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.