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Culture Jamming: An Introduction

The Good Guide to Culture Jamming Introduction.


Jagannath ("master of the world" in Sanskrit) is an odd but kind little god from the Hindu tradition. Once a year, statues of him and his two siblings are mounted on 18-wheeled contraptions nearly five stories high. Row upon row of devotees perch on the different levels of these mobile thrones as they lurch through the streets of Puri, India, the ceremonial home of Jagannath. The dangerous devices have been known to cause accidental fatalities as they roll through the crowded streets, but a 14th-century European priest who witnessed the ceremony erroneously told of the devout flinging themselves in the chariot's path; that's the story that stuck.Today, we have our own odder and much less kind Jagannath-"Juggernaut," as the priest wrote it-and its fatalities don't often hew to the priest's early version; those it crushes aren't normally devotees. The 20,000 victims of Bhopal, the estimated 650,000 victims of the Iraq War (according to one study), or the unknown toll at the hands of impending climate calamity all just happen to be in the path of pan-national greed (or the global free market, as we hear it called), sometimes accidentally fulfilling its dictates, but never with any special enthusiasm.A number of decent people defend our modern juggernaut, noting that it has produced some wondrous things. Sure, they say, India's transformations in the global free market have produced millions of unemployed farmers, but it's also producing a flourishing middle class, thanks to the Bangalore phone banks and tech joints. And, though it's now bringing on the death of the planet, the free market has also brought unprecedented luxury and mobility. Even Nero couldn't eat kumquats in December!Yes, these folks say, this thing we call "the free market" may well be a hurtling, death-dealing entity, but it really doesn't mean you ill-you just have to get to know it, like a big clumsy pet, and it will respond with love instead of death. Buy a Prius. Invest ethically. Show Coke how to live.The problem is that our juggernaut is a force against which a few concerned citizens becoming vegetarians, planting trees in the Amazon, or riding bicycles are no match at all. And despite the almost psychotically sunny predictions of corporate seers like Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly, the global free market doesn't want much besides profits and growth-its own survival comes in a very distant third.That's why we think this culture of death needs to be jammed. The way to jam it is by taking action like withdrawing corporate charters after their very first mass murder (no second chances!) or imposing a 1,000 percent tax increase on gas to make its price reflect its true cost to the world. Maybe then we'll have a hope of stopping the juggernaut from crushing us all.The trouble is, these actions require a government to enact them, and here in the U.S. we have somehow elected a government that, like the free market, is disinterested in our survival. Until this changes, our options are limited. We can throw hundreds of dollar bills onto the New York Stock Exchange floor, revealing the "profit motive" for the rooting of pigs that it is (Abbie Hoffman). We can make billboards that tell the true story about corporate caring (Billboard Liberation Front). We can simulate billionaires (Billionaires forBush) or fake our way onto television in a pantomime of what's wrong (that one was us). We can even demonstrate that we already have the technology we need to solve it all, as do the people behind WorldChanging, though they don't ever mention that what's essential and missing is a government that's up to the task.These are small, desperate measures, no better than saying "ride a bike." But there is hope. Unlike Jagannath, our own lumbering monster is not a god, but a flimsy and absurd little notion, summed up in one short phrase: Let the rich do what they want, and things will work out wonderfully for everyone. It isn't very hard to help others see this as the nonsense that it is, which is one reason that the outraged will soon be numerous enough to bring the chariot to a halt, just as they did with segregation, the Vietnam War, and other stupid, suicidal constructs that were once thought inevitable.Culture jamming is an attack on the authority of the dominant culture. Some culture jammers trick the mass media into passing subversive messages. Others construct new canvases to broadcast their ideas outside of the old structure.Culture jamming is not undertaken to promote a brand or any other commercial interest. There's another term for that: advertising.
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Julian Meehan

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