Culture Jamming, Memes, and inverting the norms

Philosoraptor; How should a dog wear pants?; Arthur’s fist; #saltbae. All are examples of memes, elements of culture passed and spread rapidly (Merriam-Webster), typically through the internet nowadays. And, just like cultural jamming, they are subject to predation by corporations, political groups, and other parties in order to gain an advantage. In the fifth chapter of Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism, and the Future of Society, Tim Jordan defines cultural jamming as taking a cultural norm, and changing that norm to showcase a different viewpoint, such as Adbusters’ flipping of Smirnoff’s ads to show the negative side of drinking (Jordan, 107). However, just as new memes are constantly being made to replace those that take place in mainstream culture, so too must cultural jamming, as their targets find ways to spin the jamming to benefit themselves. This in turn reflects on contemporary activism’s effectiveness on change.

Just as memes are interesting and have ~a e s t h e t i c~, so too does cultural jamming. It’s fascinating in that those who try to culture jam often have to outwit their targets in order to make the cultural jamming effective. As seen with the “dat boi” meme, as a meme starts to become mainstream, and appropriated by unknowledgeable audiences, new memes are made to replace it in a constant cycle. So too does cultural jamming, as the jammers constantly must find new ideas to highlight their targets, as seen with the 2000 Nike billboard jamming(Jordan, 112), which highlighted Nike’s use of sweatshop, slave, and prison labor to produce its products. Culture jammers would “prefer to be indigestible” by their opposition (113), and thus do their best to counter their oppositions counters, thus continuing an intellectual arms race.

Similarly, when discussing contemporary activism, one must take into account what the activism is about, and how the activists’ ideals best are inserted into the norm. Just as with memes, and culture jamming, activists must find new ways to get their point across in the ever changing political environment. If the populace has become immune to one method of activism, another method must be made in order to keep getting the point across, leading to the point that even those advocating for change must change in order to cause change.

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One thought on “Culture Jamming, Memes, and inverting the norms”

  1. I think you make a really interesting comparison between culture jamming and memes specifically in terms of their reappropriation by external forces. To a certain degree as well, a lot of memes can even be considered a form of culture jamming in the way they satirize and reinterpret certain cultural symbols. In the same way memes lose their value when they are disseminated into mainstream culture, culture jamming is rendered useless once entities like the state and corporations are aware of its use and even use it themselves. I definitely agree that the potency of cultural jamming has become especially weak in today’s society. Innovation is needed now more than ever.

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