VC501 – Disseration Preperation: Culture Jamming

There a three main types of culture jamming: commercial, political, and social signs of our times.

As you walk through a city, how often do you stop to think about the signs, symbols and advertisements that bombard your vision from every direction? There seems little doubt that we live in a society increasingly dominated by visual information. However, refection on life is a prerequisite for living, and the cultural, political and commercial symbols of our times are well worth rethinking on a regular basis.

The most well known type of culture jamming is subvertising. Subvertisements are creative anti-ads targeted at conspicuous consumption considered endemic of capitalistic societies. These images variously target consumers themselves or large corporations, often with a specific message to get people thinking about what and/or why they buy.

Political: Less common but equally powerful are political forms of culture jamming. The above examples play on everyday symbols people normally wouldn’t think twice about. By subtly changing their meaning, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and takes on significance beyond what is expected. Respectively, the above signs deal with complex issues of political asylum in Australia and the contentious of the Iraq war.

Social: Of course, some culture jams are playful in nature and target society in general, being satirically oriented at anything from a holiday to a particular political leader or recognizable symbol. They may cause one to rethink reality, or simply laugh at something twisted to be slightly more-than-ordinary. The best subversive street art videos and images, of course, cause us to do both.

Subvertising refers to the practice of making spoofs or parodies of corporate and political advertisements.

In 1972, the logo of Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign posters were subvertised with two x’s in Nixon’s name (as in the Exxon logo) to suggest the corporate ownership of the Republican party, the spoof T-shirt; but it is also the mass act of defiance of a street party. The key process involves redefining or even eclaiming one’s environment from a perceived corporate beast. Subvertising is sometimes also used by political campaigners in order to slander their opponents or reach the minds of the public to gain support.

Culture jamming is often seen as a form of subvertising. Many culture jams are intended to expose apparently questionable political assumptions behind commercial culture. Common tactics include re-figuring logos, fashion statements, and product images as a means to challenge the idea of “what’s cool” along with assumptions about the personal freedoms of consumption.
Culture jamming sometimes entails transforming mass media to produce ironic or satirical commentary about itself, using the original medium’s communication method. Culture jamming is usually employed in opposition to a perceived appropriation of public space, or as a reaction against social conformity. Prominent examples of culture jamming include the adulteration of billboard advertising by the BLF and Ron English and the street parties and protests organised by Reclaim the Streets. While most culture jamming focuses on subverting or critiquing political or advertising messages, some practitioners focus on a more positive, musically inspired form of jamming that brings together artists, scholars and activists to create new forms of cultural production that transcend rather than merely criticize or negate the status quo.

4 Responses to “VC501 – Disseration Preperation: Culture Jamming”
  1. Ian says:

    Just seen this as looking at critical studies and where some art I have created fits into the wider world. I take packaging and ‘gut it’ leaving creative entrails. Like the whole subvertising wording and thoughts. How did the dissertation go? Where if anywhere are you studying/practicing? etc etc

    • tpduke says:

      Sorry the very late reply (this blog isn’t maintained anymore as I graduated). The dissertation went very well, I ended up with a 1st for it. I was studying at The University of Hull via Doncaster University Centre annex. Do you have a link to your subvertive work?

  2. davidepding says:

    Hello tpduke,

    i am working for the Chair of Marketing at the Technical University of Dresden and i am interested in the pictures of your blog. Would you be so kind and get in touch with me via for further information.

    Thanks in advance and best regards,

    • tpduke says:

      Hello David,

      Sorry for the very late reply – this blog isn’t maintained very often anymore because I graduated. I’ve sent you an email regarding the blog content. I’m not sure if this is of interest to you now because you posted over two years ago.

      All the best, Tyrone.

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