Today's New York Times has a brief article on individual acts of defiance. The article describes how individuals engage in minor forms of protest, especially against the continual onslaught of advertising and double-speak. Examples include: pre-paid postage magazine subscription forms mailed blank; ordering a small or medium coffee at Starbucks instead of venti or grande; shutting off televisions in public places with key-chain size remote controls.
Why do people engage in such behaviors? As the article notes, such behaviors have their parallels in the workplace, especially in the form of slow-downs. One way I think about this phenomenon is to ask the question: what factors in the social context lead people to act deviantly or rebel against the social structure? One explanation may be that contemporary American society is experienced as too conforming and does not offer means for expressing individuality (or what some might call 'raging against the machine.') The strong emphasis on materiality without any corresponding emphasis on other social goals may lead individuals to experience the society as impersonal. And, thus, what becomes especially annoying are contrived 'personal experiences.' As much as Starbucks tries to convey the idea that you are in a small Italian cafe where the server is a familiar "friend." We all know that it is not true. We have a sense that they've all been trained with a script on how to smile and convey sincerity. We also know that they they work for a large, impersonal bureaucracy. We also know that if we said, "just put it on my tab, I'll settle up later Joe," we would likely meet a stare and a shoplifting charge.
Alternatively, one may question whether what the New York Times is reporting on is really rebellion. In his essay on Social Structure and Anomie, Robert Merton makes a distinction between ressentiment and rebellion using the parable on sour grapes. Merton writes:
The essential point distinguishing ressentiment from rebellion is that the former does not involve a change in values. Ressentiment involves a sour-grapes pattern which asserts merely that the desired but untattainable objectives do not actually embody the prized values--after all, the fox in the fable does not say that he abandons all taste for sweet grapes; he says only that these particular grapes are not sweet. Rebellion, on the other hand, involves a genuine transvaluation, where the direct or vicarious experience of frustration leads to full denunciation of previously prized values...In ressentiment, one condemns what one secretly craves; in rebellion, one condmens the craving itself.
Thus when one orders a small pizza from Dominos knowing full well that they only have medium and large, it is more a small act of resentment, not rebellion. Rebellion would manifest itself only if one gave up pizza. And, that, of course, is too high a price to pay...