Re: [rumori] subvertisting now owned by advertising

Steev Hise (
Thu, 30 Mar 2000 14:41:44 -0800 (PST)

Wed, 29 Mar 2000 found Mr. Saturnine writing:

>I think we call this the point at which "capitalism has reached a stage of
>self-parody, unblushingly celebrating a house of cards as its highest

yes, good memory. that was matt roth of the Baffler.

>or whatever the quote on Detritus was... just start worrying when they get
>hardcore about co-opting the culture jammers- you know when it's time to
>emigrate to another planet when you see a GAP ad that uses a photo from a
>Marianis Islands sweatshop with the caption "Everybody In Chains."

I think this leads to an important observation I'd like to make about
"culture jamming", or about any cultural activity - if it's being done for
its own sake then it is indeed ripe fruit for the plucking by the Culture
Trust. If you're just culture jamming just to be jamming, your work
indeed will probably be coopted. But if you're doing something with a
clear point, it's a lot harder for it to be hijacked.

I don't think the example about the GAP is very likely to happen. The
reason i think so is because advertising "creatives" coopt FORM rather
than CONTENT, genres not messages. As long as what you do is firmly
anchored to something in reality (like 1st world companies using 3rd world
slave labor), some cause, some clear message, it's not going to be that
attractive to advertising types. However as soon as something becomes
mythic, and ambigously symbolic, then the signifier can be snipped away
from the signified (or part of the signified) and used for other things.

Take for example, William S. Burroughs. He started out a gay junkie
novelist who wrote very dangerous things about control and power. A
pervert, a "degrader of society". Gradually his work came to have a more
ambigous connotation, until eventually, to many, he was just about "cool"
and "breaking rules". Except for the few people who really read his
books, he had become a hazy symbol of rebelliousness. It was at that
point that Nike's ad agency knew it was okay to use him.

But a photo of a sweatshop is pretty unambiguous (what semioticians call
an iconic signifier). It's possible that the meaning of a photo of a
sweatshop and the meaning of the word "chains" might get so divorced from
it's original denotation that they would be reused by clothing
manufacturers, but i don't think that will be very soon. ( They might get
used to sell other things sooner. Like ergonomic office furniture,
maybe?) But maybe I'm being too optimistic...


Steev Hise, Head Chump
"Nineteenth-century capitalism exhausted the life of millions of
workers; twentieth century capitalism can well end by destroying
the mind of civilized man."
                -Norman Mailer

Rumori, the Discussion List
to unsubscribe, send mail to
with "unsubscribe rumori" in the message body.
Rumori list archives & other information are at

Home | Detrivores | Rhizome | Archive | Projects | Contact | Help | Text Index

[an error occurred while processing this directive] N© Sharerights extended to all.