culture de-jamming

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11 Responses

  1. enteringthewhirlpool says:

    “Can capitalism really co-opt the very logic of resistance, or will resistance just take on new forms moving forward?”

    No, because capitalism isn’t a thinking entity and can’t do anything.

    I suspect you overvalue the “logic of resistance”. Most culture jamming is just people having fun and poking fun like they always have done, the difference being that they have access to new media and better design tools.

    The Mickey Mouse ears meme has been popularized amongst a lot of people by a chap called the Dissident Frogman ( I think he was the first to really get this meme started but in any case he has been a major cause of its propagation.

    Now, you’ll note that what he did was a prime example of what you’d refer to as culture jamming: he takes a well known image and alters it cleverly to make a political statement. The difference of course is that he is making a pro-capitalist statement, ridiculing the left and one of their cultural icons.

    People innovate and create new marketing techniques, then others copy them. No use complaining when this happens (unless you want patents on marketing schemes?) People have different ideas and goals and try to sell them. Nothing to do with ‘resistance’ against ‘capitalism’, just an all out scramble of ideas against ideas.

  2. nickiewild says:

    I would have to disagree with enteringthewhirlpool’s comments above:
    “Nothing to do with ‘resistance’ against ‘capitalism’, just an all out scramble of ideas against ideas.” Many who regard themselves as culture jammers take the activities they do very seriously, and would disagree strongly that they are just “poking fun.” For many of them, it is ideological warfare using satire and invective as weapons.

    I think nathan jurgenson’s post here is especially timely, considering the rise of “astroturfing” in the U.S.: corportate-sponsored PACs and companies themselves organizing people into “protesting” health care reform at town hall meetings! It is rumored that the same thing may happen when the focus turns to energy policy.

  3. nathanjurgenson says:

    thanks for the awesome comments, enteringthewhirlpool and nickiewild!

    i DO think capitalism “thinks” and “does things”, if not literally the same as an organism does.

    agreeing with nickiewild, i also think enteringthewhirlpool’s description of memes as “an all out scramble of ideas against ideas” gives the impression of a flattened marketplace of ideas when, in reality, there are complex power dynamics, structures, barriers and, importantly here, the “logic” (or discursive formation) of “capital”. it is not just ideas against ideas, but ideas existing with the logic of capitalism, causing certain ideas to succeed and others to fail.

  4. enteringthewhirlpool says:

    Sorry for not getting back sooner. I started reading “Shogun” by James Clavell and have thus been temporarily transported to the sixteenth century.

    nickiewild, you are of course correct that many who regard themselves as culture jammers do indeed take their activities seriously. What I meant to say was that there are plenty of people who use similar techniques to these people, but who have no ideological agenda.

    I’m following the U.S. healthcare debate with interest, likewise the strategies employed by the participants. That’s not really for this thread….. though whilst on the subject of satire this guide to distinguishing genuine healthcare protestors from astroturf is about as funny as they come.

  5. enteringthewhirlpool says:


    I agree that the marketplace of ideas is not flat, nor could it ever be, and context does lead some ideas to succeed and some to fail. In particular, I imagine that human inclinations to imitate might lead to inertia (large changes in people’s ideas will not happen so often).

    I still don’t quite understand what the logic of capital or the logic of capitalism refers to. I assume you mean the systemic bias against some ideas that comes from living in a (sort of) capitalist society?

  6. nathanjurgenson says:

    enteringthewhirlpool, briefly, the “logic” of capitalism in the way i’m using it above is simply the system by which capitalism operates. this creates structures, practices, tendencies, discourses, thought patterns, etc that focus on creating and accumulating capital. (apologies for the off-the-cuff definition and the cheap “etc” in it)

    western society is so ingrained with capitalism that we can say it becomes this “logic”. it becomes almost unquestioned and unobserved in its very ubiquity and diffusion.

    people complain when art enters the “logic” of capitalism becuase what sells the most might not be of high artistic quality (i dont want to define that!). or when people complain that US news is largely based on ratings, not accuracy. under *the logic of capitalism*, Fox News and CNN are far more successful and influential then BBC or NPR.

    so there is a strong overlap between the “logic” and what you described as people “doing what they do” in that the logic is often unconscious. i dont think corporations are sitting around and consciously trying to tear down the anti-capitalists, they are doing what they do. but the logic of capitalism is to profit off whatever one can, to find new ways of creating capital, and doing so off of anti- or non-capitalist motives is a particularly interesting case (to me, at least).

  7. kiyallsmith says:

    (interesting conversation…I have an off topic question)

    I wonder…is capitalism grasping at straws as it steals strategies from other contexts?


  8. nathanjurgenson says:

    kiyallsmith: i think so. in a few years we might look back and document the many ways in which capitalism reacted (or continues to react) to “The Great Recession”, essentially “grasping at straws”, as you say. ~nathan

  9. enteringthewhirlpool says:


    Let’s stick with this for a while.

    I’m going to ramble for a bit and maybe we’ll get somewhere.

    The usual working definition of capitalism is the private ownership and control of the means of production (i.e. capital). However, the logic of this system will not necessarily lead to behaviour that emphasizes the accumulation and creation of capital any more than another system. In the USSR, for example, consumption was constrained as the state which controlled capital chose as its goal the creation of more capital and rapid industrialization.

    but the logic of capitalism is to profit off whatever one can

    I don’t see why this should be the case and if it was the case why would it be particular to capitalism? Non-capitalist economies would seem to feature as much self-interest at work as capitalist ones.

    To my jaded eye, the cooption thing seems to illustrate the fashion cycle: stuff gets trendy, people use it make money, stops being trendy. This doesn’t require capitalism, although corporations geared to profit may do it more effectively than governments (there’s a cringe-inducingly uncool poster at a station I passed through the other day which urged me to “Get a life, don’t lose it” and informed me that if I were to go on railtracks I might be hit by a train).

  10. enteringthewhirlpool says:

    The Starbucks Thing

    I see the Starbucks example as illustrating this story: once upon a time it was really difficult to get a decent coffee. In the US you would be served something akin to boiling hot water with added barbecue ash. In the UK you would be served instant coffee. Along came the chains selling good quality coffee with plenty of choice of drinks. To tell us that they were serving a good product they heavily promoted their brand. In doing this they changed the market: other coffee shops have stepped their game up in response and espresso drinks of a reasonable quality are sold almost everywhere. This now being the case, the brand loses it’s value and other more tangible features of a cafe (decor, uniqueness, ambience) become relatively more important in consumers’ decisions. Starbucks reacts to this by downplaying its brand, especially in places where people place a high premium on such things.

  1. 28th January 2010

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