Once upon a time, during a typical shopping Sunday in a typical shopping mall, typical couples and their children roamed the premises like bobble-head dolls. The afternoon glare of the sun mixed in with the drowning fluorescent lights of the hallways created an atmosphere of drowsiness. In all, nothing out of the ordinary should have happened that day. Instead, over seventy bloody and limbless teenage zombies crawled and stumbled into the mall, crying out for shoppers’ brains.
Some shoppers were scared out of their wits and ran, while others, oblivious to the wrath of the living dead, remained lifelessly in their respective stores, searching for that special little something to put on their shelves.
In the end, the zombies were promptly and politely escorted out of the mall by the good natured security people. No one’s arm or brain was eaten and the afternoon continued to beam its boring, hazy glare.
Welcome to culture jamming: the act of awakening the collective social conscience by creating a situation designed to shake the reality of our lives in order for us to have an objective point of view on our cultural and social health. It can be as simple as drawing a black moustache on the face of the Gucci girlâ€™s newest billboard to blocking entire streets with couches and household objects in an act of street reclamation. Usually left-wing in nature and theatrical in spirit, the desired effect is shock and social awakening. In the case of the mall-zombies, the act served as a metaphor to illustrate what shoppers look like on a mundane Sunday afternoon as they hover aimlessly from store to store: the living dead.
The art of questioning goes hand in hand with irony and sarcasm. When Banksy set out last September to replace Paris Hiltonâ€™s new album with his own version (depicting the heiress as a soulless billboard for all things material, complete with ironic quotes), it wasn’t personal. He was satirizing our obsession with all things Paris, from television airwaves to magazine stands and now our radio stations. By giving her adulation while hoping she falls off her pedastal, all we are doing is giving her the upper hand over our cultural lives. Thanks to culture jammers like Banksy, we can objectively look at these situations and ask ourselves if this blonde twenty-something bimbo is worth so much energy.
With the advent of capitalism and urban centralization in the 1920s, every available public space became an ideal place for advertising. Thankfully, the idea of culture jamming also evolved at the same time.
When Magritte painted the now famous quote, “This is not a pipe”, under a large tobacco pipe for “The Treason of Images” canvases, he was awakening a critical sensiblity among those who would view his work, and help them question their evolving surroundings and new social symbols. Picassco, with his 1949 play “Desire Caught by the Tail”, used his characters to illustrate the ravages of war and the whirlwind romance we have developed with postwar society. He was asking us to carefully analyse our surroundings, to see just how out of control we have become as social citizens in a global world.
In a constant fight against globalisation and preconceived notions, culture jammers exist to promulgate the principles of cultural awakening. Through theatrical (and sometimes violent) demonstrations during presidential campaigns or G8 summits, or through simple acts of vandalism on the newest iPod billboards, culture jamming will continue to exist as long as our reality is dictated by a commercial point of view.
To all the sleeping zombies shopping around the world, it’s time to wake up….