Culture Jamming and Society

Culture Jamming and Society

Culture jamming has been around for eighty years. It is defined as, “the act of transforming existing mass media to produce negative commentary about itself.”[i] “Culture jamming is based on the idea that advertising is little more than propaganda for established interests and that there is little escape from this propaganda in industrialized nations.[ii] This idea of not being able to escape from propaganda holds particularly true in the United States, where consumers are exposed to thousands of advertisements daily. Culture jamm-ers utilize different approaches for message distribution and don’t seem to be relenting anytime soon.


“Culture jamming is a form of public activism[iii].” Its purpose is to create a contrast between what corporations want consumers to believe and how major corporations (and their products) really are. “This is done symbolically, with the detournement of pop iconography[iv].” An example of pop iconography detournement, using  a Converse All-star sneaker, can be viewed in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1: Pop Iconography Detournement [v]

Detournement occurs when an artist uses, “elements of well known advertisements and media to create a new work with a different message[vi].” Parodies and satirical advertisements are similar to detournement. There is one major difference between them though. People who practice detournement reuse and mimic the original works, “rather than constructing a new work which merely alludes strongly to the original[vii].” An example of this can be seen, below, in Figure 1.2. [viii]

Figure 1.2: Detournement



Marketing and Promotion

“Culture Jamming is the viral introduction of radical ideas.” Culture jamm-ers use well known corporate logos, marketing psychology, clean typography and ‘adspeak’ to project their messages against society. Culture jamming has been displayed though the use of, “fake ads, fake newspaper articles, parodies, and pastiche.” [ix] The best use shock appeals by having “unexpected and surprising implications.” [x] An example of this follows, in Figure 1.3.

Figure 1.3: Shock Appeal [xi]

Mission and Beliefs of Culture Jamm-ers

Culture jamm-ers have a mission and believe in the messages they promote.  The mission of culture jamm-ers is to, “artfully reclaim our mental environment and cause a bit of brand damage to corporate mindshare. Ultimately, culture jamm-ers wage a war of ‘meaning’[xii].” They use the tools of mainstream media to re-wire socio-political messages. The following quote about the beliefs of culture jamm-ers was excerpted from an article published by Varsity Publications, of the University of Toronto.

“Culture jamming is about exerting your democratic and human rights by reclaiming the airwaves, taking back the ability to communicate with other people. culture jamming is a tactical and strategic approach to progressive change. it is about the synthesis of culture and politics, the combination of love and rage. it represents a new environmentalism, a new holism, that incorporates our immediate realities and environments into the struggle for equality, social justice, and democracy.”[xiii]

Culture Jamm-ers—Who are they?

There are many different culture jamm-ers, located in industrialized nations throughout the world. Culture jamming organizations are abundant and widespread. Some specific organizations follow: Abrupt: Apocalyptic Optimism for the End of History, BADvertising Institute, LiP Magazine, The Metaphor Project, San Francisco Cacophony Society, and Whirl- Mart Ritual Resistance. More specifically, Adbusters, is the largest culture jamming organization, having approximately 90,000 members. These organizations are comprised is of, “artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.”[xiv]

Culture jamm-ers attempt to show how promotion and advertising are no longer just informing people about the product. “Now their task is to weave stories, sing songs, and portray, not the product, but the people who use the product[xv].” With culture jamming organizations being prevalent in industrialized nations and having clear missions and messages, culture jamm-ers don’t seem like they will disappear anytime soon.



















  1. Abrupt Organization. (n.d.) Culture Jamming. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from,,
  2. Adbusters. (n.d.) Blackspot Shoes. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from
  3. Adbusters. (n.d.) About Us. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from
  4. Cinema Politica. (Jan. 23, 2006) Culture Jam: Hijacking Commercial Culture. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from
  5. Hirsh, Jesse. (1997, November 11).Culture Jamming. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from
  6. Urban Dictionary. (n.d.) Culture Jamming. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from
  7. Wikipedia Encyclopedia. (n.d.) Culture Jamming. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from
  8. Wikipedia Encyclopedia. (n.d.) Detournement. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from