Culture jamming

Culture jamming
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Culture jamming, coined in 1984,[1][2][3] denotes a tactic used by many anti-consumerist social movements[4] to disrupt or subvert mainstream cultural institutions, including corporate advertising. Guerrilla semiotics and night discourse are sometimes used synonymously with the term culture jamming.[5][6]

Culture jamming is often seen as a form of subvertising. Many culture jams are intended to expose apparently questionable political assumptions behind commercial culture. Common tactics include re-figuring logos, fashion statements, and product images as a means to challenge the idea of "what's cool" along with assumptions about the personal freedoms of consumption.[7]

Culture jamming sometimes entails transforming mass media to produce ironic or satirical commentary about itself, using the original medium's communication method. Culture jamming is usually employed in opposition to a perceived appropriation of public space, or as a reaction against social conformity. Prominent examples of culture jamming include the adulteration of billboard advertising by the BLF and Ron English and the street parties and protests organised by Reclaim the Streets. While most culture jamming focuses on subverting or critiquing political or advertising messages, some practitioners focus on a more positive, musically inspired form of jamming that brings together artists, scholars and activists to create new forms of cultural production that transcend rather than merely criticize or negate the status quo.[8]


Origins of the term, etymology and history

1984 Coinage

The term was coined in 1984 by the sound collage band Negativland, with the release of their album JamCon '84.[1][2][3] The phrase "culture jamming" comes from the idea of radio jamming:[2] that public frequencies can be pirated and subverted for independent communication, or to disrupt dominant frequencies.[9] In one of the tracks of the album, they declared:[2]

As awareness of how the media environment we occupy affects and directs our inner life grows, some resist. The skillfully reworked billboard . . . directs the public viewer to a consideration of the original corporate strategy. The studio for the cultural jammer is the world at large.

Origins and preceding influences

According to Vince Carducci, although the term was coined by Negativland, culture jamming can be traced as far back as the 1950s.[10] One particularly influential group that was active in Europe was the Situationist International and was led by Guy Debord. Their main argument was based on the idea that in the past humans dealt with life and the consumer market directly. They argued that this spontaneous way of life was slowly deteriorating as a direct result of the new "modern" way of life. Situationists saw everything from television to radio as a threat.[11]

The cultural critic Mark Dery traces the origins of culture jamming to medieval carnival, which Mikhail Bakhtin interpreted, in Rabelais and his World, as an officially sanctioned subversion of the social hierarchy.[citation needed] Modern precursors might include: the media-savvy agit-prop of the anti-Nazi photomonteur John Heartfield, the sociopolitical street theater and staged media events of '60s radicals such as Abbie Hoffman, the German concept of Spaßguerilla, and in the Situationist International (SI) of the 1950s and '60s.[citation needed] The SI first compared its own activities to radio jamming in 1968, when it proposed the use of guerrilla communication within mass media to sow confusion within the dominant culture.[citation needed]

Mark Dery's New York Times article on culture jamming, The Merry Pranksters And the Art of the Hoax[2] was the first mention, in the mainstream media, of the phenomenon; Dery later expanded on this article in his 1993 Open Magazine pamphlet, Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs,[12] a seminal essay that remains the most exhaustive historical, sociopolitical, and philosophical theorization of culture jamming to date. Adbusters, a Canadian publication espousing an environmentalist critique of consumerism, began promoting aspects of culture jamming after Dery introduced editor Kalle Lasn to the term through a series of articles he wrote for the magazine. In her critique of consumerism, "No Logo", the Canadian cultural commentator and political activist Naomi Klein examines culture jamming in a chapter that cites Dery and focuses on the work of Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada.


Graffitied billboard in Cambridge, UK

Culture jamming is a form of disruption that plays on the emotions of viewers and bystanders. Jammers want to disrupt the unconscious thought process that takes place when most consumers view a popular advertising and bring about a détournement.[11] Activists that utilize this tactic are counting on their meme to pull on the emotional strings of people and evoke some type of reaction. The reactions that most cultural jammers are hoping to evoke are behavioral change and political action. There are four emotions that activists often want viewers to feel. These emotions – shock, shame, fear, and anger, are believed to be the catalysts for social change.[13]

The basic unit in which a message is transmitted in culture jamming is the meme. Memes are condensed images that stimulate visual, verbal, musical, or behavioral associations that people can easily imitate and transmit to others. The term meme was first popularized by geneticist Richard Dawkins but later used by cultural critics such as Douglas Rushkoff that claimed memes were a type of media virus.[14] Memes are seen as genes that can jump from outlet to outlet and replicate themselves or mutate upon transmission just like a virus.[15] Culture jammers will often use common memes to such as the McDonald's golden arches or Nike swoosh to engage people and force them to think about their eating habits or fashion sense.[16] In one example, jammer Jonah Perreti used the Nike symbol to stir debate on sweatshop child labor and consumer freedom. Perreti made public exchanges between himself and Nike over a disagreement. Perreti had requested custom Nikes with the word "sweatshop" placed in the Nike symbol. Nike naturally disagreed. Once this story was made public over Perreti's website it spread world wide and sparked conversation and dialogue about Nike's use of sweatshops.[16] Jammers can also organize and participate in mass campaigns. Examples of cultural jamming like Perreti's are more along the lines of tactics that radical consumer social movements would use. These movements push people to question the taken-for-granted assumption that consuming is natural and good and aim to disrupt the naturalization of consumer culture; they also seek to create systems of production and consumption that are more humane and less dominated by global corporate hypercapitalism.[17] Past mass events and ideas have included "Buy Nothing Day", "Digital Detox Week", virtual sit-ins and protests over the Internet, producing ‘subvertisements’ and placing them in public spaces, and creating and enacting ‘placejamming’ projects where public spaces are reclaimed and nature is re-introduced into urban places.[18]

The most effective form of jamming is to use an already widely recognizable meme to transmit the message. Once viewers are forced to take a second look at the mimicked popular meme they are forced out of their comfort zone. Viewers are presented with another way to view the meme and forced to think about the implications presented by the jammer.[11] More often than not, when this is used as a tactic the jammer is going for shock value. For example, to make consumers aware of the negative body image that big name apparel brands are causing, a subvertisement of Calvin Klein's 'Obsession' was created and played world wide. It depicted a young woman with an eating disorder throwing up into a toilet.[19]

Another way that social consumer movements hope to utilize culture jamming effectively is by employing a metameme. A metameme is a two-level message that punctures a specific commercial image, but does so in a way that challenges some larger aspect of the political culture of corporate domination.[16] An example would be the "true cost" campaign set in motion by Adbusters. "True Cost" forced consumers to compare the human labor cost and conditions and environmental drawbacks of products to the sales costs. Another example would be the "Truth" campaigns that frequented television in the past years that exposed the deception tobacco companies used to sell their products.


Culture jamming is sometimes confused with artistic appropriation or with acts of vandalism which have destruction or defacement as their primary goal. Although the end result is not always easily distinguishable from these activities, the intent of those participating in culture jamming differs from that of people whose intent is either artistic or merely destructive. The lines are not always clear-cut; some activities, notably street art, will fall into two or even all three categories.

Recently there have been arguments against the validity and effectiveness of culture jamming. Some argue that culture jamming is easily co-opted and commodified by the market, which tends to "defuse" its potential for consumer resistance.[20] Others posit that the culture jamming strategy of rhetorical sabotage, used by Adbusters, is easily incorporated and appropriated by clever advertising agencies, and thus is not a very powerful means of social change.[18] Yet other critics argue that without moving beyond mere critique to offering an alternative cultural, social and/or political economic vision, jams quickly lose their power and resonance.[8]

List of culture jamming organizations or people

See also


  1. ^ a b Lloyd, Jan (2003) Culture Jamming: Semiotic Banditry in the Streets, in Cultural Studies Department: University of Canterbury, Christchurc
  2. ^ a b c d e Dery, Mark (1990)The Merry Pranksters And the Art of the Hoax, NYtimes article, December 23, 1990.
  3. ^ a b Dery, Mark (2010) New Introduction and revisited edition of Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs, October 8th, 2010
  4. ^ Binay, Ayse (2005) `Investigating the Anti-consumerism Movement in North America: The Case of Adbusters', unpublished dissertation, University of Texas.
  5. ^ Images of the street: planning, identity, and control in public space By Nicholas R. Fyfe, p.274
  6. ^ Gavin Grindon Aesthetics and Radical Politics, p.36
  7. ^ Boden, Sharon and Williams, Simon J. (2002) "Consumption and Emotion: The Romantic Ethic Revisited", Sociology 36(3):493–512
  8. ^ a b LeVine, Mark (2005) Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications.
  9. ^ Disrupt Dominant Frequencies
  10. ^ Carducci, Vince (2006) "Culture Jamming: A Sociological Perspective", Journal of Consumer Culture 6(1): 116–38
  11. ^ a b c Lasn, Kalle (1999) Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge – And Why We Must. New York: HarperCollins
  12. ^ Dery, Mark (1993) Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs, in Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, 1993
  13. ^ Summers-Effler, Erika (2002) "The Micro Potential for Social Change: Emotion, Consciousness, and Social Movement Formation", Sociological Theory 20(1): 41–60
  14. ^ Rushkoff, Douglas (1996) Media Virus! New York: Ballantine
  15. ^ Dawkins, Richard (1989) The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  16. ^ a b c Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, Seattle, Washington Retrieved November 20, 2009
  17. ^ Princen, Thomas, Maniates, Michael and Conca, Ken (2002) Confronting Consumption. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  18. ^ a b Harold, Christine (2004) `Pranking Rhetoric: "Culture jamming" as Media Activism', Critical Studies in Media Communication 21(3): 189–211
  19. ^ Bordwell, Marilyn (2002) `Jamming Culture: Adbusters' Hip Media Campaign against Consumerism', in Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates and Ken Conca (eds) Confronting Consumption, pp. 237–53. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press
  20. ^ Rumbo, Jospeh D. (2002) "Consumer Resistance in a World of Advertising Clutter: The Case of Adbusters", Psychology & Marketing 19(2): 127–48.


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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Culture Jamming — ist eine Kunstform, die sich selbst als gegen die herkömmliche Werbung gerichtet versteht. Der Begriff wurde maßgeblich durch den Autor Kalle Lasn geprägt. Beim Culture Jamming werden Strategien und Formen, aber auch konkrete Beispiele aus der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Culture Jamming — Le culture jamming, que l on peut traduire en français par « détournement culturel », est l acte de transformer un média de masse existant afin de le dénoncer, en usant de la même méthode de communication utilisée par ce média. C est… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • culture jamming — (KUL.chur pp. To manipulate existing cultural images particularly those found in advertising to mock, refute, or subvert those images. Also: culture jamming. culture jammer n. culture jam v. Example Citation: The hactivists who hijack… …   New words

  • Culture jamming — Le culture jamming, que l on peut traduire en français par « détournement culturel », est l acte de transformer un média de masse existant afin de le dénoncer, en usant de la même méthode de communication utilisée par ce média. C est… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • culture jamming —    and culture jammer    Culture jamming refers to forms of art and other activities involving social agitation. Culture jammers take a number of sociopolitical issues as their primary focus, including media literacy, consumerism, television… …   Glossary of Art Terms

  • culture jamming — /ˈkʌltʃə dʒæmɪŋ/ (say kulchuh jaming) noun activities designed to subvert familiar targeted messages of a culture, especially as expressed in advertising and the media, by adapting the messages themselves. –culture jammer, noun …  

  • culture jamming — noun Any of various methods of modifying mass media (especially advertisements) to convey a different message …   Wiktionary

  • Jamming — may mean:*Techniques to limit the effectiveness of an opponent s communications and/or detection equipment. **Radio jamming **Radar jamming **Mobile phone jammer *Jamming (physics), an apparent changes of state, such as a granular medium suddenly …   Wikipedia

  • Culture (General) — Culture General after party agnotology Anglosphere anti anti American atomic sit ups audism backstory badge ball …   New words

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