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Culture jamming

It has long been common for opposing groups to deface each other’s posters, billboards and advertisements. In the last decade, doing so has advanced to the status of a witty art form, in which the adverts are not so much defaced as rewritten or parodied. The term culture jamming refers to this practice.

It is intimately associated with the Media Foundation of Vancouver, Canada, which publishes Adbusters Quarterly, edited by Estonian-born Kalle Lasn. The technique has been taken up by various anti-capitalist, green, or anarchist groups, who consider advertising to be a polluting invasion of personal privacy that supports the consumerist system.

A recent British exploit, for example, changed a billboard advert for a BBC programme featuring Bush and Blair that read “The Ones” to “The Clones”. Ideas stretch beyond advertising: you may recall the group which switched the sound chips on Barbie and GI Joe dolls so that Barbie said “Vengeance is mine!” and GI Joe said “Let’s go shopping!”. That’s considered to be culture jamming, too.

It’s also called anti-advertising and subvertising, though these are much less common.

Lasn views Buy Nothing Day as a form of “culture jamming” — a means to subvert our heavily corporate- and media-driven culture. He declares, “Culture jamming involves people who don’t like consumer culture and look for all sorts of ways to jam it up. We find ways to make [consumerism] bite itself in the tail.”

University Wire, Nov. 2001

In the 90s, Canadian “culture jamming” magazine Adbusters took the artform to new levels with the slick “subvertising” of adverts for American corporate giants such as Gap and McDonald’s to convey anti-consumerist messages.

Guardian, May 2002

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 18 May 2002

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Last modified: 18 May 2002.