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Culture Jamming May 5, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.

When we’re passionate about something, we like to say that we “eat, sleep and breathe” it. Whether or not we consciously love brand names we usually do the same for them as well. We become blind slaves to big corporations and brands that control our lives from their steely grey watchtowers with pet vultures that circle overhead and report back on our behaviour.

In today’s world citizens are transformed into consumers. Commercial culture dominates and not everyone likes it. Those who don’t, have many reactions, like protesting against the multinational corporations or boycotting their products, and others choose to culture jam.

In his 2008, award winning film, student director, Chad Gillespie calls culture jamming “an organized, social activist effort that aims to counter the bombardment of consumption oriented messages in the mass media (Bennett),” in his piece called What Is This Jam In My Culture?

In plain English, culture jammers act out against the consumer orientation of the mass media who represent large corporations but fail to show all sides. To culture jammers, adverts are little more than propaganda for established interests.


“With a sleight of hand, culture jammers take the mickey out of aggressively marketed corporations,” says Jared Tham of Adbusters.

There are several different forms that culture jamming can take and they develop along with new technologies.

Subvertising as one of the most popular methods of culture jamming takes popular adverts of big brands and changes them in order to direct thought to the negative aspects of the products.

These parodied ads are then put up as posters or billboards in public spaces and more recently, sent as emails and generally distributed on the internet. The technology needed to modify the ads and pictures are now more advanced and the digital effects of the message can be of greater impact.

The Yes Men, culture jammers who engage in performance art, started off by presenting at conferences. They don’t don capes and masks or wear unsightly red underwear over their pants (although, at times they came close). They simply pretend to be representatives of companies like Dow Chemical or of organisations like the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In this way they could publicise immoral or negative acts of these companies.


They too have entered the digital arena and have created a documentary that showcases some of their efforts, including one time when they pretended to represent McDonald’s in a presentation to University students, trying to convince them that McDonald’s was planning to make patties from human excrement. They also created a fake WTO webpage that looks a lot like the real version, where they have articles such as the one entitled “WTO Announces Formalized Slavery Market For Africa.”

YouTube is another digital platform used for culture jamming. “And what is YouTube if not a space that allows for people to articulate rejections of the one-way flow model when it comes to mass media texts?” asks Elizabeth Clark in an article for the Journal of Communication, Culture and Technology.

She also says: “YouTube and digital technology make culture jamming a viable activity for many more people than an action like altering a billboard.”

This benefit may counter itself though because while it allows many more to engage in culture jamming it also prohibits many others due to the digital divide. Could this then also lead to an elitist division? To put it crudely, if you’re wealthy enough you can sit and culture jam from the comfort of your own home, but if you’re not then sorry, but you’ve got to get up there and deface that billboard.


Gillespie’s research found little to prove that culture jamming impacted on targeted corporations in any substantial way.

“No corporations had suffered any serious repercussions due to the acts of the “jammers,” which made me question the effectiveness of the activist’s actions,” said Gillespie.

But making users question things they would never have may be the larger goal in these situations, since change can only come after consciousness.

Another argument against this kind of goal-oriented pranksterism is that it sometimes helps draw positive attention to the brands. Some brands take elements from counterculture and use it in their campaigns. Sprite uses this in its “Image is Nothing” campaign.

Culture Jammer’s Manifesto: “…We will uncool their billion-dollar brands with uncommercials on TV, subvertisements in magazines and anti-ads right next to theirs in the urban landscape…”

For some sites that use digital technologies to culture jam: https://www.msu.edu/~devossda/415/activities/jamming.html

Check out more culture jamming videos:

CNN story on culture jamming ads:



1. areff - May 13, 2009

Yay Farzana!!

U’ve attacked my sworn enemy – the 50 headed, forked tongue, Money eating purple veined monster called capitalism. Culture jamming holds a secure place in my heart. Check up on this artist called barbara Kruger. ‘I shop, therefore I am.’ Our identities are built around the products we consume or wear or show off. Brands are a part of our entire lives: our water, our cars, our cereals, our pastas, our shoes, our computers, our wristwatches, our tissue, our condoms, our pads or tampons, our caps, our chests. Essentially people r just walking adverts. Our whole lives r sponsored. We can’t seem to escape it. Culture jamming is interesting not because we r poking fun at the big corps, but ourselves as well. Cuz we are the idiots who fall for the brands all the time. Look at me, the big loon going on about this when I couldn’t resist eating a big mac for breakfast after I dropped megs at work. We suck as human beings.

2. Aslam - May 18, 2009

The fact that you’re thinking about it, Areff, is a the start – the first few snowflakes in an impending avalanche. Forget about escaping it for now, you aspiring anarchist you… it’ll happen… maybe your kids will resist the macmuffin…

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