the politics and practice of culture jamming
jesse hirsh <email@example.com>
Thu, 20 Jan 2000 00:16:11 -0500 (EST)
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<preface: i found this while searching on the web in preparation for a
workshop i'm going to be running for firstname.lastname@example.org in february. i wrote
it for the Varsity at UofToronto in 1997. obviously my perspective has
changed a lot since then, yet a good part of this poem is still relevant>
Web posted on November 11, 1997
The Politics and Practice of Culture Jamming
By Jesse Hirsh
welcome to the revolution. that's right, for a limited time only, you too can fill the ranks of
the radical and revolutionary. no experience necessary, all you have to do is exert your
democratic rights, which in our current regime happens to be illegal.
we live in a state of media monopoly, where the ability to express and distribute opinion or
perspective is deterred if not eliminated for the large majority of the population. the
internet does not exist. it is a distraction from the real phenomena of corporate media
concentration and the manufacturing of reality. our ability to express ourselves as individuals
within an egalitarian environment has been subverted by the Orwellian group-think employed and
enforced by the high priests in the corporate cabal. arguably we now live in an interdependent
world best described as a global village, where the rulers of the village more and more
resemble a distant, all-knowing, all-seeing, big brother.
we need to examine the right to communicate, and the communication of our rights. almost 50
years ago, the universal declaration of human rights stated in article 19: "Everyone has the
right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions
without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media
regardless of frontiers."
the land and airwaves used for communication are inherently a public resource. we should not
only have democratic control, but universal access to the means of communication and
production. we need to reclaim and defend public space in the face of massive privatization and
culture jamming is about exerting your democratic and human rights by reclaiming the airwaves,
taking back the ability to communicate with other people. culture jamming is a tactical and
strategic approach to progressive change. it is about the synthesis of culture and politics,
the combination of love and rage. it represents a new environmentalism, a new holism, that
incorporates our immediate realities and environments into the struggle for equality, social
justice, and democracy.
many people (especially the mainstream media) view culture jamming as a politicized form of
vandalism where people spray paint or mark up advertisements. however culture jamming is much
more broad than what it is represented as. in fact culture jamming may just be the oldest form
of resistance known to human civilization.
so where does this understanding of culture jamming come from? the origin of the mainstream
definition of culture jamming comes to us courtesy of adbusters magazine. last march i was in
vancouver and visited the media foundation, the group that publishes adbusters magazine. the
first thing that kalle lasn, the publisher and founder of adbusters, asked me before i began an
interview with him, was whether or not i was 'left wing' since he 'hated the left wing'.
adbusters is a magazine that promotes 'consumer awareness' but does not examine the political
economic structure of the state and its forms of oppression and domination. it is perhaps
because of this lack of analysis that the mainstream media not only credits adbusters with the
concept of culture jamming, but also uses their narrow definition, based on the interests of
the advertising industry and the beneficiaries.
but anyone who says culture jamming is a recent form of protest should look at the yippies in
the sixties, and the beatniks in the fifties to see that culture jamming has been around for a
so what is culture jamming? well let's go way back, and use a metaphor found in Hinduism to
describe the functions of culture jamming: creating, preserving, and destroying. like a musical
jam, creation is improvisation, the synthesis of ourselves and our environment. culture jamming
is also the preservation of sweet things: such as stories, experiences, memories, ideas, and
tasty berries. culture jamming however is also destruction, throwing a monkey wrench into the
machine to enable further creation and preservation. all three aspects are incorporated
together as radical democratic deconstruction.
it was with this mysticism that the media collective came into existence. perhaps the most
misunderstood and misperceived organization in the city, the media collective is anything from
a rumour to the subject of everyone's frustrations and insecurities. it's much more a meme than
a real thing, a nameless shapeless universal organization that encourages you to carry a marker
in one pocket, a piece of chalk in another, and the right to communicate in your everyday
the media collective is culture jamming. the media collective is a bag of tricks. the media
collective does not exist. it is an extrapolation of the real phenomena of popular revolution
and the subsequent liberation of reality. It is a demonstration of our ability to express
ourselves as individuals within an egalitarian democratic society.
as soon as you figure out what the media collective is, it changes. it's an ongoing subversion,
a perpetual dissent. it promotes tolerance and diversity, community and action. it is a
holistic forum providing a political, economic, and social sphere for human and democratic
with all that said, the media collective is rife with racism, sexism, ageism, and every other
form of oppression created and perpetuated by the state. as long as the media collective exists
in a capitalist society, it inevitably internalizes the state mechanisms of oppression and
so the media collective is a counter-environment, a forum by which people can organize against
oppression. it destabilizes the mechanisms of the state, allowing people to share their
stories, experiences, ideas, and analysis. the media collective is a conduit of energy and
the media collective is a process of immediatism. in many respects it operates primarily in
popular and invisible theatre. this form of direct action encourages you to be involved in your
community and local environment. pioneered by augosto boal in brazil as part of the theatre of
the oppressed, invisible theatre is about acting out roles and situations without anyone else
realizing that you're playing. often this is spontaneous, but situations and contexts can be
used to emphasize or communicate certain things. largely its a process of building solidarity
and trust with the people you work with, while at the same time opening your group up to new
people and new environments. examples include throwing a party in a subway during morning rush
hour, drawing political chalk art at bay and king, vandalizing advertisements, upstaging
conferences put on by the world bank, spin doctoring, infiltrating and making media, culture
jamming is the movement for free expression.
after all, if you can't dance in the revolution, why bother? this time there really isn't a
vanguard, and the kronstadt soldiers will not be shot. we need to be able to laugh and relax if
we're going to escape the last death throes of the state.
didn't you hear? they've declared information war against everybody. yep, that's right, the
digital economy is really the perpetual war economy. Like genesis the great flood is on, only
we're the ones being flooded, or rather bombarded by information, seeking our conversion to the
holy faith of consumerism, otherwise known as virtual reality.
and of course in declaring war the state has identified its enemies and scapegoats: hackers,
phreakers, and anarchists, all of whom are presumed terrorists.
the media collective itself is a peace movement. i and i are a bunch of reality hackers and
merry pranksters who adapt to environments as a way of reclaiming and repossessing them. i and
i encourage you to take up space with your fellow peoples, employing a measure of respect,
acting with the empathy of equality, and the patience for everyone to have an opportunity to
speak and express themselves.
when you regain the confidence to pick up your head and raise your eyes, you will be met by a
billion smiles of friendship and solidarity. yes, we really are the many rallying against the
few. the people in the village really have the power. let's all stand up to big brother and
say we don't want his state anymore. we're here to declare autonomy.
a message from the internet list
the internet you say?
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