Saturday, November 15, 2008

Culture Jamming

At first glance, it looks kinda like those iPod ads. Everything from the individual posing in silhouette to the signature lowercase “i” to the white rope/iPod headphones to the statistic at the bottom disguised rather than information about the iPod’s capacity. All trademarks of Apple’s ads and yet, the message we get from it leaves a somewhat deeper impression than finding out we’ll be able to store a bajllion and a half more songs on a device no thicker than my nail. (Last time I checked there still wasn’t a cure for cancer...but seriously, I digress...)

When looking for the perfect definition of “culture jamming”, I found that Adbusters Magazine call their website “Adbuster Culturejammers Headquarters”. So it must have something to do with questioning authority and relaying a message. Ian Reilly defined culture jamming as “Taking an ad and subverting the meaning” and “radically changing the intended message”. [1] In this case, the mind behind the culture jam took an iconic ad to us (the iPod ads), took all its distinctive features and manipulated it to present a message that not only presents us with the facts (“10,000 Iraqis killed. 773 US soldiers dead”), but in such a way that makes the stat memorable for the consumer but also allows us to react this way next time we see an actual iPod ad.

As Scott McCloud wrote, “Comics can be maddeningly vague about what it shows us. By showing little or nothing of a given scene, and offering only clues to the reader, the artist can trigger any number of images in the reader’s imagination.” [2]. In other words, rather than filling up an entire frame with numbers and statistics and detailed images of the happenings and effects of the Iraq War, this artist chose to take the vagueness of the original iPod ads and simply replace each element of Apple advertising with a subtle allusion to the cause at hand – Anti War sentiments, particularly Anti US. The resulting culture jam is subtly clever, enough so to even bring out a chuckle, but also leaves the intended message deeply rooted in the audiences mind.

It can be argued that such a culture jam trivializes or demeans the Iraq War. A serious topic indeed, with 10,000 Iraqis killed. 773 US soldiers dead”, the decision to juxtapose this message with something as trivial as an ad for iPods could be seen as a slap in the face. However, I think the contrast of the (arguably, I suppose) trivial way with which the US media treats the Iraq war with the unbelievably elevated way they report on and emphasis every new release of every new iPod is an additional culture jam on its own. Consider the way news anchors report, some 6 or so years into the war, on any new attacks on either side versus how they report on Steve Jobs giving a lavish press conference on the new iPod model. And as Postman wrote, how can we even take the 45-second stories telling 150 Iraqis died when a US plane raided a school seriously when they’re only mentioned between weather and sports, followed by a 30-60 second ad for, what else, the new iPod. [3]

In the image-absorbing, fast-paced age we live in, no one has time to read a 300 page manifesto on why the Iraq war is wrong and misrepresented in the media. Rather than having to mull through that, however, I simply glanced at a clever pictoral image and with my background knowledge of pop culture and advertising, was able to make all necessary connections and understand the intended message in an instant. I think it’s safe to say the manifesto is dead, it's all about culture jamming. Someone call Karl Marx and pass it on.

[1] Reilly, Ian. Lecture. Mass Communication. The University of Guelph-Humber, Toronto, Canada. 5 Nov 2008

[2] McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. 1st. New York, USA: HarperPerennial, 1994

[3] Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business . 1st. Penguin, 2005.

1 comment:

I. Reilly said...

excellent post, isabel!
this is your most sophisticated entry to date. you're not only clever here, but you've done well to explain why culture jamming serves an important function in contemporary culture. more than this, you've also responded to critiques of culture jamming as a way of further emphasizing your position. your final thoughts on the mainfesto v. the printed image are very insightful.