The close-up of a
lipstick extended from its shaft adorns the cover of the
like a bloody fingertip: a figure from advertising
techniques seen a thousand times is robbed here of its
smooth, glistening surface; the red mass of color looks
more like a battered house facade. To the right of this
strange tower form "Cool Fascismo" is written
in black letters - the title adbusters
is set in Gothic type. We browse through the magazine
and find an article with the question "Is America
In 1954 Guy Debord
created a collage dealing with the Spanish Civil War
("Time passes, in fact, and we pass with it").
Altogether the six pictures read like the text of a
film script: Franco, a dead person in a street battle,
finally a mid-shot of a parade of troops. A text is
mounted on the right side underneath this picture: "Beautiful
lips wear red" - an incomplete snippet from a widespread
lipstick ad at that time.
The picture of the
lipstick in hundred-fold magnification as eyecatcher
and the hidden reference to the lipstick that itself
remains invisible - two variations that utilize the
technique of re-interpretation used in culture jamming
and which could not be more different. The staging of
political messages with the means of advertising techniques
all the way to the choice of terms ("global fascism"
as advertising hyperbole) and Guy Debord's collage technique
that originated in the logic of the art field, which
also seeks to devalue the specific mediality of advertising
techniques as detournement in addition to the political
In theories about
the economy of attention, the advertising technician
appears as an attention catcher: he stages the spectacle
in stronger and stronger dosages and takes care to employ
technically sophisticated means of production. The producers
of culture jamming, if we think of actors such as those
from the magazine adbusters, for example, who partly have day jobs in the advertising
industry to carry on their deconstructions at night,
profit from the fact that they are successful in the
logic of the predominate attention economy: they hit
a "nerve". They intervene "spectacularly"
- which is why they arouse the interest of the advertising
industry, because the culture jammers produce exactly
that which does not succeed in the everyday malaise
of advertising suffering from the scarcity of attention:
in the spiral of the generation of attention, in the
thin air of stale effects, they are still able to arrange
an edible crumb of spectacular goods. If the culture
jammers want to communicate "oppositional readings"
of advertising too, they are assured of the respect
of the advertising technicians, to the extent that an
attention kick promising to animate the market like
a new drug is admirable. Since the sixties the advertising
industry has systematically subsumed everything that
is "hip" and especially that which John Fiske
called the rebellious side of the "popular culture"
that he enthusiastically embraced. In his book "The
Conquest of the Cool", Thomas Frank demonstrated
the naivety of a thesis like this.
The band Negativland,
which first circulated the concept of culture jamming,
experienced in 1997 how the advertising agency Wieden
& Kennedy, described by Frank as one of the most
important agencies in the context of the appropriation
of hipness, asked the band for a soundtrack for the
new advertising spot for Miller Genuine Draft. The band
commented: "Today they absorb the core and tell
you there is no more resistance, that all resistance
Conversely Kalle Lasn and his classic consume-critical
campaign "buy nothing day" had to deal with
an appropriation from the left: the slogan of the counter-campaign
was "steal something day".
The incipient rule-breaking
in the act of culture jamming, whether it is an aesthetic
or social intervention in "alien material",
is not a technique that is limited to the actors of
culture jamming. It even seems to belong to the arsenal
of ritually practiced ceremonies of neo-liberal culture:
when Daimler-Chrysler introduced the brand "Maybach"
in 2002, a campaign was launched in the print media,
which demonstrated well that breaking the rules is treated
as a social ideal. The ad picks up on the as yet
undisputed high degree of legitimacy
of art in the form of an "image transfer":
the gaze is drawn to a horizontally divided picture;
in the top part the brand "Baselitz" is represented
by an upside-down portrait of a woman; in the lower
part, on a light background, is the car. The two picture
sections are linked by a line of text that says: "leadership
is about breaking rules."
The picture by Baselitz is mounted in the shining world
of the luxury automobile, appropriated, functioning
as a kind of social montage. The social use of the picture
- initially linked with the social locations assigned
to it, such as museums or galleries - is relocated,
drawn into the world of commercial advertising images.
The text link "interprets" the picture by
Baselitz, but at the same time it also picks up the
ideal of breaking rules that circulates in society.
In conjunction with its neo-liberal renewal, the dominant
elite has found that the production of social insecurity,
rule violations, anomy - once monopolized by the "left"
- can better serve to promote their interests than the
call for a welfare state order
that is already obsolete. For this reason, the point
of this advertising image is not to address the potential
buyers segment; a diffuse mass audience is infiltrated
with the idea that Daimler Chrysler has recognized the
sign of the times. The rule violation that is meanwhile
treated as a social ideal is one
of the reasons that culture jamming has become a hype
in recent years.
At the latest since
Benjamin's picture shock analysis and his reference
to the qualities of a distracted perception, the intellectual
world thinks it has seen through advertising techniques.
Even if Benjamin's enthusiasm is dampened somewhat in
the darker passages of the chapter on cultural industry
by Horkheimer and Adorno, in the tradition of this approach
there has been no contradiction to the assessment that
the communication model of advertising has become the
dominant model of communication as a whole throughout
And specifically because of this dominance - according
to the culture jammer - political interventions should
also be undertaken in this medium. But how? In which
direction does the clash of signs throw sparks? Is it
a matter of deregulating familiar signs with the consequence
of an optimization of attention that only consolidates
the power of advertising, or can the "flow of the
spectacle" actually be interrupted in the condensed
language of advertising? Kalle Lasn speaks of the "meme
wars" in this context. Units of information processed
as shock communication leap "from brain to brain
And the battle of the memes, a "guerrilla information
war", has to be conducted by special agencies "to
put out a better product and beat the corporations at
their own game".
A change in society then results when the battle of
habits can be steered in a different direction. In this
context, one "magnificent victory" can already
be reported: "The tobacco war marked the first
(and so far the last) time anti-ads beat product ads
meme combat in a free marketplace
of ideas ... beating the enemy on TV was the key."
Many of the anti-smoking ads stay as close as possible
to the "original", showing the Marlboro rider,
for example, and dubbing him with a voice that does
not speak of freedom, but of sickness ("Bob, I've
got emphysema"). The altered ad operating with
an appeal to fear uses a rhetoric that is hardly still
conventional today ("even your parakeet is in danger
of an early death"), but the point is found, of
course, in the appropriation of the original - a classic
device for generating shock, what is familiar becomes
In the following
we will make an analytical distinction between two practices
of culture jamming: an internal strategy that orients
its practices especially to the existing forms of advertising
techniques, "alternatively"communicating a
broad range of themes, such alcohol abuse, tobacco abuse
all the way to political issues in the context of globalization,
key word "No Logo". This is contrasted with
an external use of culture jamming, where the technique
of communication, the attention economy itself becomes
the object of discussion, where the "triumph of
advertising in the cultural industry, the compulsive
mimesis of the consumers with regard to the cultural
goods that is immediately seen through" is to be subverted by excluding
distraction, for example, as the dominant form of reception.
These practices naturally arise in the field of art.
In his bestseller
"Culture Jam" Kalle Lasn described the goal
of the culture jammer: "Culture Jamming is, at
root, just a metaphor for stopping the flow of the spectacle
long enough to adjust your set."
Yet this magical formula
formulated in the manner of advertising
techniques, as enticing as its content may seem, needs
to be more closely examined. When Benjamin undertook
his analysis of the film, he also touched on issues
of progressive art that dealt with the "remodeling
of the apperception apparatus". "From an alluring
appearance or persuasive structure of sound the work
of art of the Dadaists became an instrument of ballistics.
It hit the spectator like a bullet, it happened to him,
thus acquiring a tactile quality." In our context it is interesting
to follow the career of John Heartfield, who joined
the Dadaist group as a trained advertising technician,
then becoming one of the most well known photo montage
artists in the twenties. Whereas the "stimulatory
flood" due to the dissolution of familiar structures
of meaning in picture-text montages is represented chaotically,
aggressively in the early Dadaist manifestos, Heartfield
developed a new medium of political agitation with a
technically perfected photo montage. He used documentary
and self-staged photo material and constructed this in the direction of an unequivocally
political thesis. The legibility of his works, especially
those published in the Workers Illustrated Newspaper
(Arbeiter Illustrierten Zeitung), was generally assured
by the fact that the photo material was assembled in
such a way that new messages emerged from it. In fact,
advertising technique used similar procedures during
this period: it also began using montage. The procedure
of montage can principally be subsumed under the heading
of the quotation, so that montage can be understood
as a procedure for conjoining what does not belong together.
In this sense, culture jammers are naturally also montage
producers. What distinguishes them from Heartfield and
this tradition is the way they deal with "alien
material". Heartfield created picture-text montages
that were composed of
publicly familiar visual material;
the gaze stumbles into this picture and puts the pieces
together to form an unequivocal structure of meaning.
One of his most famous works, the "Millions"
montage (1932), is a highly complex, unique picture
composition, which bridles the shock of montage in that
a narration is ultimately recognizable, which interrupts
the state of distraction. Culture jammers generally
leave the picture composition much more to the "alien
material"; they specifically make use of the attention
stimulation associated with it to invert the message
through minimal alterations: (s)hell. Distraction is
not didacticized here, but rather continued through
Heartfield refers reception to
a level of cognitively penetrating the picture, culture
jammers rely entirely on the form of the spectacle to
introduce a polar reversal into the distracted appropriation.
Everything should work the same way as in advertising,
but the other way around. The illusory world of marketing
strategists is presented by first creating the impression
of a "pollution"; a convention is broken,
because the aesthetic integrity of the ad is distorted.
The pollution introduces the shock of an oppositional
Naomi Klein sees
in this type of communication "just a tool - one
of many - that is used, borrowed and loaned in a much
broader political movement against branded life."
In other words, the relativization of culture jamming's
possibilities for impact, which Kalle Lasn probably
does not share in this form, is concentrated once again
on the question we started with. Can something of the
intentions pursued by the culture jammers actually be
realized in the medium of distraction through counter-distraction?
The tobacco wars were successful for the culture jammers.
But what does this success actually consist of? The
habit of smoking is, in fact, on the decline in wealthy
western countries, especially among the middle class;
however, the economic activities of the cigarette corporations
have not ceased at all. They have moved to other countries.
"Smoking was uncooled, and no amount of PR money
could buy the cool back," according to Kalle Lasn.
This statement, formulated in the style of advertising
hyperbole, not only ignores the material reality of
the cigarette corporations, it also conceals the fact
that a thoroughly ascetic health consciousness was introduced
along with the anti-smoking campaign, an element of
subjectivity that could well be called a "self-technology"
from Foucault's perspective and is to be assessed as
a resource for controlling people in neo-liberal times.
"It is not pictures
of guns that kill, but guns," according to Mitchell.
In his opinion, it is not "scopic regimes"
(Martin Jay) that represent the "greatest political
danger of the present". He regards the "heroic,
iconoclastic art theoreticians" in their striving
to decipher the "power of images" as a new
version of the "Young Hegelians" that Marx
parodies by reproaching them that "the monsters
sprung from their foreheads (...) have gotten out of
Just as doubt in the "power of images" is
right in a certain sense, we can also criticize the
practices of the culture jammers, to the extent that
they mistake their attack on advertising images with
an attack on the overall constitution of society. However,
this general "suspicion" can only really become
explicit in individual cases. It is not a coincidence
that the activities of the culture jammers are directed
specifically against corporations, which are highly
dependent on their symbolic advertising presence.
It is maintained
in "self-concept research" that advertising
is especially successful, when it strengthens the self-concept
of the consumers. Sidney J. Levy formulated this thesis
in 1959 in the essay "Symbols for Sale", which
is considered a classical text in advertising research.
As he explained, "the product will be used and
enjoyed (...) when it joins with,
meshes with, adds to, or reinforces the way the consumer
thinks about himself."
How the consumer thinks about himself (or herself) is,
to a large part, "constructed" by the advertising
industry itself, according to the counter-thesis. Erving
Goffman also speaks of the manipulation thesis in the
context of his analysis of the "commercial realism"
of advertising techniques. Like Benjamin, Goffman believes
that advertising functions according to the model of
the fleetingly perceived world as it has been practiced
in the large cities of the 20th century. When advertising
technique then assumes certain elements of the "social
cosmology" (Galtung), the impression frequently
arises that it has itself "constructed". He
claims that this is nothing from "real life",
however, but rather an obtrusive staging starting from
depth psychology, which awakens "artificial"
needs - so anyone who takes the appeals seriously is
naïve. What is the difference then between the
picture shock scenes of advertising techniques and real
life? Goffman proposes speaking of a "hyper-ritualization"
of advertising technique. "An advertising photo
is a ritualization of social ideals, from which all
the processes and meanings in which the ideal is not
present have been omitted - edited out of what has been
made visible, so to speak."
This purity of representation also occurs as a claim
in social life "at ceremonial occasions, expressions
of sympathy, a sudden meeting with friends and similar
high points of everyday life. In advertising as in life,
we are interested in the colorful poses, the externalization
From this perspective advertising only "manipulates"
in the sense that it stylizes, conventionalizes an already
existent repertoire of "ritual
idioms" - Goffman basically attempts to show that
people frequently act in social situations in accordance
with the logic of advertising technique, not because
of its hegemonial impact, but because this is what the
social world demands - this is Goffman's impression
at least. In the appropriated counter-advertising world
of the culture jammers ritualized social ideals are
also communicated with an externalizing effect. They
are consumed by those who can connect their "self-concept"
with the transformed message. From this perspective
culture jamming represents the folklore, in a sense,
of those who find themselves in resistance against the
symbol world of the advertising industry or the social
world it represents. The special attraction of this
affirming medium is that within this symbolic dispute
the opponent is not only made "tangible",
but is even directly "conquered" - in this
moment of intervention, where the energy of the opponent
is turned against him as in Japanese martial arts, the
defeat appears to be "manifest". Following
Goffman, we can call this "hyper-ritualization".
On the other hand,
"enlightenment" is linked with the political
interventions of the culture jammers. Like advertising,
the ritual is intended to influence a diffuse mass audience.
In terms of advertising
technique, "market research" proves whether
influencing effects have occurred. In order to have
criteria for making a distinction at this point, attention
should be given to the social location of the intervention.
The publication of a high gloss brochure like adbusters,
which cultivates culture jamming as an aesthetic form,
is worlds apart from interventions in the tradition
of the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF), where there
are direct interventions in the public space occupied
by advertising. Whereas the adbusters
project builds up a counter-empire of its own with marketing
strategies oriented to "corporate identity"
(the sale of T-shirts, shoes: "the unswoosher",
etc.), thus assuming elements of alternative culture,
which are, however, no longer under the pressure of
an anti-economism, the other actors are more concerned
with attacking the omnipresence of the world of advertising
in public space. The magazine adbusters
activates a "target group" - in other words
a social conglomerate with certain characteristics that
are relevant to the product range of the project. Enlarging
the target group depends, among other things, on whether
the social humus that the project lives from flourishes
or not. The cultivation of culture jamming, its aesthetic
differentiation, creates a consumer segment that grows,
if it is well tended. Intervention in public space calculates
differently: here - before political convictions are
communicated - the monopoly of the public "demonstration
of industrial power" is attacked first of all.
It is as though the frozen ritualisms of advertising
technique were suddenly brought to life through the
intervention of culture jammers and become "uncanny"
in the Freudian definition of the term: the alienation
points to the familiar that has been left out of everyday
experience, the experience of public space blocked by
advertising. The act of deciphering the political message
follows subsequently. Because of the given picture shock
communication, the possibilities of communicating are
generally too little complex and can only develop their
effect, as Naomi Klein has described, in the overall
context of the communication of other media.
In this way a different
social use of culture jamming becomes evident, which
we would like to summarize here in two "positions",
although they do not occur in this purity in reality.
One is a strategy that strengthens the social cohesion
of the resistant group within the framework of the hyper-ritualization
taken from advertising technique, and the other is a
strategy operating in public space, which intervenes
in the force field of symbolic representations, and
questions with every political message that is communicated
how the privatized use of the public sphere by economic
rulers is taken for granted. It has been demonstrated
that the surprise coups of the culture jammers first
attain significance as political intervention, when
their social use is designed to penetrate into fields
that are "obedient" to advertising technique.
In his criticism of "Neue Sachlichkeit" ("New
Objectivity"), Walter Benjamin said that it "supplies
the production apparatus without changing it"
and wished for actors instead, who should emphasize
utility value", for example
of photography. The culture jammers' reinterpretations
shake the production apparatus of advertising technique,
sometimes with material consequences for the companies
- yet at the same time they also ensure that consumption
criticism, e.g. in the version of adbusters, itself becomes the object of consumption. This dilemma
is avoided by the kinds of practices that reflect on
the production apparatus in Benjamin's sense and therefore
dispense with the comfort of a high gloss
brochure in favor of a re-appropriation
of public space.
by Aileen Derieg