The Doomed Futility of Culture Jamming?

“…complex thinking is not absent from culture jamming, but it is tempered by the immediate demands of political activity.” -Tim Jordan in Activism!:Direct Action, Hacktivism, and the Future of Society

In “Activism!”, Tim Jordan analyzes the tactic of culture jamming as a method of subverting, usually problematic, cultural codes imposed primarily by corporations and the state. These symbolic codes define and idealize a particular way of life, being, emotions- corporations, for example, attempting to manipulate the populace’s desire for expenditure. In opposition, culture jamming tries to “turn the languages against themselves” (Jordan 103), and in doing so “open[s] up new languages through which desires and needs may be defined by individuals and communities” (Jordan 103). However, Jordan pinpoints flaw in culture jamming, namely that it begins from a fatalistic assumption where “nothing is free from these codes”. It works within the confines of normativity, rearticulating a dependency on and sometimes inadvertently reaffirming the same structures it attempts to dismantle. Jordan claims that culture jamming’s inability to produce affect strictly independent of the cultural codes it criticizes raises questions on its effectiveness as a tool for activism.

I think Jordan raises a unique critical perspective that I had never really considered before. Instead of working on building existing cultural codes that are free from corporation or state influence, we spend too much time working with already “poisoned codes” (Jordan 116). In the process these methods are either co-opted by these institutions (Jordan’s example where Nike deliberately culture jammed itself) or are mapped out and pre-empted. Culture jamming has lied unquestioned in the arsenal of many activists of our generation. For example, in last years election, there was a noticeable surge in liberal activism. A notable tactic against Trump’s “Make America Great Again” was to repurpose it as “Make America Gay Again” or “Make American Hate Again”. Despite conveying its intended message, these phrases would put Trump’s original campaign slogan on a pedestal and reinforce its relevance within our culture. In fact, much of the anti-trump activism could be described as culture jamming as much of it simply parodized Trump and his campaign. Much of Hillary Clinton’s campaign was defined in opposition to Trump’s. Given the results I think noticing this tendency is particularly relevant and important to consider when discussing contemporary activism. The election did a particularly good job in revealing this unintended effect of culture jamming.



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