One of my favorite books in the world is Heath and Potter's, Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture. I have read the book three or four times and have had more conversations with people about the book than I care to count. I don't ascribe to all the tenets of the book, but if I haven't told you to buy the book yet, consider this your introduction. Buy Nation of Rebels.
The concept of countercultural rebellion and its elusive twin—cool—have resulted in a status competition that has driven consumption to unprecedented heights. It's not conformism that leads us to spend, spend, spend on the unnecessary and the ephemeral, but its opposite: the quest to distinguish ourselves from the masses through our enlightened, hip, or just plain rebellious consumer preferences. And marketers of products ranging from cars (the Volkswagen Bug) to computers (the Mac) to shoes (Doc Martens) have been reaping huge harvests from the countercultural seeds that were sown in the 1960s. The point was never underlined more heavily than when Kalle Lassen, editor of the ragingly anti-capitalist Adbusters magazine, came out with the Black Spot sneaker: a "subversive" running shoe that Lassen hoped would "uncool Nike" and "set a precedent that [would] revolutionize capitalism." As Heath and Potter point out, there is nothing "subversive" about trying to beat Nike. "That's called marketplace competition. It's the whole point of capitalism...."