Culture jamming refers to a tactical effort by a consumer activist or activists to counter or subvert pro-consumption messages delivered through mass media or other cultural institutions. Culture jammers use tactics such as creating anti-advertising promotions, graffiti and underground street art, billboard defacing and alteration, holding events such as spontaneous street parties or flash mobs as well as social parody and satire to attempt to raise consciousness and criticism about important social issues surrounding consumption.
The term was coined by Negativland, a band in 1984 relating these activities to the disruptive subverse jamming of pirated radio frequencies. American cultural critic Mark Dery (1990) influentially developed the term to refer to artists, musicians and other social critics who sought to challenge the economy of consumption images. The critical Canadian magazine Adbusters began developing the idea and practice in the early 1990s.
Culture jamming is not a coherent movement but more a series of common practices and overlapping anti-corporate activist stances. These practices are intellectually rooted in much earlier writing and works such as critical theory, situationism and surrealism. Many of the consumer activists emerged in culture jamming are motivated to action by a common view that contemporary public space and discourse is distorted. Culture jammers view the media and corporate advertising as ideological propaganda that argues for the logic of increasing consumption and what they do as an activist attempt to break through this wall of corporate controlled ideology.
The logic underlaying culture jamming is grounded in the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. Culture jammers resist the corporate engineering of culture by marketers who define behaviors and identities inherently limiting human potential. Culture jamming seeks to break through the oppressive ideology. Culture jammers try to identify the contradictions beneath advertising and consumerist messages thus undermining the way advertising naturalizes and utopianizes consumption. Culture jamming opens consumption’s economic, social and environmental dark side. It seeks reflexive resistance in the mind of the average consumer. This awareness leads to emancipation from the trance of consumer culture. Once emancipated consumers can envision and adopt alternatives to contemporary consumer culture.
Dery,M .( 1990) The merry pranksters and the art of the hoax.New York Times,December 23.