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by nathan jurgenson

Stencil_disneywarThe old point that capitalism subsumes everything -even that which is precisely meant to be anti- or non-capitalistic- has been exemplified recently by corporations jamming the culture jammers by co-opting the jammer’s strategies.

Culture jamming follows the Situationist (prominently, Guy Debord) tradition of challenging the status quo, including political and corporate structures. However, even these anti-capitalistic actions have been and still are co-opted and put to work under capitalism. This is nothing new. Previous literature tackled the commodification of resistance. The Punk aesthetic was quickly subsumed by the logic of corporate fashion (e.g., this magazine[.pdf] sold back the punk aesthetic). And today, one can clearly see the commodification of hippy culture in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco.

obamvertisingBut it is the very recent examples that motivate this post. I previously wrote about Pepsi’s advertising campaign that mimicked Obama’s political campaign, including the street-art theme that draws directly from the culture-jamming and Situationist playbooks. Starbucks has also pasted advertisements in urban areas that look like street art, an art form that typically stands against such corporate invasions of the public aesthetic. As was poignantly discussed on this blog last week by NickieWild, Starbucks has gone even further down the route of what I call culture de-jamming (i.e., corporations jamming the culture jammers by commodifying their resistance to commodification). Starbucks sent people to observe local coffee shops to best create the first “inspired by Starbucks” store, rustic décor and all [pictures]. Sans the Starbucks logo, the store allows you to walk in and play your own music, attend organized poetry readings and so on. Interestingly, this follows precisely the trend George Ritzer laid out in Enchanting a Disenchanted World, arguing that Starbucks is attempting to create enchantment, which will ultimately fail because disenchantment follows in the very rationalization and reproduction of the ‘local coffee shop.’

More recent examples of culture de-jamming include corporate-organized “flashmobs”, another tool taken from culture jammer’s, this time used for corporate ends (note that Wikipedians claim that the gathering cannot be considered a flashmob if it is corporate). Examples include A&E’s “Hammer Pants” mob and video and T-Mobile’s large dancing mob at the Liverpool Street Station in London. The latter example also explores how consumers are in part producers (that is, prosumers) of this culture de-jamming, making this jamming of the culture jammers even more insidious. Can capitalism really co-opt the very logic of resistance, or will resistance just take on new forms moving forward? ~nathan


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

    Finally, and I think you’re gonna love this, in the sentence with which you end your blog post you propagate a meme. Which meme? Well, nothing to do with resistance or capitalism. It’s a linguistic meme.

    You use the phrase “moving forward” to mean in the future. This use is a prime example of corporate speak, intended to give the illusion of progress without actually having to specify what progress is being made.

    No one meant for you to spread that meme. You didn’t mean to spread that meme. It just happened…. it came out of the throat of enough guys at Accenture until it spread like wildfire and eventually you wound up using it discussing resistance against capitalism, the point of this being that once you stick something out there (e.g. the idea that mom and pop cafes are better) you don’t always have much control over what other people do with it.

  3. thanks for the awesome comments, JonnyN (as well as your great post over at Sociology Lens, which is where this post will appear on Monday)!

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

    i think your 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. i guess what i was going for in the last sentence of the post was regarding the nature of resistance to capitalism when the resistance itself has become subsumed under the logic of capital.

    • enteringthewhirlpool
    • Posted August 24, 2009 at 10:31 am
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    Thanks for the response Nathan. I think I’ll repost my comment or comments over at Sociology Lens and start the debate.

    I think we’re going to disagree on the the “thinking” capitalism front. This could be a whole new topic. Maybe I’ll dedicate my next post to this one.

    • enteringthewhirlpool
    • Posted August 24, 2009 at 10:39 am
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    I’ve reposted my first comment verbatim (it would have been unfair to alter it and make you take the time to respond twice!) so feel free to repost your response verbatim.

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