infringement festival Ministry of Culture-Jamming
Leading up to the festival, The Ministry of Culture-Jamming meets every Monday night at 9pm at BAR BIFTECK (3702 St. Laurent) for an informal celebration involving strategizing and discussion. EVERYONE is welcome to participate!
By learning about culture-jamming you will discover excellent techniques to enhance activism, as well as find ways in which you can make the arts more potent on cultural, structural, and political levels.
If you think you might want to join in this collaborative process, throw your ideas into the mix, stage cultural interventions, and network with like-minded people, read on!
Culture-Jamming is an international movement that was unleashed in the 1990s as a subversive response to the corporate monoculture and its uni-directional information flow (also known as "The Spectacle"). According to Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia, Culture jamming:
…is the act of using existing mass media to comment on those very media themselves, using the original medium's communication method. It is based on the idea that advertising is little more than propaganda for established interests, and that there is little escape from this propaganda in industrialized nations. Culture jamming differs from artistic appropriation (which is done for art's sake), and from vandalism where destruction or defacement is the primary goal. The word, "culture jamming" comes from the idea of radio jamming: that public frequencies can be pirated and subverted for independent communication, or to disrupt dominant frequencies. The Situationist International first made the comparison to radio jamming in 1968, when it proposed the use of guerrilla communication within mass media to disseminate confusion within hegemonic cultural discourse. Culture jamming is a form of activism and a resistance movement to the hegemony of popular culture, based on the ideas of "guerrilla communication" and the "detournement" of popular icons and ideas…Forms of culture jamming include adbusting, performance art, graffiti art and hacktivism (notably cyber squatting).
Culture jammers borrow liberally from the avant-garde movements of the past - from Dada and Surrealism to the Situationists, but the emphasis of today's culture jammers is mostly to hack into corporate advertising and other avenues of corporate speech. The ultimate goal of a culture-jam is to radically challenge standard interpretations of corporate representation, and hence norms of behaviour; done by metaphorically throwing a wrench into the officially sanctioned "culture" of the Spectacle. Naomi Klein suggests:
The most sophisticated culture jams are not stand-alone ad parodies but interceptions - counter-messages that hack into a corporation's own method of communication to send a message starkly at odds with the one that was intended. The process forces the company to foot the bill for its own subversion, either literally, because the company is the one that paid for the billboard, or figuratively, because anytime people mess with a logo, they are tapping into vast resources spent to make that logo meaningful. (281)
A good jam, according to Klein "is an X-ray of the subconscious of
a campaign, uncovering not an opposite meaning but the deeper truth hiding
behind the layers of advertising euphemisms" (281-282). Culture
jamming can be seen as a sort of "semiotic jujitsu" - media
power is used against itself; a radical deconstruction of corporate memes
is carried out, exposing the system as illusory and oppressive. Semiotics,
as used by culture jammers, it is an essential tool in the all-important
undertaking of making sense of the world, its networks of power, the
encoded messages that flicker ceaselessly along its communication
We're a loose global network of media activists who see ourselves as the advance shock troops of the most significant social movement of the next twenty years. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge major adjustments to the way we will live in the twenty-first century. We believe culture jamming will become to our era what civil rights was to the '60s, what feminism was to the '70s, what environmental activism was to the '80s. It will alter the way we live and think. It will change the way information flows, the way institutions wield power, the way TV stations are run, the way the food, fashion, automobile, sports, music and culture industries set their agendas. Above all, it will change the way we interact with the mass media and the way in which meaning is produced in our society. We are a very diverse tribe. Our people range from born-again Lefties to Green entrepreneurs to fundamentalist Christians who don't like what television is doing to their kids; from punk anarchists to communications professors to advertising executives searching for a new role in life. (adbusters.org)
Culture-jamming for many is an entire way of living. Its advocates generally reject the notion of the citizen as merely consumer, and the idea of society as only marketplace. The culture-jammer approach to life questions the underlying social relations which govern the place of media (and by extension, capital) in our culture and society. According to Dery:
Part artistic terrorists, part vernacular critics, culture jammers…introduce noise into the signal as it passes from transmitter to receiver, encouraging idiosyncratic, unintended interpretations. Intruding on the intruders, they invest ads, newscasts, and other media artifacts with subversive meanings; simultaneously, they decrypt them, rendering their seductions impotent. Jammers offer irrefutable evidence that the right has no copyright on war waged with incantations and simulations. And… they refuse the role of passive shoppers, renewing the notion of a public discourse.
Culture-jamming strategies are also all about self-empowerment. They embrace self-publishing in all its forms: self-made 'zines, techno music done by teenagers in bedrooms, personal web site production, graffiti, hacking, billboard alteration and other forms of popular media resistance to the mainstream can reside under the broad banner of culture-jamming. Jamming is also all about interconnectedness and collaboration in non-corporate settings; a growing creative movement is emerging which identifies with open systems of all kinds. The rise of the Linux computer operating system and IndyMedia publishing empire are good examples; constructed as alternatives to corporate systems, they are free and available to anyone. "Shareware" culture of this type reflects a broader sense in the community that ideas, like software, music or a good joke, are there to be shared, circulated and made available. Hirsch suggests:
…culture jamming is about exerting your democratic and human rights by reclaiming the airwaves, taking back the ability to communicate with other people. culture jamming is a tactical and strategic approach to progressive change. it is about the synthesis of culture and politics, the combination of love and rage. it represents a new environmentalism, a new holism, that incorporates our immediate realities and environments into the struggle for equality, social justice, and democracy.
Furthermore, culture-jamming can also be used as a way to strengthen awareness about the Spectacle, and ultimately to act as a filter for the deceptive and depoliticising corporate media representations that bombard us on a daily basis. Mizrach believes:
Culture jamming is more than just a clever game. In an era in which
conspicuous consumption is slowly eating up the entire planet, it may just
be the key to survival itself. We may not be able to stop the signal at
its source, but at least we can jam its reception. The point is to awaken
people to their media-controlled life, to stop and notice the signal and
noise that is their mental environment.
One of the great secrets of demarketing the American Dream is détourning
it, in the public imagination, with a dream that's even more seductive.
What's better than being rich? Being spontaneous, authentic, alive. The
new American dream is simply to approach life full-on, without undue fear
of crippling self-censorship, pursuing joy and novelty as if tomorrow
you'll be in the ground, The Situationists called this impulse "the
will to playful creation," and they believed it should be extended
"to all know forms of human relationships." There's no one more
alive than the person who is openly, freely, improvising…There's no
other way to discover what's at your core. This is what the new American
dream is all about, and this is the kind of person the culture jammer
aspires to be: someone who, to paraphrase Ray Bradbury, "jumps off
cliffs and builds his wings on the way down." (1991:168-169)
Using a methodical, systematic, social…campaign, we start at the personal level and grow in scope. We begin by demarketing our bodies, our minds, our children. Then we join like-minded jammers to demarket whole systems. We go after chief social and cultural rituals, now warped beyond recognition by commercial forces, and try to restore their original authenticity. We reverse the cycle. We demarket our news, our entertainments, our lifestyles and desires - and, eventually, maybe even our dreams. (199: 181 - 183)
It depends on how you apply it and who you ask. While the terms "revolutionary" and "radical" theatre are tossed around loosely, encompassing many types of political theatre that depart from the traditional (eg: Brecht, Boal, Dario Fo), its overall aim is well-summarized in Toni Sant's online Applied and Interactive Theatre Guide:
Radical theatre aims to make extreme changes in existing views, habits,
conditions, or institutions. Throughout the 20th-Century, avant-garde
theatre has been concerned with politics or activism in one way or
another. From the actions of the Futurist Movement through to the
groundswell in political theatre after the 1960s, radical thought has
always been applied to theatrical forms.
In a nutshell, culture-jamming is a sort of meta-theatre (between the
corporate Spectacle and anti-oppressive players). Culture-jamming is
certainly revolutionary and theatrical in nature, however not all acts of
culture-jamming involve overt performance. A billboard liberator, zine
artist, or hacktivist is not necessarily creating and playing a character,
but rather focuses on challenging oppressive systems and détourning their
representations. However, there are some culture-jammers who place
theatrical performance as central to any cultural intervention; going
beyond only jamming images and representations, they insist on jamming
both everyday life and specific oppressive social realities. Creating
their own characters, they temporarily transform oppressive spaces (eg:
shopping malls, corporate headquarters, military bases, universities) into
reflective meta-theatrical performances. One fine example of performative
culture-jamming is the theatrical antics of New York-based theatrician
Bill Talen, known in-role as the "Reverend Billy". Tracing Mayor
Giuliani's campaign to "clean up New York City" with a series of
draconian measures intended to displace those deemed
"undesirable", Talen believes:
Just as time runs out for civilised man, time is running out for the theatre. Neither will survive without radical adjustment. It is no longer possible to politely impel a static audience to higher consciousness. What is required is a vibrant responsive theatre form that will spur a community's active development of its own new order. A form that demands reaction. If necessary out of self-preservation to protect themselves from a howling mass of theatricians about to knock inspiration down their throats. (241)
The Ministry of Culture-Jamming is like a cultural commando unit that closely follows cultural news and developments, in anticipation of conducting cultural interventions when necessary. For example, last year a "festival" sponsored by Molson invaded St. Laurent boulevard, ruining the street fair for many local citizens. The Ministry not only made official complaints, but also made attempts to expose the situation by making a video about the harmful effects of reality advertising. Another alternative might have been to demand to speak on the corporate stage, or to deploy a parade of street artists against their parade of corporate dancers. The sky is the limit.
What are the techniques of Culture-Jamming?
1) Theatrical Actions
3) Media Actions
4) Electronic Actions
5) Activities & Events
6) Advanced Tactics
To learn more about these, join the Ministry of Culture-Jamming!
Other Sources on Culture-Jamming:
INFRINGEMENT MONTREAL 2005 ARCHIVE