In Chapter 5 of “Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society”, the author Tim Jordan inadvertently brings to attention the brilliance of large corporations’ marketing scheme. After years of protest against Nike’s use of sweatshops to manufacture its products, Nike, facing heavy critique especially from cultural jammers, began to post provocative messages and “jam their own billboards” (Jordan, 112). Slogans like “The most offensive boots we’ve ever made” were plastered for the public, and Nike began to copy cultural jammer’s own techniques of pasting their own messages over distasteful advertisements. But Nike did not stop there. It was claimed that Nike even commissioned writers to post criticisms of the company. The whole issue became so complex that it became difficult to discern genuine activism from calculated publicity stunts.
It truly is clever for these large corporations to take public condemnation and make it work for them. How much more attention did Nike get as a result of this campaign? More importantly, how many more satisfying clinks to Nike’s coffers were heard as a result? At the end of the day, this is what matters most. But it is a terrifying thought that corporations can now counterfeit activism or provoke activism from the public in order to be more noticed. This makes me wonder if we need to be more mindful before we snatch up our pitchforks and protest signs and head to the rally we heard about through Facebook, before we share articles on social media about the injustices of companies as a show of solidarity. Maybe this is exactly what the company wants. Has activism become a vehicle for marketing?
Tim Jordan, author of Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism, and the Future of Society, points out the complexities of culture jamming. The overall hope of culture jammers is to rid the current world of impure cultural codes and languages that exist because of corporate and state desires. Cultural jamming tries to fight back the manipulative ways of corporations and their branding by drastically changing messages of advertisements with small alterations. Cultural jamming is a great medium for modern activism because our world is “a media-saturated world” (Jordan 117). This can get messy unfortunately due to the fact that corporations can culture jam themselves simply for the publicity. The challenges faced here remind me of the concept, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. Celebrities will create fake scandals when they feel as though their light is fading. They become left out of popular conversation around the nation/world until something of great proportions happens, and the celebrity themselves is best qualified to be the mastermind behind it all. They then have full control of cause and effect. This attention-seeking method is easily translated to the world of corporations by Jordan.
The strength and power of corporations has also been brought to my attention. The tactics of corporations have become almost foolproof . Jordan’s statement that “globalized capitalism does not seek control of desire, but control through desire” (Jordan 112) reveals that corporations have the upper-hand. With cultural norms already well established in society, it is easy for corporations to use branding to sell a desired lifestyle rather than just a singular product. Jordan goes on to discuss Nike and its ability to get consumers so hooked on a check mark. This symbol being on any product leads the buyer to believe they will then be able to attain the lifestyle advertised by Nike so much so that the consumers are willing to place the knowledge of Nike’s use of slave labor to the back of their mind. This goes to show how powerful symbolism is and how hard it is to be a modern day activist living in a world with very solidified ideas and cultural codes.
I found this topic to be extremely interesting because it dealt with and culture jamming and the way society today focuses on symbolism and what it represents. For instance, Jordan states, “The Nike website for women is called NikeGoddess; if you buy Nike, you don’t get shoes, you get to be a goddess” (108). This type of imagery explains a lot about how society today functions; in particular, it shows how certain brands of today are associated with greater prestige and wealth.
The author also connects the idea that branding has become so integrated in our lives that many modern events are now seen through the eyes of cultural symbolism. For instance, he comments “the gulf war is often referred to as the nintendo war” (110) primarily because the war was around the time nintendo came out with a game, and the images of the game were similar to what was going on in the battlefield. This is particularly interesting to me because it shows that as a society, we have come to such levels in terms of being dependent and excessively following technology.
I feel that these points are extremely important when thinking about contemporary activism because slogans and branding are ways by which many important messages are disseminated today. For instance, “Black Lives Matter” is an important expression today that began its birth as the product of intelligent marketing. This expression has brought millions of new followers of the movement to restore justice for African-Americans. Another similar expression, “hands up, don’t shoot” is also very popular today primarily because the expression has become associated with police officers committing acts of brutality towards reportedly harmless and innocent African-American men. With the advent of social media, it is now easier than ever to have trending hashtags that highlight political awareness and standing up for a cause. The association of brands to new ideas and movements clearly has a compelling effect on audiences.