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?
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.
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.