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Calvin: ...See, he's his own man! Nobody tells him what to do, and he buys this product as a reflection of his independence!

Hobbes: So basically, this maverick is urging people to express their individuality through conformity in brand-name selection?

Calvin: Well, it sounded more defiant the way he said it.

Hobbes: Ah.

A type of Straw Hypocrite. When a large commercial corporation tells you via commercial that the best way to rebel against corporate social assimilation is to buy their products. Will often involve what Lindsay Naegle of The Simpsons refers to as a "spokesrebel".

Also can refer to any commercial that attacks its general field, but claims they are rooting for the underdog, and are taking a stand against the greed of all the others. So give them your money. See: Lawyers, car salesmen, phone providers, etc. There is conspicuous consumption at work here.

May come about as the result of two competing incompatible functions of "The Man". For instance, "The Man" is often as representative of censorship and regulation. A company that makes billions out of manufactured edgy and offensive content would thus call upon people to "stand up" against censorship groups. However, being motivated by profit rather than altruism is also a characteristic of "The Man".

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.

The commercial may refer specifically to The Man. Compare We Don't Suck Anymore and Biting the Hand Humor.

Examples of The Man Is Sticking It to the Man include:


Advertising

  • Often the theme of Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign, particularly in later commercials, where they make fun of commercial gimmicks to get you to buy their products, by using commercial gimmicks to get you to buy their products. The initial ads of this type were more like 30-second motivational spots that were sponsored by Sprite. e.g. A teen sees Grant Hill drinking Sprite and then effortlessly dunking. The teen thinks, "Grant Hill drinks Sprite". He gets a Sprite, drinks it, and tries to dunk, while a deep voiceover says, "If you wanna make it to the NBA..." The kid fails miserably, landing on his ass. "...practice." Then, the little tag at the end, which seemed to say, "Incidentally, Sprite can't make you dunk, but it quenches thirst, so why not get some next time?" Eventually, however, they sunk so low as to introduce a small, annoying character named Thirst into their commercials, as if to say, "Obey your thirst... and here he is! He wants Sprite!"
  • Acknowledged in a commercial for a specific cellphone carrier, Orange:

 CEO: This is my way of "sticking it to The Man."

Underling: ...but you are The Man.

CEO: I know.

Underling: So... you're sticking it to yourself?

CEO: ...Maybe.

  • Probably the earliest and most blatant use of this was Apple's famous "1984" commercial, which equated the then-dominant IBM with Orwell's "Big Brother", and offered the new Macintosh as a way of reclaiming your individuality. To this day, Apple emphasizes its distinctiveness, though it's become large and successful enough that it can no longer present itself as the rebel minority. It can be argued that they still do, but it's more presented as being "cooler" than the competition--see the "I'm a Mac"/"I'm a PC" ads. Whether that's better or worse depends on whether or not you agree. But in any case, considering the whole strength of the line is in its lower compatibility, which gives you fewer options in using their products (and allows better performance in the things you can do), the success of this tactic is somewhat ironic.
    • The music they use in their ads for iPods and iPhones are usually anti-commercialist songs with "bourgeois" in the title.
    • Apple seem to do this a lot. Look at their "Crazy Ones" Commerical. Remember everyone: If you buy an Apple-brand computer, you TOO can be just like Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lennon!
    • Apple seem to have pulled the trick of making millions from people who like to imagine that they're not part of the sheep-like consumerist majority, right before they queue-up for the iPad 2. This may be because, around the late 1990s and early 2000s, Apple got kudos for nothing more than not being connected with Microsoft and people liked to think that buying anything that deprived Bill Gates of money was sticking it to The Man-- little knowing that The Man has many forms.
    • Apple's net worth surpassed that of Microsoft in 2011. They are now officially The Man.
  • 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.
    • As deflated in MC Lars' Nerd Core song "Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock", with lyrics consisting almost entirely of things that one could find at Hot Topic and that are not punk rock.

 Books about Evanescence...are not punk rock!

Motley Crue stickers...are not punk rock!

      • "The Dischord back catalog? Ok, maybe that's punk rock..."
    • See also: My Immortal.
  • The infamous "Don't Be So Mayo" Miracle Whip commercials apply this trope to eating mayonnaise. (video is private)
    • It Got Worse after Stephen Colbert criticized the campaign on his show, and they created an ad in response that basically accused him of being an evil conformist for having the audacity to disagree with them.
      • Then they bought airtime on his show to play the ad. And he thanked them for giving him the money "to buy more delicious mayonnaise".
    • Even stranger, Kraft, makers of Miracle Whip, also have a separate line of "traditional" mayonnaise products. So that's The Man is Sticking It To Himself?
  • Used in a very odd and somewhat creepy Scion commercial, painting people in other cars as "Sheeple" and Scion owners as rebellious "Little Deviants" who feed on them. Yes, we're all going to blindly buy your car in order to reclaim our own free will.
    • It should probably also be noted that Scion is simply one of Toyota's brands (along with Lexus).
    • Made even worse by the fact that the Little Deviants are expressing their individuality by committing genocide against the Sheeple, who were just minding their own business until they came along. So the message is, "express your individuality by killing everyone who isn't like you."
  • Dr. Pepper's "Be part of an original crowd". No, seriously.
    • Also used by an old drug PSA, with the tagline of "Be An Original". How does doing what the commercial tells you to do make you an original?
  • Reebok's U.B.U. campaign, which was brazen enough to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous essay on self-reliance.
  • Budweiser beer is now viciously and sarcastically attacking morons who drink beer in some of their ads, such as the "Real Men of Genius" series. Weird, huh? Some of the guys in Marketing must really hate their own company...
  • Advertisements for Total Gym have Chuck Norris giving a runby of how the workout equipment works and stating how while other commercials use gimmicks to sell their product, this stands on its own. Hmm. Using a washed up celebrity to advertise a product? And one whose tears can cure cancer to boot? Not a gimmick at all!
    • In Total Gym's defense, they had Chuck shilling their product years before he became a meme.
  • 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.
  • Dove has received a great deal of attention for their Campaign For Real Beauty, that includes commercials like Evolution and Onslaught. What they don't advertise is that their parent company, Unilever, also owns the Axe/Lynx deodorants which have inflicted us with commercials like this and this. Arguably, both Dove and Axe/Lynx are trying to "stick it" to each other, with Unilever cheerfully raking in the cash they make off both sides.
    • Considering that the Axe/Lynx spots are parodies, they're doing basically the same thing, just from a different direction.
    • Axe isn't even the bad part. The company, Unilever, also sells skin-lightening creams to women in other countries, with some pretty atrocious commercials. There's one from India where a woman is finishing up a news report and a male coworker gives her this nasty look. She complains about how her dark skin is holding her career back. (which is a little strange given her skin isn't that dark to begin with, but whatever)) She uses the skin-lightening cream, she moves foward in her career, and the male coworker smiles at her. Contradicts the "Campaign For Real Beauty", no?
    • The "Campaign For Real Beauty" itself began receiving flak when it was revealed they were looking for a very specific type of real beauty - women who were between a certain weight range, with unblemished skin, around a certain height...not to mention the inherent contradiction in a make-up company telling people to appreciate their natural beauty.
  • 7-Up's short-lived "Are You An Un?" ad depicted their competitors as Orwellian overlords hunting down the "Uns," people who thought for themselves by drinking...7-Up. Viewers saw right through it, and it was soon pulled.
  • 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.
    • Equally amusing was that one of the ads featured a Butthole Surfers song that was released on a major label and proceeded to bleep out the word "Hell" in said song.
    • More irony: Nintendo was using this ad campaign during the tail end years of their having mandatory guidelines that forced licensees to censor their games of violence and religious imagery. The campaign was largely damage control after the fiasco that was Mortal Kombat's Bowdlerized SNES release, which caused people to buy Sega Genesis units en masse.
  • In 2004, a short-lived ad campaign for V -- The Ultimate Variety Show appeared in at least one Las Vegas freebie magazine (publications left in hotel rooms, etc. for tourists), encouraging potential theatergoers to "Dare to be different" and choose this show over Blue Man Group, Cirque Du Soleil, and/or Celine Dion. It even had a cartoon illustration with a black sheep choosing the variety show while tons of white sheep chose the others. (The show is a B-list, low-budget production compared to those A-list ones, so the ad was assuming the target audience did not know that...)
  • An infamous example of The Woman Sticking It To The Man is Virginia Slims' "You've Come a Long Way, Baby" campaign from The Sixties.
  • Then there was CBS/Columbia Records using the slogan "The Man Can't Bust Our Music": also a late '60s/early '70s thing. One of the largest major labels, Columbia is The Man (though, presumably, not The Man that was trying to censor their own music.)
  • 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


Literature

  • 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.


Film

  • 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. How valid this point of view is depends on the viewer.
  • For brevity, let's just say the highest-budgeted films with "anti-corporate" messages.
  • The myriad anti-capitalist movies from capitalist America may be an inside joke (albeit one that is surely worn out by now) based on Hypocritical Humor.
    • Or: Filmmakers might see Wall Street Bankers and polluting oil-companies as bad but for-profit cinema as good.
    • Or: Filmmakers really do harbor those anti-bourgeois attitudes, but are grudgingly cooperating with the Establishment because those guys run the show and they need to put food on their tables. Indeed, one of the eternal frustrations about being an artist of any kind on the planet Earth is that you'll always be at the mercy of the meddling influence of some external authority or another, whether that be a totalitarian regime that censors viewpoints it doesn't like, an anarchocollectivist commune that resists innovation or individuality of any kind, or a capitalist system that victimizes artists with the tyranny of consumerism.
    • Or: Filmmakers really do harbor those anti-bourgeois attitudes but are actual hypocrites who also want to live in really fancy houses and wear really fancy clothes and go to really expensive restaurants.
  • The Adjustment Bureau references this when Norris, a Senatorial candidate, admits that despite his small-town anti-conformist tone has his entire appearance dictated by careful studies from large corporations to find what will get the best reaction from the population.
  • 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. Not to mention how much Anonymous likes them as well.
  • Michael Moore claims to be from a small, destitute Michigan town (Flint), and has an image built around being "just a normal guy", making sure to wear slobby clothes and an unkempt beard so that he looks like a "common man" who supports honest pay for honest work, unions, and an anti-corporate viewpoint. He's actually from an affluent suburb and now lives either in his New York City townhome or in the massive vacation home he built in Michigan, shoots as much as possible in other countries to avoid paying American taxes, has repeatedly union-busted his film crews (which he often relies on to do filming without him), and owns stock in many of the companies he criticizes... through a tax shelter corporation, allowing him to both avoid taxation and claim that he does not, personally and directly, own the stock. It would probably be difficult to find a more perfect example of a rich and well-connected individual decrying rich and well-connected individuals without looking to someone who holds public office.

Live Action TV

  • Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report often take positions that are critical of millionaires and high-powered corporations, in spite of the fact that they are themselves millionaires employed by a high-powered corporation. Their jokes often lampshade the irony.
  • Mad TV episode #213 had an opening sequence with a statement from "The Man". He makes it quite clear that it is impossible to Stick It To The Man, to Put One Over on The Man, or to Get By The Man, because The Man is watching at all times.
  • Jack O'Neil(l) from Stargate SG-1 complains about his inability to do this after he gets a promotion: He likes sticking it to the man. But now he is the man. At which point Jackson helpfully suggests he could try sticking it to himself.
  • One episode of Coupling has a guest character thoroughly shred one of the characters' political views, since she was trying to claim that her party was essentially the "struggling rebels". He pointed out that not only had they been mainstream for quite some time, but had held a majority for quite some time as well. "How can you rebel against The Man? You are the Man! Face it, we're the scrappy rebels now!"
  • Law and 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.


Music

  • Anti-corporate, left-wing musicians who sign on to prominent record labels. Of course, not all of these bands are actually arguing that wealth is in and of itself evil. Many of them defend themselves by saying that major record labels are the only way they can get their music out to wide audiences. Others are simply unashamed of the fact that people pay them for a product that they provide. Both types will usually point to their charitable donations and public services to bolster their credibility.
  • Sara Bareilles' "Love Song", a catchy, major-label "corporate" pop song, is a slam by Bareilles against her record label for trying to force her to write a love song before they'd allow her album to be released.
  • The entire post-Illmatic career of Nas can be considered playing this trope straight, as he's been long considered an icon of antithesis to "commercial" hip hop while also owing his career to radio-friendly songs and media hype. The most glaring moment was him naming one of his albums "Hip Hop is Dead" as a response to what he feels is extensive Executive Meddling in the genre; it also happened to be his first album released under Def Jam Records, the the biggest hip hop label in the world and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Universal Music, and the album itself was made in collaboration with many mainstream artists and producers.
  • Tool's "Hooker With A Penis" lampoons this trope. In it, the speaker is confronted by a former fan who accuses him of "selling out" with his latest album. The speaker laughs in his face and tells him that he sold out long ago. That's how the fan ever heard of him in the first place.
  • Starship's We Built This City.
  • Lady Gaga and her admittedly brilliant Stealth Parody of the pop industry kind of fails when you remember how rich she's getting from doing it. Although, she does claim to be functionally broke from putting all her own money back into her productions.
  • Famously averted when Alice Nutter of Chumbawumba went on Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher to encourage those who could not afford the band's latest album to steal it from some of the larger record stores. Many began to pull the album off the shelves and stow it behind the counter.
    • Similiarly averted by artists like 50 Cent, who say they don't mind people pirating their music.
  • Devo's whole concept was based on pointing out the dehumanizing nature of corporate society. And yet, they never claimed to be anything other than a commercial venture. In their latest album, they advertised the fact that they focus-grouped many of the artistic decisions.
  • Step-sibling leftist band Calle 13. Their lyrics about using corporations instead of letting corporations use them sound particularly hollow when you realize they work for a major record label. Also people who consider frontman René as an intellectual social justice warrior often forget that most of his lyrics objectify women. Not to mention that during a live duet with Shakira he improvised "No disrespect, but I liked you better when you were chubby". Comparing this to the body types of his last two girlfriends (both conventionally beautiful celebrities in their respective countries), a different kind of lyric disonance can ocurr.
  • Psychosocial by Slipknot brings this up with the line about "Packaging subversion."
  • The 2007 Live Aid concert- deliberately timed and located to coincide with the G7 summit held in Britain that year, as well as an upcoming British General Election- got a lot of slack for its message being that governments should do more to fight global povery, despite most of the artists and producers involved being millionaires who many felt could have made a pretty big dent in global poverty by themselves, and were seen by some as both part of the problem and part of the establishment. Less well known is the controversy surrounding the rubber wrist bands that supported this and various other charitable causes- turns out most of them were mass manufactured in sweat shops in Third World countries. Not helped by the fact that many people admitted they only wore them because they were fashionable and didn't care about any of the causes said wristbands supported, and likewise went to the concert for the music and the artists more than the message.


Newspaper Comics

 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.


Tabletop Games

  • Shadowrun invokes this trope and plays it unashamedly straight.


Web Comics


Western Animation

  • Satirized on The Simpsons, on the episode where the elementary school puts in "edgy" vending machines--Ralph Wiggum says, "It's fun to obey the machine." The corporate mascots Scammer and Z-Dog are described by their creators as "spokesrebels".
    • Several commentators have also noted that The Simpsons in general frequently satirizes corporate culture and capitalism while significantly benefiting from them; it often rips into Fox, its home network, while at the same time being one of Fox's flagship shows which is merchandised and promoted up the ying-yang.
    • Fox News and Fox's entertainment division are generally masters of this trope. The Simpsons show has been making fun of its home network and lambasting Murdoch as a right-wing fascist "billionaire tyrant" since long before he even launched Fox News. So far, Fox's network of affiliates and Murdoch himself seem to be taking all of this in stride, and why not? For all the viewer ratings they've got and as much money as they're making, they're probably laughing all the way to the bank.
    • The Banksy opening is a most prominent example of this, showing how horrible conditions in a sweatshop producing merchandise for The Simpsons supposedly are.
      • But then, Banksy himself is arguably an example of the trope. He's a rich guy that complains that rich guys don't respect the rights of others by painting on walls that don't belong to him.
  • 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."

Video Games

  • 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 gum. And you get an acheivement for doing it. Nothing says sticking it to the man like putting up billboards advertising corporate products!
    • The aforementioned color restoration also has the apparent side effect of causing Wendy's restaurants to magically appear.
    • Better to live in a Brave New World dystopia than a 1984 regime.
  • 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".
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