't be like all those drugged-out kids out there, because you're morally superior to them." Not only an arrogant point of view, but pretty cynical as well. (Later ads evoke the same theme, with their "Above the Influence" slogan.)
  • 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%.
    • The skater kid was Daniel Faraday, no less.
    • 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 buy 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 playing 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.
    • Around the same time Coca-Cola also introduced Fruitopia, which used a more gentle version of the trope. Its marketing had a heavy New-Age Retro Hippie vibe, with the implication that Fruitopia's main concern was helping you achieve self-actualization, and only incidentally were they also in the soft drink business. After a few years they dropped the campaign and had a more conventional rebranding, but it didn't help sales and it ultimately got scrapped in the US market (it's still sold in Canada).
  • 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. 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 forward 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.
  • Nintendo's "Play It Loud" ad campaign made it look like buying SNES games was an excellent way of rebelling against those stuffy, repressive authority figures, as well as trying to make them look much edgier than they actually were in most cases. Mind, this was coming from the Nintendo that simultaneously demanded Mortal Kombat and Wolfenstein 3-D be severely bowdlerized. 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. Of course, pretty much every "anti-authority" video game censors its music. Illegal street racing while blasting gangsta rap and ramming into cop cars? Fine, but said rap will be thoroughly clean.
  • 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 it over Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil, and/or Céline 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 '60s.
  • 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. Indeed, McDonalds in particular is a prime focal point for the ambivalence harbored toward American consumer culture by foreigners, such as in the case of the French embracing McDonalds (it's been in Paris since at least the 1980s) but insisting on "Frenchifying" its menu.
  • When New York was still threatening to implement the 16 ounce soda ban (a judge has since tossed it out), every soda corporation in the city joined forces for an advertising campaign on each delivery truck reading, quote-unquote, "Don't let bureaucrats tell you what size beverage to buy." Complete with a silhouetted figure raising a fist in defiance, with a soda bottle in his clenched hand.
  • Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi took one look at the "cult of Apple" and crafted its own cult. The name of the company refers to revolution, supported by a Chinese revolutionary bunny mascot, and you too can be a "mi fen" and part of the in-crowd if you buy their t-shirts, dolls and of course their actual phones, which are anything but exclusive and whose MIUI operating system shamelessly borrows from Apple's iOS.
  • Pretty much every political campaign will at some point claim that their candidate or party represents the common man while the opposing side is "the elite" or "the establishment".
  • A pair of commercials (can't remember what for) try to depict the spokesmodels in it as rebels, shaking up people's preconceptions. The narrator even refers to said spokesmodels as "you" to make the viewer identify with them. And what are these play-by-their-own-rules trendsetters doing? One commercial features a woman putting her arm around her date's shoulder at the movies (scandalous in the 1950s. In 2014? Not so much). The other shows a man going to work on casual Friday in a three-piece suit! The commercial even shows people staring at the man in shock, as if he was naked, rather than smartly dressed. One would think no one in that building has important meetings on Friday they would need to dress up for.
  • This ad for the "Attack-A-Snack" Cheesestrings spin-off, doubling as a Fight Club homage. Eat food with your hands? You're a non-conformist, apparently.
  • All those sidebar adverts infesting websites, with headings like ''Doctors/Dentists/Dermatologists/dieticians hate her!" in which it alleged that an anonymous "mom" somehow came up with a home-brewed remedy in her own kitchen, which for $5 worth of commonly available ingredients will do the job of $5,000 dollars worth of medical prescription/dental treatment/dermatological preparation/constitute a guaranteed weight-loss plan. Hence the Big Medical corporations would happily take out a Mafia hit on her for rendering them irrelevant and hitting their ill-gotten gains. It is never explained as to why Big Medicine has not taken the Mom from Massachusetts on board and is not marketing her breakthrough concept themselves, which would seem more logical than impotent teeth-grinding loathing.note 
  • On a can of Monster Assault energy drink, they claim that the camo pattern the can is decorated with "helps fire [them] up to fight the big multi-national companies who dominate the beverage business." Elsewhere on the can, at least those sold in Canada, can be found the words "Distributed by Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada."
  • In 1970, Melanie Safka released a song called "Look what they've done to my song, ma", which opined in the destructive effects of commercialism on music. A few years later, Generals Mills modified the song and used it in an commercial for breakfast cereal.
  • A TV commercial for Converse sneakers depicts a bunch of young people dancing in a nightclub in slow motion. Onscreen text scrolling upwards describes how this commercial was made by a bunch of old white men in a corporate office whose knowledge of teenagers and young adults is entirely derived through focus testing. At no point in the commercial does it ever remotely suggest the viewer to buy Converse sneakers, nowhere do the shoes ever appear in the commercial, and the logo doesn't even show up until a less-than-a-second shot at the end.
  • Nearly every commercial for ambulance-chasing lawyers follows the same formula: big insurance companies are penny-pinching evil incarnate who exist solely to profit from your misfortune. So, hire our big law firm to go after them and "recover" all the money you "deserve" (minus a sizable cut for ourselves, of course).

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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 he has his entire appearance, his speeches, and even his backstory dictated by careful studies from large corporations to find what will get the best reaction from the population.
  • The movie The Chase (1994) provides an excellent example of the two incarnations of "The Man" coming into conflict, with the film intrinsically claiming that the "hip" Man is somehow less of a Man than the stodgy old corporate Man. Kristy Swanson is the daughter of a mega-successful California businessman. After she is kidnapped by a desperate prison escapee (played by Charlie Sheen) and finds herself slowly falling in love with him, she decides she's had enough of her father trying to control her life. Long story short, the couple abscond to Mexico ... and how do they "rebel" when they get there? They lie on the beach and drink margaritas – something the girl's father most likely did a lot of in private himself.
  • Discussed in Citizen Kane, where Charles Foster Kane, heir to the sixth largest private fortune, becomes a crusading publisher/editor who takes a progressive platform against wealthy interest holders. Walter Thatcher specifically brings up Charles' attack on the Public Transit Corporation of which he himself is a shareholder, to which Kane responds by noting that a rich man taking the cause of reform might keep the commies from doing so:
    Charles: The trouble is, you don't realize you're talking to two people. As Charles Foster Kane who owns 82,364 shares of Public Transit Preferred. See, I do have a general idea of my holdings. I sympathize with you. Kane is a scoundrel. His paper should be closed, a committee formed to boycott him. If you can form such a committee, put me down for a contribution of $1,000. On the other hand, I am the publisher of the Inquirer. As such it's my duty; I'll let you in on a little secret, it is also my pleasure to see that the working people of this community aren't robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates, just because they have no one to look after their interests! You see, I have money and property. If I don't look after the interests of the underprivileged, somebody else will. Maybe somebody without money or property. That would be too bad.
  • Frank Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It showed this. The '50s Rock and Roll era was basically run by gangsters from The '30s who turned legitimate. One of the gangsters, played by Edmond O'Brien, wants to cash in on the youth market by launching his own pop sensation and finds out his ex-rival now runs the big music company. At the end of film, he becomes a rising pop star himself and his rival is so impressed with his success that he hires him and gives him a contract, because hey, he's a hit with the kids.
  • In one memorable scene from Under the Silver Lake, the protagonist Sam, who idolizes countercultural music and Kurt Cobain in particular, meets a mysterious, impossibly ancient songwriter who claims to have written all hit songs of the the last three generations and at least one piece attributed to Beethoven. During their conversation, the Songwriter mercilessly dismantles Sam's worldview, pointing out that all the protest songs championed by young people who think they're rebelling against the mainstream are just commercial products that ultimately serve only to make the old, wealthy patrons of the entertainment industry like himself even richer. As with everything else in the film, it is not clear whether the scene is meant to be taken at face value or just a product of Sam's increasingly unraveling mind, but either way, the social commentary is very explicit. For added symbolism, the scene culminates in a violent confrontation during which Sam beats the Songwriter to death with Kurt Cobain's iconic Fender Mustang guitar.

  • The entire history of this phenomenon - at least in America - is traced by economist Thomas Frank in his book The Conquest of Cool. Frank points out that the "do-what-you-wanna-do" philosophy of The '60s was actually an aesthetic crafted by Mad Men-style Madison Avenue types. That's right: the "cultural revolution" that supposedly turned everything we knew about the world completely upside-down was the handiwork of middle-class kids aping the consumer culture of the guys in suits they claimed to despise.
  • Richard Hofstadter noted the presence of this trope. He argued that American history is fundamentally about consensus (with the single exception of The American Civil War) rather than polarization between pro-and-anti-business interests. In his book, The American Political Tradition, Hofstadter noted that parties often present or dress up their platform on anti-capitalist themes while at the same time furthering business interests and tricking the public into believing that they really are going to reform the system:
    The fierceness of the political struggles has often been misleading: for the range of vision embraced by the primary contestants in the major parties has always been bounded by the horizons of property and enterprise.
  • 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 and in the post-script he identifies the same point arrived by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter.
  • 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!"
  • George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has this as a prominent theme. The Info Dump book at the story's midpoint argues that throughout history there have only been three groups of people: the High, the Middle and the Low. The entire history of civilization could be summed up as a battle between the Middle and the High; the High trying to retain their position, the Middle trying to usurp it by duping the Low to their cause.
  • Tom Wolfe coined the phrase "radical chic" to describe rich establishment liberals who support radical groups like the Black Panthers by donating money or hosting parties for them, just so long that they don't actually have to do anything that would affect their upper class lifestyle. The phrase first appeared in an article Wolfe wrote for New York magazine titled "Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's", which was reprinted in Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and The Purple Decades.note 
  • Jim Munroe's Angry Young Spaceman: In a future where parents can buy membership in a subculture as a birthday present for their kids, protagonist Sam Breen belongs to the rebellious non-commercial "pug" subculture (a sort of free-roaming fight club) that was created by the young people themselves. Then he sees an interview with the creator of pug revealing that it was just another manufactured subculture, viral-marketed to seem like spontaneous rebellion.
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel The Highest Science, record companies in the future openly manufacture new music trends and associated subcultures, which teens are supposed to shift to instantly, but one character isn't being fooled. No matter how much the companies try to sell the light, poppy "freakster" sound to him, he knows the deep, rebellious "headster" movement was real. His Despair Event Horizon is seeing his musical idol in freakster clothes, being interviewed about how his headster lyrics were a load of drug-addled nonsense.

    Live Action TV 
  • MADtv (1995) 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 stick it to the man 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.
  • In Season 3 of The Boys (2019), narcissistic "hero" Homelander has a Villainous Breakdown and rants about Evil, Inc. Vought controlling his entire life on live television. This resonates with his fanbase and his additional popularity leads to him performing a hostile takeover of Vought while painting himself as an anti-establishment figure. Soon he becomes a Trumplica ranting about unfair treatment by the media... which he now owns.
  • In one episode of Coupling, Sally tries to claim that the Lefties are essentially the "struggling rebels". Patrick points out that the Left has not only been mainstream for quite some time, but has held a majority for several years. Howard, a Gay Conservative Jane is trying to seduce, sides with Patrick despite Sally's insistence 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.
    Sally: [horrified] No. That can't be right...
    Patrick: [mocking] You're the Evil Empire.
    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.
  • 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. Producer Harry Thompson (of Have I Got News for You amongst other things) pointed out that the satirist was getting £10,000 of public money for three hours of work a week.
  • In an episode of Los Simuladores, a teenage kid dressed as a stereotypical goth wants help to cure her sister from her bulimia and anorexia. Mario Santos agrees to help him and notes that his clothes, supposedly there to express non conformity and anarchism, were sold to him by major retailers and that "the industry of rebellion is quite lucrative". His advice is "if you want to be a rebel, you have to wear a suit and a tie". At the end of the episode we see him in a nice suit walking with confidence around awed students.
  • Euphoria: In "Trouble Don't Last Always", Ali complains that advertisers and businesses have weaponized "revolutions" to sell things, which he thinks stops actual change, or at least controls the impact. He relates that Nike put up a sign reading "Our people matter" (about black people) while still charging a bundle for sneakers, which costs them nothing, looks good and lets them still charge the same huge price (he notes they were likely made by slaves or near enough in China too).

  • 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 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. The fan is also covered head to toe in product brands: Vans shoes, Levi 501s, a Beastie Boys t-shirt and is drinking Coke.
  • Psychosocial by Slipknot brings this up with the line about "Packaging subversion."
  • Ayria's song "Selling Rebellion" is pretty much all about this trope.
  • "Uniform" by Bloc Party is about, in its own words, "Commerce dressed up as rebellion".
  • The Clash for their part, acknowledged and dealt with this discrepancy in their music. Their single "Complete Control" is an angsty, furious Punk anthem about the fact that recording companies and radios owned the airwaves and they determine and sell the most youth-appealing songs for money that the singers will never see a cent of, all just to cash in on the rebellious youth sentiment of the era.
    "Complete control / even over this song"
    • Their song "Hate and War" also addressed this trope:
    "An' if I close my eyes
    They will not go away
    You have to deal with it
    It is the currency
    • Of course much later, Clash ran into controversy when they allowed one of their songs to be used by Jaguar. Joe Strummer defended this out of solidarity with the auto workers for Jaguar's factories who were suffering as a result of Margaret Thatcher's crackdown on manufacturing.
    • Their famous tagline "The only band that matters"—created by the marketing staff at CBS Records.
  • Porcupine Tree’s "The Sound of Muzak" delves into this:
    Music of the future makes you wanna rage
    But it’s made by millionaires who are nearly twice your age
  • The Crass song "Punk is Dead" is about how this trope has killed what punk rock was in the seventies, turning it into "just another product for the consumer's head."
  • The Industrial Revolution (And How It Ruined My Life) has a part about looking down on the masses and buying a rebel brand, just like everyone else.
  • "Packaged Rebellion" by Anthrax is all about this.
  • Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" explores this; when the supposedly edgy, rebellious band finally encounter the Machine of the music industry, it is able to correctly guess and predict their every move. Because the music industry is built around supposedly edgy, rebellious bands, and they're ultimately just as big a cog of the industry as the suits and executives are.
  • Cake's "Rock 'N' Roll Lifestyle" criticizes the entire rock industry for practicing this behavior — from the fans who spend thousands of dollars to craft a "rebellious" image to the singer that smashes his guitar, not because he's protesting the system, but because it's what's expected of him at this point (and he'll just buy a new one anyways, only to smash it again...the cycle goes on).
  • David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" features the lines "now the workers have struck for fame/'cause Lennon's on sale again." This plays off of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" (which came out six months prior to the album's recording sessions) and his last name's similarity to that of Vladimir Lenin to suggest that communism, a staunchly anti-commercial ideology, has itself become a commercial product to be bought and sold.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • The strip has a take on this:
    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.note 
    • The page quote comes from a shoe commercial Calvin was impressed by, with a rock climber who'd quit his job to do this. Hobbes dissects it immediately, asking how he could afford the shoes without a job, while ridiculing his status as a rebellious individual since he urges people to all buy these shoes.
  • A cartoon in a high-school political science textbook showed the irony 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".


    Video Games 


    Web Original 
  • Done more literally than usual in the Homestar Runner cartoon "Cool Things". Homestar needs to buy some paint from Bubs' concession stand, but Bubs insists that he's closed. Then Homestar 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.
  • Discussed by Lindsay Ellis in "RENT: Look Pretty And Do As Little As Possible". Because Broadway shows are so expensive, only those with large amounts of spending money can attend them. Thus, shows have to perform a balancing act between being trendy- maybe even a little edgy- and not alienating their wealthy audiences, which can lead to this trope.
    • Ellis also discussed this phenomenon in "Woke Disney", where she talks about how Disney's live-action remakes of its animated films (in particular, Dumbo (2019) and Beauty and the Beast (2017)) offer shallow social commentary on subjects like race and feminism that nevertheless plays into Disney's interests by supporting the status quo instead of advocating for change.
  • Discussed by Tim Rogers in his Action Button review of Doom. One of the video's segments sees Tim ruminating on the cultural zeitgeist surrounding Doom in the late '80's and most of the '90's, which leads to a digression regarding advertising of the era, especially advertising that targeted boys in their teens. Tim notices that the majority of the TV commercials of the time seemed to attempt to paint that consuming the products they were hawking, even if said product was extremely innocuous, as an act of, not if not outright rebellion, then at the very least contrarianism against "boring" and "authoritarian" adults. Tim considers the crowing example of this a commercial for Bubble Tape that consisted of little more than of a series of ugly and middled-aged authority figures saying that they "hate" Bubble Tape for some not-really-defined reason, before finishing with the slogan "For you — Not them".

    Western Animation 
  • The titular character of 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."
  • Satirized throughout The Simpsons:


Video Example(s):


Sticking It To Yourself

In an advertisement for Sprint, a corporate CEO explains how he's using the new Sprint phone plan, that it's his way of "sticking it to the man." His employee points out that he is "the man," so this means that he's sticking it to himself. "Maybe," agrees the CEO.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheManIsStickingItToTheMan

Media sources: