In the mid 1990s the favorite sport among my hipster friends was catching out corporations and products that dared to masquerade as "indie." What at first glance might appear to be a simple economic truth--is the entity in question owned by a major corporation or not?--often became a debate about aesthetics and loyalty. I remember long arguments parsing the ready-made thrift-store chic of Urban Outfitters, the cloying bubble-gum pop of Veruca Salt (started at Minty Fresh, moved to Geffen) and the off-the-rack irony exhibited in Reality Bites--our authenticity jealously guarded. Or it was, until the corporations stopped caring about it. I'm sure that somewhere in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, there's a 22-year-old Wesleyan graduate thundering away on his blog against the evil that major record labels do--I hope to buy him a microbrew someday.
What strikes me about the listings compiled here are the brands I've never heard of, the ones so marginal--yet not indie!--that they couldn't even sustain the kinds of debate my friends and I used to have: News Corporation owns the magazine Nursery World, and Time Warner has a stake in a Superman offshoot at 52thecomic.com. Disney has an African-American-targeted imprint called Jump at the Sun books. General Electric, parent of CNBC, apparently used to produce a talk show starring John McEnroe. Yeah, me neither. Ten years ago my friends and I worried that corporations were trying to disguise themselves. Now they've just become invisible to the naked eye, their long fingers exploring places that you didn't even know existed.