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November 14, 2001 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Culture Jamming hits again. What are the effects of such campaigns, and is it just vandalism or a valid way to fight what some call the corporate enemy.
posted by plemeljr (37 comments total)

 
I think it's mostly just about having fun at the expense of large corporations. As far as it being a way to "fight the corporate enemy"? No way. Who takes vandals seriously?
posted by Succa at 4:32 PM on November 14, 2001


Who takes vandals seriously?

I do if they're making a point. Especially considering that every public and private space in my neighborhood is becoming an endless series of lame banner ads maybe its a justified form of expression.

I think these examples were pretty bad. A good culture jam not only mocks it informs. Heck it doesn't even have to mock.
posted by skallas at 4:37 PM on November 14, 2001


Wow, these guys are brilliant.They're really making a better world for all of us.
posted by Catch at 4:42 PM on November 14, 2001


this guy is pretty good too.
posted by atom128 at 4:44 PM on November 14, 2001


to be honest i can't see most advertising anymore. it's so prevalent, it's like the sky. you just don't notice it much. also, i use guidescope to filter ads on the net. ad *jams* say a lot to me because they're genuine. corporate advertising is phony.
posted by muppetboy at 4:47 PM on November 14, 2001


I am all for ad-busters, pop-up killers and any other tools that help me filter out the assault on my senses in my own living room or den. But destroying or tampering with property in public places is vandalism. No converts will result from these half-witted messages.
posted by scottfree at 4:55 PM on November 14, 2001


"this guy is pretty good too."

Scream!
When I said "these guys are brilliant" I was obviously being sarcastic.
Turning people's cars over is a Bad Thing. These children need an ass-kicking.
posted by Catch at 4:56 PM on November 14, 2001


these companies are the real vandals. they have no respect for life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. all they care about is putting the thumb screws on some poor, starving bastards in the southern hemisphere so their main stockholders can afford a second yacht. eventually, they hope to turn everyone into a sharecropper.
posted by muppetboy at 5:00 PM on November 14, 2001


I ordered up a nice brass pair for a Chilean the other day to enhance my portfolio.
posted by scottfree at 5:04 PM on November 14, 2001


Here is scenic New Zealand we have a beer campaign with the tagline "Yeah right.". For example, "Flat looks great, here's your bond back -- Yeah right." or "Can't go out tonight, Weakest Link is on -- Yeah right.". Culture jammers love these billboards and HiLaRiOuSlY master "No added hormones -- Yeah right." and "We don't exploit workers -- Yeah right.".

Now I'd turn a blind eye if there was skill involved or if they were in any way clever, but they're not. They're vandals, and dumb vandals at that.
posted by holloway at 5:12 PM on November 14, 2001


this guy is pretty good too.

I used to live in Bristol in the UK and Banksy's pieces were literally everywhere. Who is he? (her?)
posted by dlewis at 5:29 PM on November 14, 2001


Here, here. Vandalism is vandalism, and vandalism is a crime. You don't have the right to mess with the SUV that your neighbor bought, and as funny and clever as your little spray paint slogan is, you don't have a right to ruin the billboard that someone else paid for.

While not as flat out, blatantly moronic as that b.s. posted here a while back about how "graffitti artists" have a right to spraypaint because their "art" is more important than a plain white wall and therefore they have a right to the wall, I put this stuff up there with it.

Put anti-SUV/pro environment slogans on your toyota echo, but stay away from my car. Publish your own zine and take out your own ads, but stay away from someone elses' billboard. Run your own activist website, but don't touch mine.

Some may take vandals seriously when they make a point or do it creatively, but most do not unless it's really, absolutely something great. You're not going to change the world if you can't get people behind you, and the immature vandalist route makes you your own worst enemy if you want to really be taken seriously.
posted by tomorama at 5:42 PM on November 14, 2001


I'm glad it takes a lot to get me mad and I can just laugh when I see the crap these people are fighting for.
posted by MarkO at 5:45 PM on November 14, 2001


while vandalism is a crime, that doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong in and of itself. there is a higher morality for each of us to pursue, and at times it may be necessary to do things that the state opposes in order to be true to ourselves. the american revolution was exactly such an act of disobedience. to join the revolutionaries was to break english law.

now, obviously, those who break the law should be prepared to face the consequences of doing so. that goes without saying. if you tip someone's car over, you should be prepared to go to jail and/or pay reparations. but acts of civil disobedience can be self-justifiable. if the price is your soul and conscience, it may in fact be required.

i don't personally see any point in tipping someone's car over. it's not an effective jam and it's damaging. but that's my point of view. on the other hand, i find myself hard pressed to feel much for the single occupancy 8MPG SUV owner who ends up with a bumpersticker saying "i'm changing the climate - ask me how!" sure it's illegal. and the guy who gets caught doing such a thing ought to face the law like anyone else. but is it WRONG? that's a different question. and it depends on who you are. personally, i wouldn't do this because i don't think it would be very effective. but if your convictions about an issue like globalization or global warming are strong enough, not taking action might be more wrong for you in the end.

it's impossible to say what thoreau would think of a world where the state has been all but replaced by the corporation as the focus of power, but i suspect that his guiding principle would be the same: for each of us to be true to our own conscience. it takes more courage to do this than to simply follow the laws imposed on us by the state blindly.
posted by muppetboy at 6:21 PM on November 14, 2001


muppetboy... The hippie bumper stickers on their 8MPG 1970 VW Buses (who seem to be releasing far more smoke than any new SUV I've ever seen) annoy me, but I dont' think you're going to get any sympathy by saying it's a higher cause to flip the poor guy's bus. Corporations exist not to hurt you, but to make processes more efficient. Despite what Ralph Nader thinks, no one starts a business in order to ruin the environment and poison the water.

I hate to bring this up, but I'm reminded by the pseudo-anarchists of Osama bin Laden's arguments, "Well, they're worse, so our disregard of decency is ok".
posted by Kevs at 6:31 PM on November 14, 2001


I think you missed my point Kevs. Didn't say it was "okay". Just that each individual has to decide for themselves.
posted by muppetboy at 6:35 PM on November 14, 2001


...but if the processes become more efficient at the expense of the environment or their workers, there are a number of corporations that still choose to go down that path. Although I agree that they certainly do not begin with intentions of destruction, good ideals are often pushed aside in the name of profit and/or progress.
posted by brism at 8:37 PM on November 14, 2001


The "I'm changing the climate ask me how" stickers are funny, but ultimately pointless, just like the acts perpetrated by most of the No Logo worshipping culture jammers out there.

The worst are the Adbusters folks - has anyone seen the "Joe Chemo" Camel cigarette ad 'jams'? That, as well as most ad jams are basically third rate Mad Magazine. On top of that - are they changing anybody's mind? Is anyone suddenly stopping in their footsteps and realizing that the tobacco company doesn't care about the consumer's health and is, indeed, just trying to sell tobacco?

No, of course not. 99% of this sort of stuff is nothing more than sophomoric backslappery, and is insulting to everyone else's intelligence.
posted by GriffX at 8:38 PM on November 14, 2001


To further drive my point into the ground - nobody's ever going to close the sweatshop they own, or stop driving their SUV, or stop being like Mike because somebody paints an un-funny joke on a billboard in the dead of night.

All it does is just makes those of us who are concerned about sweatshops, the environment, and a living wage who DON'T paint on billboards look like doofuses.
posted by GriffX at 8:43 PM on November 14, 2001


Is anyone suddenly stopping in their footsteps and realizing that the tobacco company doesn't care about the consumer's health and is, indeed, just trying to sell tobacco?


I think the point is really to discredit or "uncool" brands and their advertising practices. You're right, everyone seems to know about addiction and cancer at this point, most credit due to the anti-tobacco lobby in the first place. Exposing cheap marketing gimicks by showing smoking to be "uncool" is what I see as adbuster's prefered end result.

Joe Camel was stupid, cheap, and sophomoric to begin with. Joe Chemo just follows its lead to promote the opposite message using the same method.
posted by skallas at 8:48 PM on November 14, 2001


"is insulting to everyone else's intelligence."

But the original ads aren't?
posted by Doug at 9:02 PM on November 14, 2001


I think the point is really to discredit or "uncool" brands and their advertising practices.

We all know about the kindergartners recognizing Joe Camel more easily than Mickey Mouse, but do you know a single person who started smoking because they wanted to emulate a cartoon camel whose face resembled the male reproductive organs?

I think my whole problem with the No Logo and adbusters approach is that it treats consumers like idiots in that we're all assumed to be easily brainwashable sheep who must be saved from our own ignorance and gullibility. Naomi Klein wrote her entire book as if she were uncovering for the first time these hidden and awful truths. Nike advertises to black youth! Wal-Mart pays minimum wage! ROCK MUSIC IS BEING CO-OPTED FOR ADVERTISING!

The great irony here for me is that other than the constant condescension I agree with what culture jammers, Adbusters and the whole anti-commercialism crowd have to say - I just think they're alienating tons of their potential allies every time they blame smoking and drinking in America on Joe Camel and Spudz McKenzie, and every time they dress up in papier mache Clinton heads and trash the downtown of whatever city is unlucky enough to be hosting an IMF meeting. Go ahead and tell me what's wrong, but don't entitle the pamphlet "Here's What's Wrong, You Dumb Motherfucker", ok?

But the original ads aren't?

Yeah, they were. They were ads, though, see? They weren't claiming to educate or inform the populace on social issues.
posted by GriffX at 9:19 PM on November 14, 2001


We all know about the kindergartners recognizing Joe Camel more easily than Mickey Mouse, but do you know a single person who started smoking because they wanted to emulate a cartoon camel whose face resembled the male reproductive organs?

its all about brand recognition... Joe the Camel was created so that younger kids would see them and identify with the fact that there was a cool camel on the side of the road. They've made an early association. Camels and cigarettes.

fast forward 8-10 years, the kid's in 8th grade, being bad, rebelling from his parents. He thinks he'll try smoking, he runs down to the corner store, and asks a homeless guy out front to buy him a pack, hands over his money and the guy asks what kind of cigarette he wants. He says the first thing that came to his mind. Camel, the brand hes associated with cigarettes since the very first time he saw that cartoon on the side of the raod. And so the saga begins....
posted by atom128 at 9:29 PM on November 14, 2001


fast forward 8-10 years, the kid's in 8th grade, being bad, rebelling from his parents. He thinks he'll try smoking, he runs down to the corner store, and asks a homeless guy out front to buy him a pack, hands over his money and the guy asks what kind of cigarette he wants. He says the first thing that came to his mind. Camel, the brand hes associated with cigarettes since the very first time he saw that cartoon on the side of the raod. And so the saga begins....
And then... and then... and then a giant bat flew out of my urethra!
posted by holloway at 10:01 PM on November 14, 2001


Excellent thread. Atom128, thanks for the Banksy link, and good point on Joe Camel. GriffX, you believe (and you ain't buyin'), and that's what matters most. But allow me to take exception with a couple of points:

All it does is just makes those of us who are concerned about sweatshops, the environment, and a living wage who DON'T paint on billboards look like doofuses.

Which then makes you a tool just like the rest of the consuming public. Why be concerned about your level of participation? You choose your level of agreement/disagreement, activism/non-activism. But when you start worrying about what others think of you, you're playing right into the hands of the branders (is that a word?)--marketers.

Yeah, they were. They were ads, though, see? They weren't claiming to educate or inform the populace on social issues.

I'm not sure that in most cases the education would fit on a stencil. Leave that to the essayists.
posted by Vek at 10:14 PM on November 14, 2001


Which then makes you a tool just like the rest of the consuming public. Why be concerned about your level of participation? You choose your level of agreement/disagreement, activism/non-activism. But when you start worrying about what others think of you, you're playing right into the hands of the branders (is that a word?)--marketers.

Wrong.

Example:

I don`t like McDonalds. They kill rainforests and ruin our health while providing dead end jobs.


Option A: I don`t eat there, and let people know. Maybe I do some activism of some sort or other.

Option B: I see you eating a big mac. I steal it from you and hurl onto the sidewalk. Then I make a comment about saving the rainforest.

It`s not just "the marketers`" opinion you have to deal with. It`s everybody else who values the norms of society. There is more than one way to deal with this sort of thing. To say that not vandalizing billboards is makes one a tool is an incredible false dichotomy. Ralph Nader might agree that SUV`s are bad. When was the last time he went out and vandalized one? Does that make him a tool?

Are you perhaps saying that, because I am not willing to put propagation of my message above obeying any/all of the rules of my society, I am a tool? If not, what am I misunderstanding about what you just said?


Note: I ahve no particular gripe with McD`s. They just make for a convenient example.
posted by chiheisen at 10:45 PM on November 14, 2001


But when you start worrying about what others think of you, you're playing right into the hands of the branders (is that a word?)--marketers.

Right. But, frankly, Branders or Marketeers is just a word describing people whose message is actually getting through, and being absorbed. That's an ugly word applied to a group we might call "People Who Are Good At Their Job".

There's a reason that Nike and Marlboro and Sprint are loved by millions of teenagers, and that's because those companies KNOW HOW TO DO ADVERTISING. And not because Camel made us all think that we'd be really cool camels, early in our lives, but because every single time an anti-globalization/pro-whatever wanker does a 'culture jam' where they try to co-opt the symbolism or language of advertising of Nike or whoever, they're playing craps with dice loaded against them.

That game doesn't work, and the people we want to win over take one look at us, snort with derision at our ham-handed attempt to be relevant, and keep on doing what they were doing. If you're trying to win young folks over to your side with Joe Chemo, you may as well be a forty-year-old telling teenagers that "Drugs don't make you cool, trust me, I know"... You're dancing by the railroad tracks, waving at the passengers.

My question is - is there any way at all to effectively tell kids that smoking is bad? I really don't think so. I smoke cigarettes - I want to quit, but I smoke, and I remember why I started smoking. It wasn't because of a cartoon Camel, but it was partially because of seeing it in movies and on television. Anti-smoking rhetoric aside - James Bond lighting up a smoke after he throws Jaws off the train? Cary Grant casually lighting a smoke for a woman he just met? That's sexy, and scenes like that were in the screenplays because they were sexy, not because a company paid for it. I started smoking, because I thought it was really goddam sexy. It is, too. You have fantastic sex which is the best sex either of you have had in ages, and then you spark up a cigarette and share drags off of it; that's about the apex of the human experience, as far as I know, or as far as I have experienced. I'm sure the people who'll disagree with me have some stories about their 72nd hour on a wheat-grass-only diet, but you know what I mean.

It kills you, eventually, but it is under the right circumstances, goddam sexy.

And this is me, removing myself from this argument.
posted by GriffX at 11:14 PM on November 14, 2001


It's a shame that GriffX wants to have the last word. I thought there were some interesting points worth discussing.

"James Bond lighting up a smoke after he throws Jaws off the train? Cary Grant casually lighting a smoke for a woman he just met? That's sexy, and scenes like that were in the screenplays because they were sexy, not because a company paid for it."

I'm amazed that anyone could really think this. The association between "sexy" and smoking is really strong thanks to *placement* activities by the tobacco industry!

"Hollywood and Big Tobacco's incestuous affair puts the film "Chinatown" to shame. The secret history, uncovered in tons of corporate files produced by recent lawsuits, shows the two industries colluded to get around the 1970 TV ban on tobacco advertising. L.A.'s biggest PR firms brokered endorsements with some of the film industry's biggest names. Publicity was bought for as little as free cartons. This hasn't stopped. Vanity Fair's Oscar party this year featured bowls of free cigarettes, whose generous donors hope paparazzi will snap the smoking stars. (Documents supporting this can be found on our Web site listed below.)"

http://smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu/news/text_glantz.html

I totally disagree with the notion that advertising is ineffective just because it seems insulting to many.

The interesting point was this one:

"My question is - is there any way at all to effectively tell kids that smoking is bad?"

Honestly, I think the answer is "maybe", but it would have to be a serious effort throughout society for a generation. The current anti-smoking ads they're running are more like funded advertising FOR smoking. The tobacco giants KNOW that saying smoking isn't cool in an ad is equivalent to saying that it is. They're probably rolling in the aisles with delight at today's "anti-smoking" ads.

With today's teenagers, I think a better approach (especially with girls) would be a concerted campaign focusing on how smoking and second-hand smoke both cause the onset of early signs of aging (with plenty of good close-up examples featuring UGLY but believable people). There's enough fear of aging or being ugly or uncool or poor in our culture that using these fears might stand a chance of working. Take real videotapes of real everyday ugly, poor, uncool americans who have bad skin and teeth because they smoke. Show that 24/7 for a few years and give all the ugly people in the movies cigarettes while the pretty ones chew gum and then we'll see if it doesn't work for real. The only thing I'm sure of here is that there hasn't been any serious effort at anti-smoking advertising. Clearly the industry has hamstrung the effort because I'm not an advertising exec and I can see all kinds of holes in the current approaches. It's stupid!
posted by muppetboy at 12:36 AM on November 15, 2001


none of those are as cool as DJs On Strike!
posted by afx114 at 1:33 AM on November 15, 2001


dlewis, I still live in lurvley Brissle.

No idea who Banksy is, but I have the contact details for his agent (culture-jammer with an agent = oxymoron?).
posted by MintSauce at 4:19 AM on November 15, 2001


Billboard company Look Outdoor said billboard advertising was a complex art "which often leaves a story half told" with the aim of drawing people to make their own assumptions.

"I have always been interested in the subtleties of literary form...taking pleasure in their different intricacies, studying the means with which great authors of the past have resolved the technical problems presented by each. Sometimes I have even tried my hand at solving the problems myself--delightful and salubrious exercise for the mind. And now I have discovered the most exciting, the most arduous literary form of all, the most pregnant in curious possibilities. I mean the advertisement." Aldous Huxley, 1927

"Arguably, television advertising has evolved into the most omnipotent of media applications. Regrettable as it appears, our students may be learning more from television commercials than from any other informal or formal educational setting. Undoubtedly, this marketing-monopolized learning environment should be challenged and perhaps modified and rehabilitated for authentic educational gains." Don Langrehr, Florida State University

Advertising is omnipresent and inescapable in modern life--even Adbusters runs ads. Culture Jammers exploit advertising's influence when they vandalize billboards. Even as we scoff at advertising, we reveal its psychological power. We need to acknowledge that advertising is Art and add programs in Media Literacy to the curriculum, beginning in pre-school.
posted by Carol Anne at 4:33 AM on November 15, 2001


McDonalds.. ruin our health while providing dead end jobs

1. Health. McDs has some good food thats not unhealthy. Its convienent, ubiquitous, fast and cheap. Buy the good stuff and they will keep makeing more. Its a form of culture jaming.

2. Dead End jobs for who? The local store hires handicap and retired folks.
posted by stbalbach at 4:39 AM on November 15, 2001


To say that not vandalizing billboards is makes one a tool is an incredible false dichotomy.

I didn't say that "not vandalizing billboards makes one a tool". The point I was trying to make is that when you start worrying about "looking like" *anything* you start to concern yourself with what the general public thinks about the way you live. Essentially, you start conforming and in doing so, you play the good consumer. GriffX said: "All it does is just makes those of us... who DON'T paint on billboards look like doofuses." If you insert the words "wear Nikes" for "paint on billboards" you might catch my drift. I realize my defense is probably too late, but I wanted to clarify my point.
posted by Vek at 9:58 AM on November 15, 2001


Griffx I'm really starting to like your ideas. I think I might check your profile...
posted by MarkO at 6:38 PM on November 15, 2001


GriffX: There's a reason that Nike and Marlboro and Sprint are loved by millions of teenagers...

Not to pooh-pooh what is a fine argument, but do teenagers really love Sprint?

He was all, "Man, that pin drop! Duuuude!" And I was all, "Dude, that Candace Bergen was so hot back in the day yo!"
posted by hijinx at 8:14 PM on November 15, 2001


Vek, not too late at all. I understand where you're coming from, but it looks as if you're conflating the image peddled in advertising with the credibility/reputation that a person builds through what they and their associates do.

So it looks like GriffX's point is that people who support whatever cause the "culture jammers" support get lumped in with them and lose credibility.

I guess I'd say that you can never ignore how people perceive you if you want to have any influence with them. Using branders and marketers as stand-ins for caring about image is a strawman (am I using the term right?). People have cared about their image or how they are perceived for far longer than we've had advertising.
posted by chiheisen at 11:21 PM on November 15, 2001


Chiheisen, good point. Thanks for making me look up the word conflating. But I still feel (opinion coming) that I don't necessarily want to win friends and influence people who do not understand the difference between (for example) not buying Nikes because I disagree with their sweatshop policies and spraypainting Nike billboards because I disagree with their sweatshop policies. I think we're in agreement afterall. I wasn't necessarily advocating vandalism in calling GriffX a 'tool'. I actually think that if he's "concerned about sweatshops, the environment, and a living wage" that's great and I would never consider him a "doofus" for not taking it to the streets. If you don't want to be branded, don't allow yourself to be. But that doesn't mean you have to vandalize to make your point (unless of course you feel you need to carry it that far and suffer the consequences if caught).
posted by Vek at 2:06 PM on November 16, 2001


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