Culture-Jamming and E-Literature
It is an act of sympathetic magic performed in the name of all who are obliged to peer at the world through peepholes owned by multinational conglomerates for whom the profit margin is the bottom line.
-Mark Drey, “Empire of Signs”
What is Culture-Jamming? #1
When we look for the roots of the term culture-jamming, we find that what began as billboard alteration and has come to define a host of activities which we can call media activism. Here is a look what was possibly the first billboard ever “jammed”: www.billboardliberation.com/actions/facts.pix.html. Why billboards? Billboards are representative of a unidirectional communication process in which moterists and any other nearby recievers are required to be passive recipients of a corporate uni-message that screams “buy.” Redesigning billboards gives one the opportunity to re-inscribe the meaning of the message and reach a mass audience. What started as simple billboard alteration in the late seventies has become a worldwide phenomonon of re-inscription intended to counter the overpowering signs of corporate advertising, the effects of which have ramifications in many realms of culture. “Culture Jamming” even has its own Google directory entry:
directory.google.com/Top/Society/Activism/Media/Culture_Jamming/). One of the most redesigned images in the movement are the two golden arches that make up the M of McDonald’s fame: www.subvertise.org/theme.php?theme=MCDON Other forms of culture jamming are the repurposing of non-advert material, such as pictures of political figures (www.subvertise.org/details.php?code=137) or the creation of mock sites which expose what companies actually do (www.gatt.org, www.theyesmen.org, www.deportation-class.com, www.guerrillamedia.org, www.whirledbank.org), but always with a similar radical message.
The phrase “culture-jamming” was coined (of course there is contention as to the originator) by Negativeland, "to describe billboard alteration and other forms of media sabotage. On Jamcon ’84, a mock-serious bandmember observes, ‘. . .The skillfully reworked billboard…directs the public viewer to a consideration of the original corporate strategy. The studio for the culture jammer is the world at large.’” (Drey, “Empire”).Ron English, who has recently written the book Propaganda: Art and the Subversion of Culture (www.popaganda.com), refashions the iconography of Disney cartoon characters to show how the images of multimedia companies are affecting our awareness. When we discuss the power of marketing images, it might be helpful to look at the logical extreme of this process of corporate encultration:
[f]or the repurposing of blockbuster movies such as the Batman series, the goal is to have the child watching a Batman video while wearing a Batman cape, eating a fast-food meal with a Batman promotional wrapper, and playing with a Batman toy. The goal is literally to engage all of the child’s senses. (Bolter...