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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."


Thursday, December 21, 2006

NPH likes Adbusters. A lot. The militant counterculture rag never fails to provoke thought and self-examination. It's artwork, as much as its literary content, is striking and powerful.

Yet as we thumbed through the latest issue at the local megachain bookstore this afternoon (insert "irony" or "hypocricy" line here), we realized for the first time what it is that adbusters is all about. And, while we like it, we also don't feel like we ought to be a part of it. Let us explain:

NPH's love of Adbusters started years ago when the slick magazine's startling photo art lifted the veil from our eyes to reveal just how saturated our culture is with corporate marketing messages. Subsequent interest in the Douglas Rushkoff's and Neil Postman's of the world all stemmed from early encounters with Adbusters. Heretofore, the publication has existed in our mind as a strong voice of commentary, albeit a far left and radical one. The main form of that commentary is expressed as "culture jamming," that is, using the implements of mass media against itself in order to turn a consumer message into a negative critique of the product or the the compay selling it. It's truly delightful stuff to watch, and it has produced some of the most effective initiatives to counter the mad push towards consumption that is our culture (see Buy Nothing Day).

But NPH is realizing the obvious, if not intentional, tension inherent in Adbusters and culture jamming, which is this: in order for it to be effective, it has to be increasingly covert and militant, even violent. For example, the current issue of Adusters contains a sort-of advice/criticism piece for culture jammers, lifting up the need to not allow corporations and advertisers to turn culture jamming against the culture jammers and use it for the company's own benefit. It seems some companies like Coke and Apple, having had their billboards defaced, have directed their consumers' attention to the act, thereby deepening loyalty and making the brand into a victim and a legend. So, the writer insists, culture jammers need to step things up a notch, even get back to basics (nothing works as well as a bucket of paint to jam a corporate culture message) to make sure that their culture jamming enterprise is not jammed itself. The piece counsels with the authority of a sensei, "Do whatever it takes."

Here is where we have a problem. Culture jammers are fighting a sort-of guerilla war against the machinations of corporate culture. But what, precisely, are they fighting for? Local business? The environment? Socialism? It's impossible to tell. The entire enterprise is directed against a multi-headed hydra that can now not only deflect the arrows hurled at it by determined culture warriors but also use those arrows to advance its work of devouring the cultural landscape.

NPH hopes that his squeamishness will not be taken for a dutiful deference to the rights of private property; we think that to be a perpetual thorn in the proverbial side of western culture. However, given the model we tend to try to follow in life, militivism is a misleading path, frustrated at best and idolatrous at worst. NPH just can't get wholly behind efforts to deface property, for the simple reason that as a serious vocation it lacks purpose and leads nowhere.

However, neither will NPH ever have any sympathy for a corporate entity that finds itself jammed by the likes of those who fill the pages of Adbusters. In fact, we will continue to get warm fuzzy feelings when advertisements get defaced and marketing slogans get subverted. We may even stand to applaud.

And, of course, we will continue to read Adbusters, feeling slightly guilty for not doing more than reading.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:13 PM


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