This time, we’re looking at culture jamming, an ongoing critique of mass consumer culture. And we’re asking: How do the ways of culture jamming translate to political protest and political action? Read on below for details.
We’re working on gathering a few. Stay tuned.
The Story in Detail
Before we get down to details, a note: We’ve just published a resource guide to community activism and engagement, with a lot of how-to links. In the Age of 45, Resources for Becoming the Engaged and Powerful Citizens We Need to Be. Check it out (https://johnboylanwriting.wordpress.com). And feel free to share and copy it, as long as you credit it and do not modify it. Even just one of the many links provides a set of techniques, tools, and contacts for acting, building, organizing in the world today.
Now to the subject at hand. This is the third in a series of conversations about culture, art, and activism in a strange, dangerous, and difficult time.
This month we’re talking about culture jamming. Simply put, culture jamming involves taking the language and techniques of mass culture: advertising, television, radio, and big public displays, and plays with them, twisting them to create something that satirizes and subverts that same mass culture. The best examples involve humor and a sense of the absurd to create new insights. It was first identified as such in the 1980s, but examples go back decades.
The common picture of culture jamming is, say, a billboard that has been editorialized toward a satirical message. But that, of course, is illegal. And beyond getting knowing chuckle from passers-by, is it effective at all?
Culture jamming is everywhere, from the art of Banksy to the ubiquitous images of Shepard Fairy. When Reverend Billy and Church of Stop Shopping went into a Gap in Times Square and, among many other stunts and bits of theater, very publicly started to dicker with the hapless sales clerk over the price of a shirt, harkening back to an older Times Square, before it was “cleaned up” (or went into a Disney store and wandered the store, talking loudly on fake cell phones about Disney policies and products), that was culture jamming.
At the outset, flash mobs were culture jamming, at least until they became tools for advertising. But even then, they still hold a huge potential for creating a beautiful and powerful disturbance of the everyday.
Culture jamming arose originally as a response to the commercialization and materialism of everyday life, and the power of business to determine our lives. The question: how useful is it as a set of tools, ideas, and techniques for dealing with the political situations that we face today?
The “Resist” banner that Greenpeace unfurled behind the White House just after the inauguration was culture jamming. Rather than just a protest, the action took advantage of the iconic nature of the White House itself to create an image of being powerful, a sense that “we are everywhere.”
But beyond making some of us feel good, preaching to Reverend Billy’s choir, how effective is culture jamming as a political act? Can it advance or change policy? Can it change minds, or build movements?
Come and talk about it.
And a bit of reading: