Manipulating the Anonymity of Activism

Tim Jordan, the author of Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism, and the Future of Society, writes about the history and development of activism through the information age. According to Jordan, activism is characterized by a group of people who hold a shared pursuit of transgression that must contradict existing social structures or ethics. However, he emphasizes the importance of time when he defines “activism!” as specifically “those movements that draw on the future to create the future” (26). Some activists utilize ingrained advertisement campaigns to draw attention to their ideas in what is coined “culture jamming”. According to Jordan, “It is this corporate production of symbolic codes, which attempts to structure our unconscious desires and needs, that is most deeply opposed by culture jammers” (109). Because the success of the branding depends on more deeply seated trends within society, the activists who pervert the original advertisement are able to speak to the social norms that they wish to alter. Thus, when a jammer uses the color scheme, font, and spacing of a commonly known campaign but alters the message, people are more likely to pay attention and perhaps question how the new message comments upon the well known brand.

With these questions arising, corporations and their advertising teams were able to respond in kind. Nike used culture jamming when one of its campaigns mistakenly used “offensive” in reference to offense in sports. In the advertisement, offensive negatively shadows the brand. By plastering over their original slogan, Nike made it appear as if a grass roots organization saw Nike shoes as too much of an advantage over other players to be considered “fair.” Cultural jammers responded by reinstating the original slogan with an addition of their own. However, the ability for corporations to control and fund the critique of their own actions is a terrifying concept in the way that a company can then manipulate how individuals perceive the common response to products. Ultimately, culture jamming must be considered with a rather cynical view as advertising movements have begun using culture jamming in campaigns. It is important as a conscious consumer of advertisements and information to be aware of the obscurity of the intentions of the people speaking and editing content.

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One thought on “Manipulating the Anonymity of Activism”

  1. In chapter five of Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society,Jordan, as you pointed out, constantly refers to the phenomenon of branding and its manipulative effects on the American individual and society. As you pointed out, cultural jammers, often attempt to alter and reveal the meaning of a corporation’s brand by using the language of the brand. Cultural Jammers did this with the Nike campaign you referred to. However, the Nike “offensive” advertisement, as well as other advertisements and billboards referred to by Jordan seem to be somewhat easy targets of cultural jammers. Moreover, the advertisements mentioned in Jordan’s book, which became subjects of cultural jamming, were examples of advertisements that possessed certain phrases and languages that jammers could easily exploit and could alter the meanings portrayed. However, I assume it is not always as easy for cultural jammers to use the color scheme, font and other traits of the original advertisement and reveal/alter meanings in such a clear and effective way. How do you suppose Cultural Jammers can cleverly and effectively reveal the manipulative meaning and effects of certain brands and advertisements when the language and the branding message in the original ads are very difficult to astutely and effectively reveal and alter the meaning. Furthermore, what if the language or symbols used for the brand/advertisements are very difficult for Cultural Jammers to simultaneously mimic language and significantly alter meanings, as Cultural Jammers could do with the advertisements referred to by Jordan.

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