Stop Coca Cola Trashing Australia

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Subversion by GreenPeace

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The Power Of Laughtivism

This is an inspiring and uplifting talk from Srdja. The points he raises make for a great toolkit for anyone wishing to stand up to dictatorship on any scale.  Laughtivism is so powerful in harnessing the absurdities of situations, and the opportunity to make an impact does seem proportional to the amount of humour that goes into an action. As he says: “If you’re a ridiculous looking non-violent revolutionary your chances are twice as big”.

His comment,  “Humour makes your movement look cool” is important for a global audience. The language of laughtivism in the form of slapstick and mockery is common across cultures and class. The amazing “spitting image “ style video from Syria is an incredibly brave and impressive satire, and as he says “despite all of the bombings and the violence, the people have found their spirit… there are Syrians who still believe in their humour”

 “Humour Melts Fear” is a reminder to people that they have a simple and powerful tool. As an alternative to violence, a good joke disarms injustices immediately, such as the occupy wall street “enough of this bull” action by the Yes Men activists http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfrf71ALsEs

This is a talk to be celebrated, and as Popovic says:

 “Keep on laughing your way to victory and keep on changing the world with a smile on your face.”

Hijacking the Protest

Madonna performs wearing Pussy Riot's trademark balaclava during her Moscow concert

“You are a fake. Like your music and your mind.”

This Youtube comment is just one of the many directed towards American pop music icon Madonna in response to her Pussy Riot speech made during her recent concert in Russia.

Selected quotes from Madonna’s speech include:

“I think that these 3 girls Masha, Katya, and Nadia, Yes. I think that they have done something courageous, I think that they have payed the price for this act and.. I pray for their freedom.”

 “Lets hope that one day that we really will live in a world filled with peace and freedom and tolerance”

 “Are you with me?  Are you with me? Fuck Yeah ! Don’t you know how to swear in Russian?”

“Pussy Riot” are a collection of art activists who stage events designed to make political and cultural statements.  One such event was a 40 second punk music performance in a Russian Church. The act was directed towards Russian leader Vladimir Putin in which 3 balaclava – clad members sang “Punk Prayer Mother of God Drive Putin Away”. The protest was quickly shut down and two of the members have now spent over 8 months in a prison colony in central Russia.

Last week The Guardian conducted an interview with Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, one of the two jailed members, who is more resolved than ever to be a voice of dissent in Putin’s Russia. From the perspective of “Pussy Riot” the support of the west shouldn’t be turned into a commercial opportunity or protest without substance.

Like Madonna, other commercial music giants have demonstrated support for this form of Guerilla style activism in Russia. A crass opportunism also takes place when an entertainment billionaire takes on a cause to boost their own credibility, even in the form of selling unauthorised Pussy Riot T-Shirts from their website.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, one member of the group, says:

 “The only performances we’ll participate in are illegal ones. We refuse to perform as part of the capitalist system, at concerts where they sell tickets”.

 “Any person can put on a balaclava, it’s all very good, but it’s important that the ideas are not warped”

Western artists like Madonna run the risk of trivializing cultural freedoms when warping genuine protest. Coaxing Russian audiences to be dissentful and chant “Fuck Yeah” at her concerts is disrespectful and almost a disneyfication of human rights.

Culture Jamming: Origins and Contexts

Culture Jamming is a means of re-contextualizing the commercial messages we are bombarded with in our everyday lives. For anti-consumer activists, it is a powerful tool that reverses advertising’s purpose. The term itself originated with the sound artists negativland who mushed up and repurposed a lot of everyday audio to “make them say and suggest things they never intended to” (Negativland, 2013). Australia can claim to have one of the earliest examples of this practice with the “BUGA-UP” campaign. BUGA-UP stood for “Billboard Using Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions”. Back in 1979 the most direct tool was the spray paint can, which allowed an effective way of altering billboards that were “socially and visually assaulting” (BUGA-UP, 2013). In their case, big tobacco companies were targeted, such as Marlboro or Coca Cola.

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Coca Cola Billboard alteration, 1980. BUGA UP

Culture Jamming has come a long way since BUGA UP first started, and its sophistication has been made more potent by the affordability of digital tools. The Canadian based journal on Culture Jamming, Adbusters, aligns itself with the anti-globilization movement and has been behind some of the most powerful images of subvertising, focusing on big companies and the celebrities that represent them.

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Spoof Ad. Adbusters

In the networked world, advertising itself is more subversive, and the difference between a personal or commercial message is harder to decipher. An example of this is the “Suggested Posts” feature on Facebook. In response to this, a Facebook group “Say No To Suggested Posts” was formed, utilizing the tools of Culture Jamming to make a point.

Spam

Facebook Spam.  Say No To Suggested Posts

In an age of convergence culture, everyday netizens, and Hacktivist groups such as “The Yes Men” are watching big companies. This group has performed powerful actions against large multinational corporations. Using elaborate hoaxes such as fake websites and impersonating company representatives, the Yes Men have managed to highlight hypocrisies and injustices from organizations such as Dow Chemical. Interviewed by the BBC on the anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster, “Jude Finisterra” (a Yes Man) announces a radical new direction – complete responsibility for the disaster. Dow’s shares went down that day until the hoax was revealed.

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Jude Finisterra – fake Dow company spokesperson interviewed on the BBC. The Yes Men

Cultural Jamming – interfering with the signals of consumer culture – can have far reaching effects. It can stop a fast moving world for a few moments and help ask the questions:

Who is selling out to whom?

What kind of world do we want to live in?