Adbusters & culture jamming


If I had to pick an expert of culture jamming (concentrating on tackling advertising companies) there’s no other group besides Adbusters.  Founder of Adbusters, Kalle Lasn, defined jamming as:

“…a way to fight back against advanced consumer capitalism.  I see the kind of consumer culture that we have built up over the last many years as being unsustainable.  It’s a culture that drives the global economy in a way that will eventually make it hit the wall.  Culture jamming is a way to this dysfunctional culture to bite its own tail.”  (The Alternative Media Handbook, page 168-69)

They specialize in parodies of well-known ads (such as Joe Camel being turned into Joe Chemo, because let’s face it, chances are if you’re a smoker, you’re going to get sick at some point.  And chances are, you won’t stop smoking because it’s been ingrained in you for all your life that smoking is “cool.”  Though yes, the ads depicting tobacco have been limited in recent years, finally.)  What makes Adbusters successful in getting their point across is their professionalism in how they present a jam.  They use the same medium that the advertising agencies use.  It “exploits the target’s own medium of choice turning the advertisement against its sponsor.”  Not to mention, at the owner’s expense.

I feel culture jams are an incredibly compelling act of activism against the mainstream norm.  They put issues in a new light by exposing the truth and creating a crack in the social discourse.  However, as we discussed in class, even though jams can create that crack, it’s difficult to utilize the cracks to the advantage of the people.

Culture jams are essentially pranks. And the most successful ones are the ones that go unnoticed.  Which, is why I feel they aren’t always wholly successful.

But, they have potential.  Loads of potential.  Lawrence Lessig, a prominent political activist for the reduced legal restrictions of issues such as copyright, has suggested “that the experience of twenty-first century media could be not just ‘read only’ but ‘read and write’.  Jammers temporarily block the flow of images–jam the culture–but they also improvise and create with those images–jamming with the culture, in the musical sense.  In both of these ways, culture jamming illustrates some of the opportunities and limitations of the emerging read and write media environment.” (page 179)

This does dig into a previous post on copyleft, but just imagine a world where manipulating the media that surrounds you is not a criminal act, but rather an encouraged art form.  A collage of the experiences, all of the experiences, that you are a part of.  Whether it’s music, movies, advertisements… Culture jamming could be the crack that opens up the discourse just enough to allow such freedoms.




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