Tactical media: Wikis


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Tactical media can be defined as the appropriation of mass media in order to oppose and criticize a target which often occupies a certain position of power. This modern form of activism can be recognized by its use of current technology and its ‘hit-and-run tactics’ media campaigns which are often short-lived in nature. The purpose of tactical media lays within the type of information it distributes and the warnings it can sometimes produce. By generating this information and creating this reaction, tactical media attempts to reverse the one-way-flow of communication and power and give some of the control back to the public.

Some debate that tactical media resembles a strategy more than a tactic. While a strategy uses space to unfold, tactics use time [1]. Tactical media is not fought on a space since it occupies the space it opposes. It is rather fought on time, by taking the opportunity when loopholes or weaknesses are found within its occupied space.

It has often been compared to culture jamming, as both use many of the same techniques in an attempt to occupy the public space controlled by mass media. Where the two practices differ is in their way to obtain this public space; while culture jamming consists of a response to the dominant practices within it, tactical media uses the dominant practices in order to penetrate it and become part of it. 'Don't hate the media, become the media' is a slogan often adopted by tactical activists and reflects this important distinction. Tactical media has also been compared to alternative media. It differs from the latter by its manner in dealing with mass media. Alternative media does not seek to infiltrate the dominant by a quick tactic, it attempts to oppose it by proposing what its name suggests: an alternative to the dominant[2].

However successful a particular campaign or a particular group may be, its ultimate goal is not to replace a certain media outlet for tactical media discourages branding [3] because of the probable outcome that a similar cycle as the one attacked would be created once again. It must therefore be understood that tactical media never reaches a state of perfection; it is constantly changing because it constantly needs to question the system under which it operates [4].

Although it is possible for tactical media to be representative of the local views of a specific area, it is usually present on a global level. There are plenty of tactical media projects which operate on a physical space but it most often uses networked space and the internet, making its span stretch over the entire planet. The virtual nature of the space it occupies also allows it to create new channels towards the hierarchies of power it fights against. A certain tactic does not need to attack in person or on a physical level, but it can attack virtual and free space where the dominant have little control. This important element makes a tactical media project not the work of certain identifiable individuals but an entity in itself, which most likely helps convey the message it attempts to communicate[5].

Tactical media projects are often a mix between art and activism, which explains why many of its roots can be traced to various art movements. It has been suggested by tactical media theorist Geert Lovink that "discourse plus art equals spectacle" [6], reflecting its striking and memorable nature. Although there are no strict mediums through which it operates, tactical media can often have very high aesthetic value, adding to its ‘spectacle’ and reinforcing some of its artistic roots.


Roots of Tactical Media

Although tactical media borrows from a number of art and social movements, it has been suggested that much of its techniques are rooted in the Situationist idea of detournement [7]. Both take over images and words from mass culture in order to convey a new meaning, often going against the mainstream media. The appropriation of elements and the importance of aesthetics seen in detournement are reflected within tactical media.

The dada movement has also been credited as an influence on tactical media, the two often used within activist campaigns[8]. Much like it, tactical media often aims to do the opposite of the media it penetrates: it shocks and reveals an antithesis.

Tactical media also draws from surrealism[9], borrowing the idea that a 'truer' experience that the present one is present. Much like surrealism, tactical media also criticizes social, political and cultural elements of a given society through its domain’s techniques.

As for media-related roots, tactical media can be considered to be one of the branches of alternative media. As much as the art movements influenced the way tactical media is produced, one can find the goals and targets of tactical media to be rooted in its relation to alternative media. Both are produced in order to reveal an alternate truth, and both strictly attack those in a position of power.

Origins of Tactical Media

Tactical media is said to have risen following the fall of the Berlin Wall, where a certain re-birth of social, political, economical and media activism occurred [10]. This activist spirit soon reached both media specialists and artists, creating the groundwork of tactical media. In many ways, it was made possible by the availability of cheaper technology and by open forms of distribution, such as public-access television and the internet.

Most who have written about tactical media would agree that its current form and meaning come from French philosopher Michel de Certeau, more specifically in his 1984 essay titled 'The Practice of Everyday Life'. As part of this essay, De Certeau debated that consumers actually act as producers within our society, moving in a technocratically constructed space and using an already established vocabulary. The importance to De Certeau is that these practices "determines the elements used, but not the ‘phrasing’ produced by the bricolage (the artisan-like inventiveness) and the discursiveness that combine these elements, which are all in general circulation"[11]. This distinction between the elements used within a society and the system under which they are used is critical to the study of tactical media. In his essay, De Certeau appeared to suggest that one could easily use these social elements in a creative manner which would fall outside of the system under which they are to be used.

Once this distinction was made, De Certeau also pushed forward the idea of how the elements found within a society could be used. One of these was to use them as a ‘tactic’, which he believed to "[insinuate] itself into the other's place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances"[12]. Due to its lack of space, he also characterized a tactic to be dependent on time, needing to be constantly on the watch for opportunities which must be quickly seized or needing to manipulate events in order to turn them into opportunities.

By mixing the nature of tactics with the use of media, a new type of activism was created. It used elements of a particular system in a creative manner that fell outside its practices, creating resistance through difference. De Certeau’s concept of a tactic also explain why most tactical media campaigns are quick, effective and current.

Examples of Tactical Media


The Management Leisure Suit

In 2001, the tactical media group ‘The Yes Men’ generated a lot of attention with their campaign ‘The Management Leisure Suit’.

The group successfully infiltrated a Fabrics of the future conference at the Tampere Technical University in Finland. Two men posed as World Trade Organization (WTO) representatives and gave a presentation about a management leisure suit. The suit in question was an outfit built solely for employee surveillance, via a wireless communication unit. Towards the end of the presentation, the two men demonstrated their invention which revealed a golden lycra bodysuit with a very large phallic shape on which a monitor was mounted.

This infiltration was made possible by one of the websites owned by The Yes Men, http://www.gatt.org, which looks nearly identical to the WTO’s actual website, http://www.wto.org. Due to the resemblance between the two sides, it was only a matter of time before The Yes Men received an invitation to speak or get engaged with a certain organization[13].


In 1998, computer programmer and political activist Zack Exley purchased a domain and created a website under the address http://www.gwbush.com.[14] He invited the group RTMark (pronounced Art Mark) to build a copy of George W. Bush’s official website, as they had done for some corporate websites.

Later, Exley changed the website to be a more mainstream satire (drawing [criticism http://www.slate.com/id/74303] from RTMark), posting a fake press release from the Bush campaign announcing a promise to "pardon all drug prisoners as long as they've learned from their past mistakes" -- a reference to Bush’s alleged past use of cocaine. In the midst of Bush’s campaign for office, the website not only received millions of hits, but also received coverage from such organisms as ABC News, USA Today and Newsweek[15].

Tactical Air Force

In 2000, Mexico's Zapatista Army of National Liberation social movement decided to launch a "tactical air force." The Zapatistas air force consisted of hundreds of paper airplanes. After throwing the planes over the fence of a federal barrack, confused troops were quick to point their rifles at the paper intruders, creating an image that conveyed a very strong message of peace vs. war. [16]

Criticism of Tactical Media

Although tactical media’s goal is to infiltrate a certain system in order to cause reflection about how this system works, some have criticized it for being biased by the political agendas of the members behind a certain project [17].

Since much of the tactical media projects are fueled by information warfare, it has also been accused to be closely linked to propaganda. The high value of aesthetics placed within a project is said to be the element which enables the transfer of this information, much like propaganda operates[18].

Tactical Media organizations

People associated with Tactical Media

External links


  1. ^ Meikle, Graham, "Turning Signs into Question Marks" from Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet, p.121, Routledge, 2002
  2. ^ Ibid, p.119.
  3. ^ Lovink, Geert, "Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture", p.258, The MIT Press
  4. ^ Ibid, p.264.
  5. ^ Dzuverovic-Russell, Lina, "The Artist and the Internet: a Breeding Ground for Deception" from Digital Creativity, Vol.14, No.3, p.154.
  6. ^ Lovink, Geert, "Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture", p.256, The MIT Press
  7. ^ Richardson, Joanne, "The Language of Tactical Media" from BalkonMagazine, Autumn 2002, No. 12 from http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors2/richardsontext2.html
  8. ^ Holmes, Brian & Sholette, Gregory, "Civil Disobedience as Art Art as Civil Disobedience: A conversation between Brian Holmes and Gregory Sholette" from Artpapers.org, Vol. 29, No.5, 2005
  9. ^ Ibid.
  10. ^ Lovink, Geert & Schneider, Florian, "Virtual World is Possible: From Tactical Media to Digital Multitudes" from Journal de l'Archipel des Revues, November 2003, from Multitudes website
  11. ^ de Certeau, Michel, "The Practices of Everyday Life", The University of California Press, 1984, from http://www.ubu.com/papers/de_certeau.html
  12. ^ Ibid.
  13. ^ Dzuverovic-Russell, Lina, "The Artist and the Internet: a Breeding Ground for Deception" from Digital Creativity, Vol.14, No.3, p.153.
  14. ^ Meikle, Graham, "Turning Signs into Question Marks" from Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet, p.114, Routledge, 2002
  15. ^ Ibid, p.117
  16. ^ Ibid, p.124
  17. ^ von Clausewitz, Sfear, "A Reaction to Tactical Media", Subliminal Propaganda Institute, ND, from http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors2/vonclauswitztext.html
  18. ^ Ibid.


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