'Busting' the Big Brands : Protesters Commandeer Famous Brand Names and Turn Them on the Corporate World
Klein, Naomi, Newsweek International
Police dressed in riot gear protecting a Starbucks outlet. French farmers handing out contraband cheese in front of McDonald's. A topless protester with BETTER NAKED THAN NIKE scrawled on her back. Sure, the Battle in Seattle was a protest against the World Trade Organization, but it was also a giant "culture jam" targeting some of our most carefully tended logos.
The idea of culture jamming, as old as activism itself, has been gaining momentum for a decade, and is now the favorite tactic of anti-corporate campaigners around the world. Its most common form is "ad busting," the practice of parodying advertisements and hijacking billboards. In one well-known bust, New York artist Ron English skewers Joe Camel's appeal to children. He paints the camel as a younger, cuddly "Cancer Kid," playing with building blocks instead of sports cars and pool cues.
Ad busters argue that there's nothing wrong with writing over a billboard they never asked to see and can't afford to answer with an ad of their own. They're bolstered in this conviction by the mounting aggressiveness of ads in the public domain--on sidewalks, covering buildings, in schools--and by the proliferation of public spaces like malls and superstores where commercial messages are the only ones permitted. Rage Against the Machine recently jammed the Gap in a video takeoff on the chain's famous "everybody in vests" campaign. The video begins with figures hunched over sewing machines under the slogan "everybody in denial"--a reference to allegations that some of the Gap's contractors use sweatshop labor.
The idea of the culture jam is to turn the corporation's own message against it. Kalle Lasn, editor of Vancouver-based Adbusters magazine, uses the martial art of jujitsu as a pet metaphor to explain the mechanics of the jam. …