Corporate Coopting of Culture Jamming

In chapter 5 of Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society, author Tim Jordan describes the practice of culture jamming is described as “…an attempt to reverse and transgress the meaning of cultural codes whose primary aim is to persuade us to buy something or to be someone” (Jordan 102). Examples given in the text include subversive billboard alterations and magazine publications dedicated to satirical recreations of actual advertisements. In the context of the discussion of the definition of activism discussed in chapter 1, in which the distinction is drawn between movements that seek to fundamentally dismantle power structures and those which work for change within existing social infrastructures, culture jamming fits an interesting vein. When groups such as the Billboard Liberation Front alter paid advertising from companies with whose messages they disagree, they are working within the idea that advertising is normal. There is a power in this type of messaging; it is more meaningful to display the flaws of an ad than to simply remove the ad. It does, however further validate the practice of branding and manipulating desire as fundamental to normal life.

This is exemplified in the multilayered Nike Australia incident, in which the corporation plastered its own billboards with overtly company-originated commentary in the style of traditional jammers, which had targeted the manufacturer in the past, only to be subjected to seemingly independent jams and widely criticized in the press. It was later suggested that Nike had been behind not only the first wave of plastering but had funded and initiated the backlash, successfully creating a media storm that garnered immense publicity. Even the first round in this case is an example of culture jammers providing inspiration and impetus behind an advertising campaign, something ostensibly contrary to the unstated mission of the unincorporated provocateur. The following turns go even deeper into corporate coopting of culture jamming, facilitated by the movement itself both by providing the context for Nike’s actions and possibly having members working on the company’s side. All the while, willingly or not, both culture jammer and advertiser contribute to the dialogue surrounding the thought that the difference between vandalism and improvement is a matter of perspective. That, in contrast to direct commentary of specific messaging, challenges an accepted societal norm.

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One thought on “Corporate Coopting of Culture Jamming”

  1. I find the last bit of your post very peculiar. When I was reading the text, I didn’t link the battle between jammers and advertisers to the broad conversation about the thin line between vandalism and creation. It’s interesting to see how it plays out in this particular context. There’s an extra layer here on top of the usual “is graffiti art or vandalism” type of conversation, because it’s not just about classifying the acts of jammers as vandalism or activism but also about deciding whether they have a positive or a negative effect on the campaigns.

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