21 February 2010

Culture Jamming: Activist Art in the Public Sphere

Billboard Liberation Front
Culture Jam the Documentary
The Billboard Liberation Front is a group of "culture jammers" devoted to "improving" billboards by changing key words to radically alter the message, often to an anti-corporate message. They published an instructional pamphlet titled "The Art & Science of Billboard Improvement." The idea of "Billboard Improvement" is also covered in Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook
The BLF came out of an event of San Francisco's Suicide Club. After the death of its founder Gary Warne, the remaining members of the group formed the San Francisco Cacophony Society, which went on to spawn a variety of culture jamming events (e.g. the BLF) and other groups (Burning Man, SantaCon, etc.).


The BLO (the Barbie Liberation Organization)
BLO vid1
BLO vid2
The Barbie Liberation Organization or BLO, sponsored by RTMARK, are a group of artists and activists involved in Culture Jamming. They gained notoriety in 1993 by switching the voice boxes on talking G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls. They performed “surgery” on 300 dolls and then returned them to the shelves of stores, an action they refer to as “shopgiving.” This resulted in girls opening their new Teen Talk Barbie to hear it say phrases such as “vengeance is mine” and boys hearing their G.I. Joe say “the beach is the place for summer.”
The BLO was originally conceived in an effort to question and ultimately change the gender stereotypes American culture is known for after Mattell released a speaking Barbie that said “math class is tough and Lets go shopping!.” IBy 1993, criticism for Barbie as a negative gender stereotype for women was commonplace both in academia and popular culture. This may have been partially responsible for the generally positive response of the public to the project, the criticism they were making was familiar and not a controversial point to make during the 90s. Although their criticism was not new, the creative form of hacking used by the BLO was noteworthy.
Although most sources suggest around 300 toys were hacked, other reports up to 3000 across the country and in other countries like Canada, France and England. Others assert that only 12 toys were actually switched and the rest was cleverly arranged media hype by Vamos and his associates. This slant renders the project less about cultural stereotypes and more a critique of the nature of the television and media culture of the 90’s as well as opening a door for other media interventions in the coming years.


The Yes Men
Dow Chemicals
Fake N.Y. Times 1 Million copies distributed
The Yes Men

The Yes Men
Are a group of culture jamming activists who practice what they call "identity correction" by pretending to be powerful people and spokespersons for prominent organizations. From their offices in Milwaukee, they create and maintain fake websites similar to ones they want to spoof, and then they accept invitations received on their websites to appear at conferences, symposia, and TV shows. They express the idea that corporations and governmental organizations often act in dehumanizing ways toward the public. Elaborate props are sometimes part of the ruse, as shown in their 2003 DVD release The Yes Men.
Their method is often satire: posing as corporate or government spokespeople, they often make shocking comments which they contend are an honest rendering of the organization's ideology which is usually hidden by spin, or extrapolate what they feel is the organization's ideology in a 'reductio ad absurdum' to come out with outrageous conclusions, such as that it should be possible to sell your vote or that the poor should eat recycled human waste. On most occasions no shock or anger is registered in the response to their prank, with no one realizing they are imposters. Sometimes, the Yes Men's phony spokesperson makes announcements that represent dream scenarios for the anti-globalization movement or opponents of corporate crime. The result is false news reports of the demise of the World Trade Organisation, or Dow Chemical paying compensation to the victims of the Bhopal disaster, which the Yes Men intend to provide publicity for problems concerning these organisations.
The Yes Men have posed as spokespeople for the WTO, McDonalds, Dow Chemical, and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The two leading members of The Yes Men are known by a number of aliases, most recently, and in film, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. Their real names are Jacque Servin and Igor Vamos, respectively. Servin is an author of experimental fiction, and was known for being the man who inserted images of men kissing in the computer game SimCopter. Vamos is an associate professor of media arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York. They are assisted by numerous people across the globe.


Improv Everywhere

Subway ride naked
We love lunch
Frozen Grand Central Station
Grocery Store Musical
Invisible Dogs
Improv Everywhere (often IE) is a comedic performance art group based in New York City, formed in 2001 by Charlie Todd. Its slogan is "We Cause Scenes."
The group carries out pranks, which they call "missions" in public places. The stated goal of these missions is to cause scenes of "chaos and joy." Some of the group's missions use hundreds of performers and are similar to flash mobs, while other missions utilize only a handful of performers. Improv Everywhere has stated that they do not identify their work with the term flash mob, in part because their site was created two years prior to the flash mob trend.

While long-time members of Improv Everywhere often participate in missions, many are open to the public. IE has organized and carried out over 85 missions, from synchronized swimming in a park fountain to repeating a five-minute sequence of events in a Starbucks coffee shop over and over again for an hour to flooding a Best Buy store with members dressed exactly like the staff. All the missions share a certain modus operandi: Members ("agents") play their roles entirely straight, not breaking character or betraying that they are acting. IE claims the missions are benevolent, aiming to give the observers a laugh and an experience.


Guerrilla Girls 1985
GG Met Museum Posters
GG Broadband
GG on Tour at Penn State
Guerrilla Girls

Andy Kaufman 1949-1984
Foreign Man
Letterman Incident
Tony Clifton Man on the Moon
Great Gatsby
" I am not a comic, I have never told a joke....The comedian's promise is that he will go out there and make you laugh with him....My only promise is that I will try to entertain you as best I can. I can manipulate people's reactions. There are different kinds of laughter. Gut laughter is where you don't have a choice, you've got to laugh. Gut laughter doesn't come from the intellect. And it's much harder for me to evoke now, because I'm known. They say, 'Oh wow, Andy Kaufman, he's a really funny guy.' But I'm not trying to be funny. I just want to play with their heads."

Negativland 1970's
Christianity is Stupid
The Letter U and the Numeral 2
Audio/Video Mash-up

Billionaires for Bush 1999
Rabble Rousing
Short Doc
Billionaires for Coal

See also

Sacha Baron Cohen
Ali G/Borat/Bruno
Stephen Colbert
"If our Founding Fathers wanted us to care about the rest of the world, they wouldn't have declared their independence from it"
"We are fascists as much as Hitler was a painter"

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