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.

BUGA UP 1980's

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.


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.


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.


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?


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