Cultural code wars: spinning the tables.



In Chapter 5 of the book Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society, the author Tim Jordan introduces the so-called “culture jamming” and “semiotic terrorism”. According to Jordan, this is a form of protest against the obtrusion of norms and values upon society by injecting cultural codes via “massive creative resources that corporate and state funding can command” (Jordan, 103).  He stresses that protest via culture jamming implies utilizing the language, symbols and format of an existing advert campaign and disturbing its crucial elements in a manner that “reverses” the intended effect of the advert, thus using the “language of advertisers to produce opposed associations”. Jordan explains that these actions are meant to corrupt the cultural codes promoting certain values, desires and ways of life that we are artificially contaminated with. An example he gives is a spoof add of the Absolut vodka. It mimics an existing series of advertisements in which the word “Absolut” is followed by positive adjectives like “fun”, only with the original mottos replaced with slogans such as “Absolut Impotence” (Jordan, 107).

Unfortunately, it seems that inoculating the cultural code virus can be a much more nuanced and strategically demanding task than it may appear. Jordan gives examples of cases of culture jamming effects being “reversed” yet another time and used in favor of the original promotion. A disturbing piece of evidence to that is Nike hiring and paying jammers to criticize its own campaign (Jordan, 114).

This leads Jordan to speculations about the effectiveness of culture jamming as a whole in its current form. He questions whether it is truly possible to contest the associations we have by the means of the existing, “corrupted” languages, and suggest creating new pure cultural codes in lieu of that. Jordan’s resolution doesn’t seem very convincing to me. Taking into consideration the amount of wit and effort that goes into cultural code “wars”, it seems plausible to me that even if pure cultural codes were to be created, they could easily be transformed into a platform for achieving the very same goals by the same people. Unfortunately, it appears to me that unless some fundamental institutional or constitutional changes take place, there’s little that can be done to provoke substantial change.

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