Hello, I'm Special
How Individuality Became the New Conformity
“Hal Niedzviecki is truly special, but not in the mass market way. He is one of the wisest, funniest and most acute cultural critics writing today. A sure-footed guide through a surreal landscape.”
Naomi Klein, author of No Logo
A saturation of special
Sep 20, 2006
In a society where everyone seeks to stand out, author Hal Niedzviecki argues the ironic effect is that genuine individuality has disappeared, causing the collapse of community and a host of emotional disappointments. Guest: Hal Niedzviecki.
Minnesota Public Radio
An Interview with Hal Niedzviecki
Jun 1, 2006
If the 1980s and early 90s was the epoch of counterculture commodification -- remember the “Kerouac Wore Khakis” Gap ads and the Picasso and Einstein “Think Different” ads for Apple? -- then the last 10 years has turned out to be the epoch of self-commodification. The notion of non-rebellion rebellion now seems quaint with all these MySpace voyeurs and peer-to-peer media. We’re now all part of the same broadband gang. This weekend, for example, my cousin Colin Challender will film himself burping the alphabet and put it on the video-sharing website YouTube. A minimum of 800 people will view this in its first weekend. A star may well be born. My cousin is under the delusion that he will be, in the words of cultural critic Hal Niedzviecki, “Special.”
"A blend of cultural analysis, reporting and memoir, Hello, I'm Special is full of sharp and funny observations (most of them somewhere on the spectrum from bemusement to rage) and is generally a bracing read."
"Equal parts Jerry Seinfeld and Thomas Frank . . . an equally gifted fiction writer and social critic, Niedzviecki in his new book gives us everything that makes his brand of literary genius so, well, 'special'. Breaking every hipster's heavy heart by identifying the shared cult of individuality underlying both mainstream and alternative cultures, Hello I'm Special makes an impassioned–and oftentimes hilarious–case for a personality that money just can't buy."
"I'm Special asks why we all seem to do the same damn thing in the name of individuality. It's about time somebody did."
Kim Hughes, The Toronto Star
"Inspired to pen the book after receiving a 'Happy Birthday to a Nonconformist!' Hallmark card from his parents, Niedzviecki realized that the card's existence proved how popular nonconformity had become. . . . Using case studies ranging from a competitive hot-dog-eater to a 'rock and roll' rabbi, the book links society's emphasis on celebrity to everything from anorexia to exorcisms."
"From Marshall McLuhan to Malcolm Gladwell, Canadian critics of American trends and American media have translated their insights into American popularity. Hal Niedzviecki, a young, radical Canadian intellectual, joins the esteemed procession of cultural critics from north of the border, and just in time to deconstruct the ongoing spectacle of Western civilization in the 21st century. Witty and wise, part journalist, part theorist, Niedzviecki takes up two long-running American themes – conformity and individuality – in his new book, Hello, I'm Special."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Niedzviecki holds a scalpel to this social monster with analytic precision that evokes Malcolm Gladwell, dissecting a beast we’re all peripherally aware of but haven’t quite articulated. He systematically divides the implications of social flux into bite-size pieces for readers to marvel at before devouring."
Adrienne LaFrance, WBUR
"If everyone wants to be a star, as Hal Niedzviecki suggests is the current slant of popular culture . . . then who will agree to be starred to, or at, or upon? Who will bear the burden of being dazzled by the wondrous presence of our countless wondrous individuals?"
Paul Reidinger, SF Bay Guardian LIT
"From backyard wrestling leagues, Canadian Idol auditions, to self-esteem gurus, Niedzviecki tracks the never-ending quest for human uniqueness. Niedzviecki's examinations yield fertile insights, without sounding overly pretentious. Rather than risk alienating his readers with either verbose references to Situationists, or invocations of the anti-globalization movement, the author wisely looks at our cultural transmitters and how they influence our desires and ideas of the self."
Gerry Donaghy, Powell’s Bookstore
"Add this to the growing list of books in the Malcolm Gladwell (Blink) observations-of-pop-culture genre. . . . witty discussion of how being true to ourselves is not necessarily a good thing. . . . In our longing to be different, and our insistence on being accepted as we (supposedly) march to a different drummer, more often than not we are actually in lockstep with one another, suggests Niedzviecki, sometimes to the point of our own detriment (e.g., it's okay to be obese, as long as you have self-esteem)."
"Hal Niedzviecki, a young bright Canadian . . . [concludes] that most people confronted by the relentless marketers of specialness decide that their only choices are to fight them or join them."
"Niedzviecki rightfully and painfully illustrates how the pull between competing interests creates bizarre contradictions between consumers and pop-culture-at-large. That's what makes Niedzviecki's groundbreaking new book so refreshing: he reminds us that pop culture itself isn't an absolute means to an end; it's the people who exchange it and want to be a part of it all that remain its most fascinating components. When we entirely lose sight of this fact, we risk being reduced to smiling, slack-jawed spectator caricatures that wouldn't seem out of place shilling plastic AmEx cards. "
Zachary Houle, www.popmatters.com