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There is a good conversation to have on just how leaderless the Occupy movement is. It is more networked and decentralized, but, of course, not perfectly so. Structures and hierarchies always emerge. Unfortunately, this important conversation is derailed when some try to create fictional leaders for a movement that, for the most part, does not have them. Articles like, for instance, John Heilemann’s New York Magazine expose on Occupy, again and again force leader-language on the movement. And they do so unsuccessfully.

The traditional media wants to tell a traditional story, and this is why they get Occupy so terribly wrong. It is easier to describe a movement of leaders, of charismatic personalities and of specific ideas, messages and demands. The media momentum favors retelling the type of story they have told before.

But the reality for Occupy is much more complicated. Yes, the movement is not completely leaderless. Participation and efficaciousness are not evenly distributed across the 99%. For instance, the term “occupy” was not arrived to by some consensus but instead the creation of Adbusters. However, the magazine has claimed that they “have no interest in a continuing leadership role.” Instead, the magazine’s role has been aesthetic: to come up with good memes.

While pure leaderlessness may not be possible or even wanted for Occupy, the bigger story is that it is more decentralized than previous political movements. The high degree Read More »

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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