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Reclaiming Public Space Essay

1164 words - 5 pages

Reclaiming Public Space

Although it can seem that the invasion of advertising in public space is inevitable, there are media activists who 'baldly reject the idea that marketing – because it buys it's way into public space – must be passively accepted as a one-way flow of information.' (Klein, 2000, p.281) Countercultural networks of culture jammers, billboard liberators and some street artists, use various subversive strategies to intervene against the invasive presence of outdoor advertising. They exhibit the strong belief that the streets should not belong to corporations. The act of culture jamming has been widely influenced by the Situationists practice of détournement, which used techniques to divert or subvert the context of imagery to create new meanings. Adbusters, the anti-cosumerist media foundation, is described as the culture jamming 'headquarters' with an objectives to change 'the way information flows, the way corporations wield power and the way meaning is produced in society.' (adbusters.org) Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters, claims that the process of subverting advertisements can be used as a powerful tool which 'cuts through the hype and glitz of mediated reality and momentarily reveals the hollow spectacle within' (Lasn, 1999, p.131) Culture jamming can therefore be used as a protest to expose the truths which are hidden behind the spectacle of advertising. A common jamming technique involves using humour and parody, with the simple alterations of billboards 'Coca-Cola becomes Killer-Cola, Shell becomes Hell, Just Do It becomes Just Screw it' (Bell; Goodwin, 2012, p.6) Adbusters, as an example, notably created a campaign (Fig. 5) which featured the fictional character 'Joe Chemo' to humour and 'uncool' the tobacco advertising figure 'Joe Camel' with the harsh realities of smoking.
The Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) focuses, particularly, on the hijacking of billboards, describing this medium as being 'larger than life, subtle as war, they assault your senses with a complex code of commercial instructions.' (BLF, 1999) Billboards are constantly present in streets controlling and persuading the public to consume items that they may not need or even able to afford, these hoardings of signs become ubiquitous. Since 1977 the Billboard Liberation Front has been altering, or as leading founder Jack Napier describes, 'improving' billboards in a response to the saturation and promotion of unrealistic, manipulative imagery. The text 'The Art and Science of Billboard Liberation', published on the BLF's website, provides a set of guidelines which encourage the public to take an active role in deconstructing and liberating billboards, expressing that all one needs is 'a can of spray paint, a blithe spirit, and a balmy night.' (BLF, 1999) The alterations to billboards do not have to be elaborate to successfully transform corporate messages. For instance, a subverted billboard once featuring the familiar slogan 'I'm...

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