16 July 2005

Culture jamming

“The really important battle of the future might not be over race or gender or the environment, and it certainly wouldn’t be that old left/right opposition. What it might be, instead, [is a] fight to control the culture.”

These words from Kalle Lasn are profound in today’s world, even in India. Lasn, editor of Adbusters magazine (http://
www.adbusters.org), founder of Media Foundation and Powershift Advertising Agency, is out to change the world. And, given a little media space and time, he just might do it.

Lasn’s work is a fight against corporate control, not only of politics, but also of our hearts and minds. He and his fellow adbusters make no bones about their mission: “to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the twenty-first century.” Is he nuts! How does he intend to achieve this?

Lasn lays out his strategy in his book “Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge – And Why We Must”. In the book he describes in detail how we can go about ‘uncooling’ brands, ‘demarketing’ fashions, and breaking free of our ‘media trance’. A ‘culture jammer’ himself, he has launched social marketing campaigns and won several international awards.

“We’ve been reduced to spectators, consumers,” he says. “We’re just supposed to listen and watch, and then to buy… The mass media keep us in a trance by dispensing a kind of Huxleyan ‘soma’ that drives us to conform and consume: to buy the best cars, to wear the trendiest fashions, to be ‘cool’… We’ve been so deeply manipulated; our emotions, personalities, and core values have become programmed.”

What’s Lasn’s answer to this mind control by the media? He uses ‘culture jamming’, a term he picked up from an audio-collage band Negativland, to jam signals that put us ‘in this trance’ in the first place. Culture jamming creates cognitive dissonance, disseminating seeds of truth to people as a sort of wake-up call.

Over the years, Lasn and Adbusters have produced dozens of spoof ads – print subvertisements and TV uncommercials. I’ve seen some of them. One shows a male model holding out the elastic waistband of his underwear to peer down at his genitals, with the caption “Obsession for Men”. In another, a battered child is seen through a vodka bottle, with the caption “Wipe That Smirkoff”.

Adbusters, described by its editors as an “ecological magazine”, is dedicated to examining the relationship between human beings and their physical and mental environments. “We want folks to get mad about corporate disinformation, injustices in the global economy, and any industry that pollutes our physical or mental commons.”

Can you beat that?

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