Culture jamming: Wikis


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Culture jamming, a tactic used by many consumer social movements[1], is a mechanism in which an activist attempts to disrupt or subvert mainstream cultural institutions or corporate advertising. Culture jamming is often seen as a form of subvertising. Many culture jams are simply aimed at exposing questionable political assumptions behind commercial culture so that people can momentarily consider the branded environment in which they live. Culture jams re-figure logos, fashion statements, and product images to challenge the idea of "what's cool," along with assumptions about the personal freedoms of consumption[2]. Culture jamming is usually employed in opposition to a perceived appropriation of public space, or as a reaction against social conformity. Prominent examples of culture jamming include the adulteration of billboard advertising by the BLF and Ron English and the street parties and protests organised by Reclaim the Streets. Culture jamming sometimes entails transforming mass media to produce ironic or satirical commentary about itself, using the original medium's communication method.


Culture Jamming Tactics

Culture jamming is a form of disruption that plays on the emotions of viewers and bystanders. Jammers want to disrupt the unconscious thought process that takes place when most consumers view a popular advertising and bring about a détournement[3]. Activists that utilize this tactic are counting on their meme to pull on the emotional strings of people and evoke some type of reaction. The reactions that most cultural jammers are hoping to evoke are behavioral change and political action. There are four emotions that activists often want viewers to feel. These emotions, shock, shame, fear, and anger, are believed to be the catalysts for social change[4].

The basic unit in which a message is transmitted in culture jamming is the meme. Memes are condensed images that stimulate visual, verbal, musical, or behavioral associations that people can easily imitate and transmit to others. The term meme was first popularized by geneticist Richard Dawkins but later used by cultural critics such as Douglas Rushkoff that claimed memes were a type of media virus[5]. Memes are seen as genes that can jump from outlet to outlet and replicate itself or mutate upon transmission just like a virus[6]. Culture jammers will often use common memes to such as the McDonald's golden arches or Nike swoop to engage people and force them to think about their eating habits or fashion sense[7] In one example, jammer Jonah Perreti used the Nike symbol to stir debate on children sweatshop labor and consumer freedom. Perreti made public exchanges between him and Nike over a disagreement. Perreti had requested custom Nikes with the word "sweatshop" placed in the Nike symbol. Nike, of course, disagreed. Once this story was made public over Perreti's website it spread world wide and sparked the conversation and dialogue about Nike's use of sweatshops[7]. Jammers can also organize and participate in mass campaigns. Examples of cultural jamming like Perreti's are more along the lines of tactics that radical consumer social movements would use. These movements push people to question the taken-for-granted assumption that consuming is natural and good and aim to disrupt the naturalization of consumer culture; they also seek to create systems of production and consumption that are more humane and less dominated by global corporate hypercapitalism[8]. Past mass events and ideas have included "Buy Nothing Day", "TV Turnoff Week", virtual sit-ins and protests over the Internet, producing ‘subvertisements’ and placing them in public spaces, and creating and enacting ‘placejamming’ projects where public spaces are reclaimed and nature is re-introduced into urban places[9].

The most effective form of jamming is to use an already widely recognizable meme to transmit the message. Once viewers are forced to take a second look at the mimicked popular meme they are forced out of their comfort zone. Viewers are presented with another way to view the meme and forced to think about the implications presented by the jammer[3]. More often than not, when this is used as a tactic the jammer is going for shock value. For example, to make consumers aware of the negative body image that big name apparel brands are causing, a subvertisement of Calvin Klein's 'Obsession' was created and played world wide. It depicted a young woman with an eating disorder throwing up into a toilet[10].

Another way that social consumer movements hope to utilize culture jamming effectively is by employing a metameme. A metameme is a two-level message that punctures a specific commercial image, but does so in a way that challenges some larger aspect of the political culture of corporate domination[7]. An example would be the "true cost" campaign set in motion by Adbusters. "True Cost" forced consumers to compare the human labor cost and conditions and environmental drawbacks of products to the sales costs. Another example would be the "Truth" campaigns that frequented television in the past years that exposed the deception tobacco companies used to sell their products.

Culture jamming is sometimes confused with artistic appropriation, which is done for art's sake, and vandalism, in which destruction or defacement is the primary goal. Although the end result is not always easily distinguishable from these activities, the intent behind culture jamming is very different from that of artists and vandals. The lines are not always clear-cut; some activities, notably street art, will fall into two or even all three categories.

Recently there have been arguments against the validity and effectiveness of culture jamming. Some argue that culture jamming is easily co-opted and commodified by the market, which tends to ‘defuse’ its potential for consumer resistance[11]. Others posit that the culture jamming strategy of rhetorical sabotage, used by Adbusters, is easily incorporated and appropriated by clever advertising agencies, and thus is not a very powerful means of social change[9].

Origins of the term

Coined by the collage band Negativland on its release JamCon '84, the phrase "culture jamming" comes from the idea of radio jamming: that public frequencies can be pirated and subverted for independent communication, or to disrupt dominant frequencies[12].

Although the term was coined by Negativland, culture jamming can be traced as far back as the 1950s[13]. One particularly influential group that was active in Europe called themselves the Situationists and was led by Guy Debord. Their main argument was based on the idea that in the past humans dealt with life and the consumer market directly. They argued that this spontaneous way of life was slowly deteriorating as a direct result of the new "modern" way of life. Situationalists saw everything from television to radio as a threat[3].

One can attempt to trace the roots of culture jamming in medieval carnival, which Mikhail Bakhtin interpreted as a subversion of the social hierarchy (in Rabelais and his World). More recent precursors might include: the media-savvy agit-prop of the anti-Nazi photomonteur John Heartfield, the sociopolitical street theater and staged media events of '60s radicals such as Abbie Hoffman, the German concept of Spaßguerilla, and in the Situationist International (SI) of the 1960s. The SI first compared its own activities to radio jamming in 1968, when it proposed the use of guerrilla communication within mass media to sow confusion within the dominant culture.

Mark Dery's New York Times article on culture jamming, "The Merry Pranksters And the Art of the Hoax"[14] was the first mention, in the mainstream media, of the phenomenon; Dery later expanded on this article in his 1993 Open Magazine pamphlet, "Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs",[15] a seminal essay that remains the most exhaustive historical, sociopolitical, and philosophical theorization of culture jamming to date. Adbusters, a Canadian publication espousing an environmentalist critique of consumerism, began promoting aspects of culture jamming after Dery introduced editor Kalle Lasn to the term through a series of articles he wrote for the magazine. In her critique of consumerism, "No Logo," the Canadian cultural commentator and political activist Naomi Klein examines culture jamming in a chapter that cites Dery and focuses on the work of Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada.

List of culture jamming organizations or people

See also


  1. ^ Binay, Ayse (2005) `Investigating the Anti-consumerism Movement in North America: The Case of Adbusters', unpublished dissertation, University of Texas.
  2. ^ Boden, Sharon and Williams, Simon J. (2002) `Consumption and Emotion: The Romantic Ethic Revisited', Sociology 36(3):493-512
  3. ^ a b c Lasn, Kalle (1999) Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge - And Why We Must. New York: HarperCollins
  4. ^ Summers-Effler, Erika (2002) `The Micro Potential for Social Change: Emotion, Consciousness, and Social Movement Formation', Sociological Theory 20(1): 41-60
  5. ^ Rushkoff, Douglas (1996) Media Virus! New York: Ballantine.
  6. ^ Dawkins, Richard (1989) The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  7. ^ a b c Unknown, . (2002). Http:// Retrieved Nov. 20, 2009, from Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, Seattle, WA. Web site:
  8. ^ Princen, Thomas, Maniates, Michael and Conca, Ken (2002) Confronting Consumption. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  9. ^ a b Harold, Christine (2004) `Pranking Rhetoric: "Culture jamming" as Media Activism', Critical Studies in Media Communication 21(3):189-211
  10. ^ Bordwell, Marilyn (2002) `Jamming Culture: Adbusters' Hip Media Campaign against Consumerism', in Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates and Ken Conca (eds) Confronting Consumption, pp. 237–53. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press
  11. ^ Rumbo, Jospeh D. (2002) `Consumer Resistance in a World of Advertising Clutter: The Case of Adbusters', Psychology & Marketing 19(2): 127-48.
  12. ^ Disrupt Dominant Frequencies
  13. ^ Carducci, Vince (2006) `Culture Jamming: A Sociological Perspective', Journal of Consumer Culture 6(1): 116-38
  14. ^ NYtimes article - December 23, 1990.
  15. ^ Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs.
  • Dery, Mark (1993). Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs. Open Magazine Pamphlet Series: NJ.[1]
  • King, Donovan (2004). University of Calgary. Optative Theatre: A Critical Theory for Challenging Oppression and Spectacle. [1]
  • Klein, Naomi (2000). No Logo. London: Flamingo.
  • Kyoto Journal: Culture Jammer's Guide to Enlightenment. [2]
  • Lasn, Kalle (1999) Culture Jam. New York: Eagle Brook.
  • Tietchen, T. “Language out of Language: Excavating the Roots of Culture Jamming and Postmodern Activism from William S. Burroughs' Nova Trilogy.” Discourse: Berkeley Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture. 23, Part 3 (2001): 107-130.


  1. ^ "Shovelware". Retrieved 2009-07-23. 

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