Why adbusting is more important than ever

Culture Jam

Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge -- and Why We Must, 247 pp, $13.95.

Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge and Why We Must is not a new book — it first came out in 1999.

But given how important it will be to the world’s climate and energy future to dislodge Big Oil, Big Coal and other polluting corporations from control of government — and given how hard this will be to do — the guerrilla approach of culture jamming seems like just the slingshot that anti-corporate Davids may need to slay the plutocratic Goliath.

Like Mad Magazine, if you’re mad at corporations

I’ve long been familiar with Adbusters and its founder Kalle Lasn from their annual Buy Nothing Day held every year the day after Thanksgiving. But I’d always thought that doing parody Calvin Klein or Camel cigarette ads was cute but frivolous. By 2011, these fake ads seemed like fighting a war that had already been won, at least in North America.

After all, isn’t Joe Camel off the air? Hasn’t smoking become completely declassé? In my state, funds from a legal settlement with tobacco companies sometime in the distant past are now being used to pay for solar panels. Time to move on, right?

But the book shows that adbusting and culture jamming are about more than un-cooling cigarettes and fashion. They’re really about freeing our minds from the power of big corporations. That power goes beyond making someone feel bad about his body image or her 2003 Honda Civic. When corporations get into our heads, we’re more likely to give them a free ride to manage the world’s economy, energy and environment the way they see fit.

And that’s not turned out so well.

From the Wall Street collapse of 2008 that started a Great Recession that may never end in our lifetimes; to the failure of the world’s nations, led by the US, to agree on a plan to slow climate change; to energy disasters from the Deepwater Horizon to Fukushima, it’s clear that leaving corporations in charge is a suicidal path for humankind.

Saving the world from America(TM)

Many people who care about climate and energy, particularly in the peak oil movement, have given up fighting corporate control of our governments, saying that the cancer of plutocracy is too far advanced and that nothing can save the patient, industrial capitalism, from certain death. It’s only a matter of unplugging the life supports. Meantime, people who are peak-aware can focus on preparing their own families and communities.

Kalle Lasn, a reformed ad man who has come to see consumer marketing as brainwashing for a global economy that has become a “doomsday machine,” has plenty of reason to be cynical. Yet, he hasn’t given up on activism and he hasn’t given up on America.

“In 1945, America was one of history’s great liberators. I was a kid in Lübeck, Germany, when the GIs marched in,” he writes.

My father hailed them as saviors of the world. Now, fifty years later, America, the great liberator, is in desperate need of being liberated from itself — from its own excesses and arrogance. And the world needs to be liberated from American values and culture, spreading across the planet as if by divine providence.

If it’s consumerism spread by Madison Avenue and Hollywood around the world that is pushing the Chinese to open a new coal plant each week or the Indians to sell a $3,000 car, then that shallow kind of American dream needs to be stopped.

Lasn thinks that America(TM), more of a brand than a country, a lifestyle that equates big brands like Nike and Apple with cool and then in turn with the good life, is the problem. An optimist, Lasn thinks that it would take only a few hundred culture-jamming activists to take America back from America(TM).

If the protests in Wisconsin can snowball into a real movement for the middle class to topple plutocracy, then Lasn’s solution, culture jamming to strip corporations of their cachet, should find fertile ground in American soil today.

— Erik Curren

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