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The Man Is Sticking It to the Man

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Destroying capitalism, one overpriced, sweatshop-manufactured T-shirt at a time.
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.

May come about as the result of two competing incompatible functions of "The Man". For instance, "The Man" is often seen 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". (Think of it as the not-too-crucial distinction between traditional conservatism and libertarian conservatism, which at the end of the day tend to go hand in hand, at least in American culture.) Or more simply, an attempt by the industry 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. Their main concern is self-preservation, and changing with the times is a historically proven method.

Remember that Tropes Are Tools. 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 get 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 of a grudge against their corporate overlords as do most people. If only for the selfish motivation that they, the creators of the works, are not getting the attention and money that their contributions so assuredly deserve.

Furthermore, the fact that the media at times might disagree with "the Man" is a sign of democracy and freedom of expression. After all, the countries where you don't see this perceived discrepancy is one where the State controls the Media. The media, even if it is part of an establishment, recognizes dissenting or alternative views in the audience. From a business perspective it makes sense, any alternative or dissenting perspective is a potential market, even if it is against the establishment. If it's a big enough demographic to make a profit, the media will produce work reflective of that perspective and addresses those emotions, and in the process, assimilate it into the general consensus.

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.


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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.)
  • 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?"
  • 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: That's right.
    Underling: So... you're sticking it to yourself?
    CEO: ...Maybe.
  • 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 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. (First 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 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.
    • 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 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.
  • 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 3D 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 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 '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 peoples 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).

    Comic Books 
  • A huge inversion, as revealed in Gerald Jones' Men of Tomorrow is the fact that Superhero Comics, promoters of the establishment and American values originated in a comics business that began as a front for Prohibition era gangsters. The cheap pulp and print businesses that ran the predecessors of DC Comics and Marvel Comics was founded by Legs Diamond and Lucky Luciano. The Founders of National Comics (and later DC), Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz had ties to the mob. In other words, gangsters are sticking up for the Man by telling kids that crime doesn't pay, while using the profits as a front for their illegal schemes.
  • Marvel Comics in The '60s under Stan Lee and Jack Kirby became popular among college kids and protestors and made edgy comics that reflected the post-war contemporary spirit. They used the superhero genre to tell stories that were Darker and Edgier, psychological and reflected an outsider sensibility that appealed to freaks and loners. They parlayed this into a multi-million dollar merchandise heavy empire, the domination of the superhero genre and all that it entails over the alternative forms of comics that emerged in The '60s.
  • Alan Moore is a self-proclaimed anarchist who came to fame while working for DC Comics, writing works like Watchmen which mocked people's love of superheroes (specifically, he parodied the '90s Anti-Hero before the trope itself became popular).

    Film — Animated 
  • WALL•E: Pixar, in association with Disney, preaches the dangers of consumerism. Which was also unintentional. And they are happy to "poke fun at ourselves", according to the commentary. Interestingly, the one critic who pointed this out on Rotten Tomatoes got almost nothing but hatred for it in the comments section.
  • The LEGO Movie heavily satirizes consumerist and conformist culture, but is produced by the LEGO company and prominently features the brands of many franchises. This is completely intentional, though, and only adds to the humor. It helps that LEGO is a franchise built on enabling creativity, making the message sink in a bit more than if it were spouted by a franchise with less customizable products.
  • The Lorax was supposed to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of consumerism without sustainable design, but the film made some questionable merchandising choices, particularly by letting Mazda use the titular character in their ads. Universal's stance on this was that their target audience might not be able to afford electric or hybrids. The Nostalgia Critic also criticised the film for introducing a one-dimensional villain that no-one would be able to identify with and thus, not learn from his acts of villainy.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Throughout its long history, Hollywood has produced many films critical of American society, history, government and even American values. Censorship and Repression (The Hays Code and The Hollywood Blacklist), happened in response to criticism by Moral Guardians who hated Hollywood, which did not at first begin as The Man. It was a place for producers and directors who were themselves either immigrants or the sons of immigrants, themselves rooted for outsiders (at least at first) who understood the American and global public well. However, when possible they made compromises with the Establishment.
    • Orson Welles made a big-budget studio film called Citizen Kane that attacked The American Dream, yellow journalism, and said that Capitalism Is Bad. William Randolph Hearst, powerful press baron, was angered by its percieved libel to the extent he sabotaged the film's release, teaching Hollywood and Welles a lesson in trying to enforce this trope too far.
    • An example of Hollywood's attempt to cash in on leftist and populist causes is the fact that, in the early 30s (the era of The Great Depression, aka "capitalism in crisis"), Sergei Eisenstein, the star film-maker of the Soviet Union and the director of The Battleship Potemkin, was invited on a contract to make films with Hollywood. Eisenstein accepted and proposed to make films on An American Tragedy, but an anti-semitic and anti-communist backlash led Paramount to cancel the deal and provide Eisenstein return tickets.
    • Frank Capra made successful movies in The '30s that championed "the little guy". Films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, American Madness and later in It's a Wonderful Life (which was a failure) had a banker as a cackling villain. Yet Joseph McBride, Capra's biographer, points out that the director was personally conservative, critical of Franklin D. Roosevelt and kept a bust of Mussolini in his office, and basically invoked populist themes because it was the tenor of its times and it made his films very profitable.
    • Warner Brothers was one of the smaller and lower-budget studios during The '30s, 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. It's hard to say whether the studio genuinely cared about the issue or not.
      • 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.
      • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is a double-whammy here. 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.
  • The New Hollywood was the golden age for this trope. This era saw big budget films critical of American life, mocking religious values, the nuclear family, capitalism, American imperialism and all of them made by the establishment. Films from this era include: The Godfather, Chinatown, Nashville, The Parallax View.
  • 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 dictated by careful studies from large corporations to find what will get the best reaction from the population.
  • The film adaptation of V for Vendetta popularized the use of Guy Fawkes masks to protest authority. The Time Warner corporation makes a lot of money off of selling those masks, which are themselves manufactured in sweat shops with awful working conditions. Not to mention how much Anonymous likes them as well.
  • The 1994 movie The Chase 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.
  • 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.
  • Many have observed the massive media hype, advertising, and merchandising for The Hunger Games films contrasts with the anti-media themes of the series. An article by Salon goes so far as to label it and the film of Divergent capitalist agitprop that trucks in the individualist ethos to praise the "rebellious" character of the free market.

  • 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!"
  • Victorian novels often had rebellious protagonists who are unconventional, independent minded individualists who don't play by society's rules but nonetheless serve the Victorian establishment and The British Empire.
    • Rudyard Kipling was especially skillfull in tapping into this, painting the colonies as a romantic and exotic retreat from the staid conservatism of the metropole. His Kim is about a plucky hero who blends in and out of different groups in India but ends up serving the British Secret Service.
    • Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist is about London's street kids and the world of the poor. Its protagonist was Incorruptible Pure Pureness, a foundling raised in the slums by chance accident (aka someone meant to appeal to the Victorian middle-class readership) and yet the book became popular among readers for its colourful working class characters and Lower-Class Lout villains.
    • Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle is another instance. He's a brilliant detective, representative of pure rationality, a bachelor who is socially eccentric and a drug addict, yet he is the very much a defender of Order in the fight between Order Versus Chaos and a upholder of British rationality.
  • 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 

    Live Action TV 
  • Jon Stewart of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 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.
    • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver continues this trend, given that he is funded by HBO (Time Warner) and yet heavily criticizes major corporations. A specific example is as he criticizes AT&T and corporate mergers as AT&T is trying to merge with Time Warner.
  • MADtv 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.
  • 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 (also Truth in Television for Richard Belzer, the actor who plays him, who really is the Conspiracy Theorist, yet is employed by "the system" that is Hollywood).
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mad Men critiques advertising and consumer culture, yet airs on a major cable network with commercials.
  • Mr. Robot is a surprisingly popular TV drama whose main character is a hacker who constantly criticises the manipulativeness of the media and popular culture (amongst other things). The series itself is loaded with homages and references to pop culture.

  • Anti-corporate, left-wing musicians who sign on to prominent record labels (one frequently mentioned example being Rage Against the Machine, who are signed to Epic). 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.
  • Jonathan Coulton's "Sticking It To Myself."
  • 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.
  • Starship's We Built This City was described by Blender magazine editor Craig Marks thus: "It purports to be anti-commercial but reeks of '80s corporate-rock commercialism. It's a real reflection of what practically killed rock music in the '80s.".
  • 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.
    • Similarly 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 poverty, 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 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.
    • The phrase "flaming youth" itself evokes the decadence of the Roaring Twenties, which were arguably a textbook example of this trope as well. Dressing in "flapper" fashions and listening and/or dancing to jazz music, viewed by both fans and critics as barbaric and subversive at the time, were in fact enjoyed most prominently by Nouveau Riche types who wanted first and foremost to make lots of money, not change the culture. (See The Great Gatsby.)
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Punk rock: Near the end of the 1970s what was considered subversive and dangerous two years earlier became corporate sponsored and almost easy listening. Since then you have punk groups who really work DIY and so-called "rebellious bands" that are promoted by big companies and where the hairstyles and outfits are just as much a fashion statement as any other pop trend.
    • Of course, if you listen to Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, he will argue that the original punk movement was a Staged Populist Uprising by Bourgeois Bohemian who have no idea what the working class actually wants. Rotten disagreed with Malcolm McLaren for his promotional schemes and he regarded most of the punk movement as middle-class wannabes, including Patti Smith and The Clash. From his perspective, he was the only true working class punk rocker and he sees no problems with making a living as a musician and no contradiction with lending his songs for commercial airwaves, because he never saw himself as a revolutionary nor did he want to be.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Rolling Stones were seen in The '60s as the rebellious alternatives to The Beatles, yet the Stones were more middle-class in their upbringing than the Beatles (who really were working-class Liverpudlians). Their bad boy pose was deliberately created as an alternative to The Beatles. Their own music was quite honest about their tapping into youth sentiment for popular themes:
    Ev'rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
    Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
    But what can a poor boy do
    Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
    Cause in sleepy London town
    There's just no place for a street fighting man
  • Katy Perry sang "Chained to the Rhythm", a song against corporate-influenced conformity, among other things. Sung by one of the biggest pop stars of the decade, featuring the grandson of the most marketed and merchandised Caribbean musician in history, backed by an extensive guerrilla marketing campaign. Oh, and the song was co-written by Sia, who's herself a popular, highly marketable singer and songwriter. The song was a smash hit, of course.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • As well as the page quote above, Calvin and Hobbes had another 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.
  • 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".

  • The $6.95/month FUGITIVE IS ON THE LOOSE!
  • The Jack FM format is built around the idea that it's breaking the rules of radio by playing a wider assortment of music and replacing obnoxious DJs with a Deadpan Snarker announcer. But it's still a highly researched, tightly formatted, corporation-backed form of radio. After making a big splash in the US radio market in 2004, listeners caught on to this. The novelty wore off and these days only 2 of the 10 biggest cities in the US still have Jack FM stations.

  • Critics of RENT (such as here) argue that the musical falls into this trap, particularly with regards to how it treats HIV/AIDS. It's set in the 1980s in the shadow of the AIDS crisis, many of the characters are avant-garde Starving Artists and it has designs towards being edgy, challenging and confronting. However, because it was also a major Broadway musical in the 1990s, it couldn't necessarily be too edgy, challenging and confronting lest it chase away the paying customers. This meant that it tended to focus more on the struggle between the True Artist Doing It for the Art being faced with the prospect of having to Sell-Out for Money, Dear Boy, with AIDS being mostly treated in a similar fashion as La Bohème treated tuberculosis (namely as a kind of Victorian Novel Disease that was tragically inevitable and killed several characters in an almost romantically beautiful fashion). Given that, unlike tuberculosis, the AIDS crisis actually resulted from numerous institution failings, incompetence and outright callous indifference which were ripe for angry critique, this can be particularly glaring.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed is a franchise and gaming series that presents a sympathetic portrayal of proto-anarchists across history, yet its also a Cash Cow Franchise for Ubisoft with endless spin-offs and is now a multi-million dollar empire of its own.
    • Watch_Dogs franchise by the same company. Your protagonists are anarchist hackers with one of their targets being large Ubisoft. They are quite self-aware of it though and it provides a lot of Biting-the-Hand Humor
  • Being a remake of Abe's Oddysee, New N' Tasty has an anti-consumerist message about vegetarianism, worker exploitation, and how corporations lie to us if they can get away with it. It was a less-heavy handed and more cartoony Soylent Green set in outer space. Only now, New N' Tasty tries to use the in-game corporate billboards to sell you products that exist in the real life.

    The contradiction is clear. It's noteworthy that Oddworld's creator, Lorne Lanning, didn't get a whole helluva lot of momentum in the U.S. and this is the main reason why. An anti-consumerist game is practically an oxymoron. Lanning sensed this and quit developing games out of disgust toward the obsession with sequels and branding.
    Matthewmatosis: By the way, Matt Glanville also designed Luminesca, which is one of the games to get an ad on the billboards in Rupture Farms. I suppose it was just a friendly gesture to himself—to put an ad for a game into a much more popular game where it could get some exposure. That's very generous of him. I hope he sent himself a 'Thank You' card.
  • 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 . And you get an achievement for doing it. Nothing says sticking it to the man like putting up billboards advertising corporate products! This also has the apparent side effect of causing Wendy's restaurants to magically appear. Parodied in this Critical Miss strip.
  • 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!
  • The brand war between Pequods and Quee Queegs coffee shops in Deus Ex: Invisible War has shades of this, especially after The Reveal that the war itself is a scam. Both chains are secretly owned by the same company. Which is in turn owned by The Illuminati, the ultimate "Man".
  • The Vladof Corporation in Borderlands 2 always mentions in its radio adverts that true socialist warriors and the proletariat buy Vladof to overthrow the capitalist pigs.

    Web Comics 

     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.

    Western Animation 
  • Satirized throughout The Simpsons:
    • In "The Heartbroke Kid", Springfield 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 yin-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 have a lot of enemies.
    • The Banksy opening is a most prominent example of this, showing how horrible conditions in a sweatshop producing merchandise for ''The Simpsons'' supposedly are. The operative word is "Supposedly".
  • 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."
    • Also an example of this trope by being on MTV, which does have something of a reputation for being this trope, though the quote itself is so on-the-nose that it is most likely Biting-the-Hand Humor.

    Real Life 
  • Reminiscent of the commentaries on the film 'The Corporation'' in the above section is the quote, variously attributed to Lenin or Stalin, which goes something like "the capitalists will sell us the rope by which we will hang them." Perhaps indicating the use of this trope as potential for subverting the system?
    • This is in fact Karl Marx's original perspective on how dialectical materialism works. Capitalism has created the working class, and as a result of industrial demand created the conditions of future revolutions. As noted by Marx in the context of the 1857 Mutiny:
    Marx: "There is something in human history like retribution; and it is a rule of historical retribution that its instrument be forged not by the offended, but by the offender himself. The first blow dealt the French monarch proceeded from the nobility, not from the peasants. The Indian revolt does not commence with the Ryots, tortured, dishonored and stripped naked by the British, but with the Sepoys, clad, fed, petted, fatted and pampered by them."
  • Che Guevara is an unintentional example of this trope. A photograph taken without his consent, printed on a poster (and then reproduced on T-Shirts) without his knowledge made him an Icon of Rebellion for the capitalist west.
  • Historically tapping into populist sentiment has been a path to power for many generals, politicians and dictators:
    • Julius Caesar himself became a prominent politician by siding with the populares and promising the ordinary Roman citizen relief measures such as land redistribution, curbing down aristocratic privileges and providing them equality before the law. He used this populism and his military successes to become Dictator perpetuo.
    • Both the English and American Revolutions were led by noblemen and wealthy landowners who incited popular sentiment against their opponents and then propelled themselves to power. As Marx remarks above, the French Revolution began as a reform movement among nobles.
    • The Cultural Revolution was led by Red Guards, young teenage kids who rebelled against the elders of Chinese society...under the orders of Chairman Mao Zedong. Mao created a youth movement and street gangs to institute a Reign of Terror and institute party discipline on the Communist party.
    • Mahatma Gandhi was an anti-imperialist crusader who appealed to the people by invoking religious scripture, Good Old Ways of handicrafts and agriculture, and argued against industrialization. Except, Gandhi was backed by India's emerging business leaders - Ganshyamdas Birla and Bajaj - who definitely wanted to industrialize India. Gandhi's famously frugal standard of living still mounted something in bills not to mention his constant travel and entourage which despite their frugality cost a lot. All these bills were covered by them. The famous Indian poet Sarojini Naidu once joked about how much it cost for Gandhi to be poor.
    • Donald Trump is a billionaire son of a real estate mogul and a member of America's 1%, yet during the 2016 election, he became popular among white working-class voters and mounted a platform against establishment politicians in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. As a Republican Presidential candidate, his campaign portrayed him and his supporters as the "little guys" against the establishment. Despite (or because) his never having held public office, he was elected in 2016.
    • Among some critics, Bernie Sanders—a Independent senator of Vermont and 2016 presidential candidate during Democratic Primary—can come off as this to some extent due to his history of cooperation with weapons industries (namely his support for the controversial funding of F35, and his quelling of protests against a General Electic's Gatling Cannon factory in Burlington, Vermont) and NRA despite him being considered as one of the most progressive leftists in American politics along with his critique of his opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as such.
  • Michael Moore claimed in Capitalism: A Love Storythat this will always happen even going so far as to say capitalists will sell you the rope you intend to hang them with. Ironically Capitalism: A Love Story kinda of disproved that statement when smaller theaters refused to screen it because they were worried its message might convince customers not to come back. As a result the film bombed.
  • As of 2013, Walmart has begun selling "Destroy Capitalism" prints.
  • This phenomenon is arguably intrinsic to capitalism in the form of Creative Destruction, where the old incumbents are disrupted by new upstart innovators, who then go on to become the new commercial establishment.
  • In recent years, famed whistleblower Julian Assange has lost much of his support due to a growing awareness that he continues to rail against government in general while being a permanent guest of the Ecuadorean government who has in the past collaborated with RT, the Russian state television network, and suppressed the press in Ecuador as well (Freedom House has described it as "Not Free").
    • Edward Snowden has been coming under similar fire. He is a political guest of the Russian government, which most observers agree does every immoral thing Snowden accuses the United Stats of doing and more. Freedom House also describes it as "Not Free"
  • Tell us if you've heard this before: a song, movie, clothing line, or even a simple hashtag that tells you to express and love yourself... as dictated by controlled, focus-tested corporate products. There's a reason you don't see clothes stores advertising anything that was popular in a different decade.