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Political / Social
Culture jamming (sometimes guerrilla communication) is a tactic used by many anti-consumerist social movements to disrupt or subvert media culture and its mainstream cultural institutions, including (but not limited to) corporate advertising. It attempts to "expose the methods of domination" of a mass society to foster progressive change.
Culture jamming is a form of subvertising. Many culture jams are intended to expose questionable political assumptions behind commercial culture. Tactics include re-figuring logos; fashion statements; and product images as a means to challenge the idea of "what's cool." Culture jamming often entails using mass media to produce ironic or satirical commentary about itself, commonly using the original medium's communication method.
Culture jamming is employed as a reaction against social conformity. Prominent examples of culture jamming include the adulteration of billboard advertising by the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF), and contemporary artists such as Ron English. Culture jamming may involve street parties and protests. While culture jamming usually focuses on subverting or critiquing political and advertising messages, some proponents focus on a more positive (often musically inspired) form which brings together artists, scholars, and activists to create new types of cultural production that transcend—rather than merely criticize—the status quo.
The term was coined in 1984 by the sound collage band Negativland, with the release of their album 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. In one of the tracks of the album, they declared:
According to Vince Carducci, although the term was coined by Negativland, culture jamming can be traced as far back as the 1950s. One particularly influential group that was active in Europe was the Situationist International 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. Situationists saw everything from television to radio as a threat.
The cultural critic Mark Dery traces the origins of culture jamming to medieval carnival, which Mikhail Bakhtin interpreted, in Rabelais and his World, as an officially sanctioned subversion of the social hierarchy. Modern precursors might include: the media-savvy agit-prop of the anti-Nazi photomonteur John Heartfield, the sociopolitical street theater and staged media events of 1960s radicals such as Abbie Hoffman, the German concept of Spaßguerilla, and in the Situationist International (SI) of the 1950s and 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 Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada.
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. 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.
The basic unit in which a message is transmitted in culture jamming is the
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. 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. Yet other critics argue that without moving beyond mere critique to offering an alternative economic, social, cultural and/or political vision, jams quickly lose their power and resonance.
Culture jamming is sometimes confused with artistic appropriation or with acts of vandalism which have destruction or defacement as their primary goal. Although the end result is not always easily distinguishable from these activities, the intent of those participating in culture jamming differs from that of people whose intent is either artistic or merely destructive. The lines are not always clear-cut; some activities, notably street art, will fall into two or even all three categories.
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. 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.
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. 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.
 Past mass events and ideas have included "Buy Nothing Day", "Digital Detox 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.
Banksy, New York City, Graffiti, Los Angeles, Vandalism
Hip hop, Vandalism, Culture jamming, Propaganda, Street art
Cacophony Society, Culture jamming, Burning Man, Nevada, Church of the SubGenius