Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America

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9780688156565: Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America

According to Kalle Lasn, publisher of Adbusters magazine, culture jamming will become to our era what civil rights was to the '60s, what feminism was to the '70s, and what environmental activism was to the '80s. Culture jammers are a global network of media activists who assert that America is no longer a country, but a multitrillion-dollar brand, built on a cult of celebrity and marketing brand names. These brands, products, celebrities -- the spectacles that surround the production of culture -- are our culture now.

The architect of Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week, Lasn believes it is only by "uncooling" these symbols of culture, by organizing resistance against the institutions that manage the brands, that America can reassert herself. With cutting-edge design, this manifesto for the new millennium has the potential to completely alter the way we think and live.

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Review:

Adbusters is a magazine that attacks the culture of consumerism by turning its own tactics against it--employing the glossy tactics of advertising to encourage people to take part in "Buy Nothing Day" and "TV Turnoff Week." Culture Jam takes the revolution to another level, as the magazine's publisher, Kalle Lasn, issues a call to arms to "the advance shock troops of the most significant social movement" of the early 21st century. Dissatisfied with the results of both academic and mainstream liberalism and feminism, Lasn harks back to the situationist roots of the 1968 Paris uprisings, a brief moment when it seemed possible that men and women might be able to wholly re-create not only their own lives but society as well.

That revolution stumbled and fell, however, and Lasn views contemporary existence as one in which people have almost entirely succumbed to the cultural mandates of consumer capitalism, turning to corporations for guidance about how to look and what to desire. He offers several tips on how you can "demarket your life," including talking back to telemarketers and intensified boycotts (want to strike a blow against tobacco giant Philip Morris? Stop buying Maxwell House coffees, Kraft dairy products, Post cereals, and Miller beer). Lasn also pushes for the return of corporations to a subordinate role in people's lives, citing the 1886 U.S. Supreme Court decision that rendered corporations "natural persons" in the eyes of the law as a horrendous miscarriage of justice that must be overturned. (One of his biggest targets is media conglomerates who are able to disseminate their ideology throughout the information spectrum; in an ironic twist of fate, perhaps, the publisher of Culture Jam became a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation scant months before the book's release.)

Culture Jam is an extreme book--among its declarations: "consumer capitalism is by its very nature unethical"--and Lasn's reasoning is not without flaws. One of the weak links in his argument is his insistence that, because none of the major television networks will allow him to purchase airtime for his "subverts," there is "no democracy on the airwaves" and his freedom of speech is being denied. The First Amendment says only that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech"; it says nothing about what he deems the "right to communicate ... through any media." On the other hand, he also raises a more plausible line of attack--since it's the government that grants broadcasters access to the airwaves, citizens should press for more say in how broadcast licenses are distributed. But whatever the book's excesses, Lasn is driven by a righteous anger--and Culture Jam may likely convince you, too, that the models of material success presented to us are not only inadequate to true happiness, they must be overturned. --Ron Hogan

About the Author:

Featured in the PBS documentary Affluenza, Kalle Lasn, whose documentaries have been broadcast on PBS, CBC, and around the world, has won 15 international awards, and has been profiled in Time. As publisher of Adbusters magazine and founder of Media Foundation and Powershift Advertising Agency, Lasn has launched social marketing campaigns like Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week. He and his wife, Masako Tominaga, make their home in Vancouver, Canada.

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