Art as Entertaining Rebellion

by Jani Leinonen


The “Populism” exhibition contains many works that can be considered acts of Culture Jamming. Matthieu Laurette's Moneyback Life, Superflex's Guaraná Power, Leinonen Global's Anything Helps Products, Jakob Boeskov's Danes for Bush and My Doom's Day Weapon and Esto TV’s Choose Order, are just to mention a few of my favorites. Culture Jamming is the act of using existing media to comment on those very media themselves, by using the original medium's communication method. Culture Jamming is based on the idea that advertising and communication in those media is little more than propaganda for established interests, and that there is little escape from this in industrialized nations.

The phrase "Culture Jamming" comes from the idea of radio jamming, i.e., that public frequencies can be pirated and subverted for independent communication, or that dominant frequencies can be disrupted. The Situationist International first made the comparison to radio jamming in 1968, when they proposed the use of guerilla communication within mass media to sow confusion within the dominant culture.

As criticism, Culture Jamming is very entertaining. It shows us in a dazzling way the contradictory soul of both markets and market criticism: Culture Jamming is not only ineffective, but also encourages the very consumerism it seeks to quell. The capitalist system doesn’t necessarily thrive on conformity – as so many “Culture Jammers” believe – as much as on individualism and a quest for distinction. Thus, Culture Jamming cannot bring down "the system" because "the system" doesn't care about doing things differently from others and, in fact, is more than happy to accommodate the consumer by selling non-conformist goods, such as Superflex's Guaraná Power drinks sold at the ”Populism” shows.

Consumerism is born largely out of competitive consumption in an effort of distinction, and “rebellion” is an excellent path to distinction. Since most goods depend on exclusivity for their value, especially goods which are said to deprecate mainstream life, a purchasing "arms race" is created whenever others begin to follow the same tendencies: if you lag behind, you become mainstream. Not surprisingly, then, the image of rebelliousness or non-conformity has long been a selling point for many products, especially those that begin as “alternative” products. Far from being “subversive,” encouraging the purchase of products – like Adbusters' line of running shoes – does nothing more than turn them into “mainstream” ones.

In his first essay on Culture Jamming, João Marrucho says, "Culture Jamming doesn't always imply an anti-consumerism statement. Some of its productions, as illegal Bootlegs, extend their concerns to copyright disputes. This is also a kind of dissident attitude that might disrupt slightly some commercial activity, but that's just a casualty in most bigger efforts to prevent information from being locked in a loop." Most of society's problems are traceable to collective action problems and not traits inherent in cultures, as most Culture Jammers believe, a mistake that leads them to attempt to disrupt the existing social order with very few results. Culture Jamming also allows people to claim a political element to their lifestyle preferences, or glorify criminality as a form of dissent. Above all, it gives me, a market critical consumer, permission to consume without guilt.