The “Space Invaders” exhibition brought “adbusting”/ culture jamming back to my attention. I liked Marcsta and Merda’s “Disobey” sticker, which I saw exhibited at “Space Invaders”, as I’m tired of Shepard Fairey’s “Obey” logo being regarded as an example of quality street art. What “Space Invaders” defined “adbusters” is a culture jamming subversive alteration of corporate logos. (Adbusters Media Foundation is a Canadian not-for-profit organization.) There is a good summary of culture jamming and more links to articles about culture jamming from the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement (University of Washington).
I hadn’t really though about culture jamming recently because I was so close to it. I used to listen to a lot of Negativeland and read about culture jamming organization like the K Foundation, Church of the SubGenius and the Emergency Broadcast Network. Before that I was reading Wm. Burroughs “The Invisible Generation” and other pieces of his writing best summed up in his line: “language is a virus from outer space”. And tracing the history of the “meme” idea of Richard Dawkins (I yearned to read his book, The Selfish Gene for as a child seeing it on my father’s bookshelf with its attractive cover of biomorphic surrealist painting by Desmond Morris); tracing it back to philosophical “spooks” of Max Stirner. Along with regular updates from the local Melbourne news about the culture jamming activities of BugaUp and other group’s billboard vandalism for political objectives.
But by the late 90s there were so many t-shirts with subversive alteration of corporate logos that I began to tire of the tactic. It all seems like a lot of graphic designers were just having fun with parodies to sell products with a cool vibe. It wasn’t anti-consumerist just another product range. There is still a lot of culture jamming stuff around, although, some of it like the Everfresh crew use a subverted version of the Cellarmaster logo is just parody (I’m not sure what the connection is apart from the guys from Everfresh drinking habits). But the lack of serious political intent makes many of these works simply parody and homage rather than culture jamming.
The politics of culture jamming is more difficult and subtle than mainstream politics; both sides are using the same basic psycho-technology propaganda repertoire. Many companies don’t mind the satire, many politicians collect political cartoons of themselves, if culture jamming was effective it might be worth pursing but the results of decades are not promising. Most people can take a joke, only despots who can’t stand satire. Maybe it is time for a return to the politics of the blunt aphoristic quality of the graffiti slogan.