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“Mixing Pop (Culture) and Politics”: Cultural Resistance, Culture Jamming, and Anti‐Consumption Activism as Critical Public Pedagogy

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Culture jamming, the act of resisting and re-creating commercial culture in order to transform society, is embraced by groups and individuals who seek to critique and (re)form how culture is created and enacted in our daily lives. In this article, we explore how two groups—Adbusters and Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping—use culture jamming as a means of resisting consumerism. We theorize how culture jamming as practiced operates as critical public pedagogy, through the ways in which it (1) fosters participatory, resistant cultural production; (2) engages learners corporeally; (3) creates a (poetic) community politic; and (4) opens transitional spaces through détournement (a “turning around”). We propose that when viewed as critical public pedagogy, culture jamming holds potential to connect learners with one another and to connect individual lives to social issues—both in and beyond the classroom. However, we also posit that culture jamming as critical public pedagogy is not a panacea nor without problems. We also discuss how culture jamming may in fact at times hinder critical learning by imposing a rigid presence on the viewer-learner that limits creativity and transgression, and how it risks becoming co-opted by the very market forces of capitalism it opposes.
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“Mixing Pop (Culture) and Politics”:
Cultural Resistance, Culture Jamming,
and Anti-Consumption Activism as
Critical Public Pedagogy
JENNIFER A. SANDLIN
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ, USA
JENNIFER L. MILAM
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX, USA
ABSTRACT
Culture jamming, the act of resisting and re-creating commercial culture in order
to transform society, is embraced by groups and individuals who seek to critique and
(re)form how culture is created and enacted in our daily lives. In this article, we
explore how two groups—Adbusters and Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop
Shopping—use culture jamming as a means of resisting consumerism. We theorize
how culture jamming as practiced operates as critical public pedagogy, through the
ways in which it (1) fosters participatory, resistant cultural production; (2) engages
learners corporeally; (3) creates a (poetic) community politic; and (4) opens tran-
sitional spaces through détournement (a “turning around”). We propose that when
viewed as critical public pedagogy, culture jamming holds potential to connect
learners with one another and to connect individual lives to social issues—both in
and beyond the classroom. However, we also posit that culture jamming as critical
public pedagogy is not a panacea nor without problems. We also discuss how culture
jamming may in fact at times hinder critical learning by imposing a rigid presence
on the viewer-learner that limits creativity and transgression, and how it risks
becoming co-opted by the very market forces of capitalism it opposes.
“Todo lo compro de marca y consumo a todas horas. Mierda ahora estoy obligado a ser
feliz!” [Everything I buy is brand name, and I shop all the time. Shit, now I’m forced to be
happy!]
—Sign worn by a group of culture jammers called “Ecologistas en Acción”
celebrating Buy Nothing Day (Día Sin Compras) in Madrid, Spain,
November 24, 2006, as they dressed up as disappointed consumers holding
overflowing shopping bags and wailed and sobbed in busy streets and shopping
malls in Madrid’s busiest commercial centers
© 2008 by The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.
Curriculum Inquiry 38:3 (2008)
Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road,
Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK
doi: 10.1111/j.1467-873X.2008.00411.x
In the United States, many consumer economists call the day after
Thanksgiving “Black Friday” and count it as one of the busiest shopping
days of the year, as well as the official beginning of the holiday shopping
season. During the most recent Black Friday (November 23, 2007), U.S.
consumers spent $10.3 billion (up 8.3% from 2006) in this post-
Thanksgiving festival of consumption (ShopperTrak RCT Corporation,
2007). However, on this same day activists across the globe were celebrating
a different cultural holiday, Buy Nothing Day (BND), which began in 1992
in Vancouver, Canada, and has spread to over 65 countries. BND brings
together citizens who seek freedom from the manic consumer bingeing
currently colonizing the holidays, and calls attention to the ecological and
ethical consequences of overconsumption (Adbusters Media Foundation,
2007). Examples of recent activities from BND include the following:
The “Space Hijackers,” a group of activists in London, enacted the
“Half Price Sale.” Wearing T-shirts exclaiming “EVERYTHING IN
STORE HALF PRICE TODAY!” they entered popular London retail
stores and pretended to be employees, folding and straightening
clothes and helping customers. They also placed leaflets explaining
the philosophy of Buy Nothing Day in the pockets of the clothing
items for sale.
In Tokyo, activists collected free ad-carrying packs of facial tissue,
which are typically given away in busy commercial shopping areas.
Activists altered the ads and inserted Buy Nothing Day information
sheets in the tissue packs before handing them out.
In New York City, Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping
held a Buy Nothing Day parade, which started at Macy’s department
store at 5 a.m. During stops along the parade route, Reverend Billy
exorcized a cash register at Victoria’s Secret and said an anti-
consumption blessing in front of Old Navy.
We view these various “culture jamming” activities as examples of “anoma-
lous pedagogies” (Ellsworth, 2005, p. 5) and critical public pedagogies. In this
article we explore how community activist groups and others brought
together by a shared vision of a more just society enact cultural resistance
through the tactics of “culture jamming.” In so doing, we also speculate on
how the “public”—the audiences who view or engage with this activism—
might experience these potential moments of critical learning.
Culture jamming is activity that counters “the continuous, recombinant
barrage of capitalist laden messages fed through the mass media” (Handel-
man, 1999, p. 399). The term was coined in 1984 by the San Francisco-
based eletronica band Negitivland in reference to the illegal interruption
of the signals of ham radio (Carducci, 2006; Darts, 2004). Lasn (1999),
founder of Adbusters Media Foundation, explains that culture jamming is
a metaphor for stopping the flow of consumer-culture-saturated media.
324 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
And Atkinson (2003) explains that culture jamming is based on the idea of
resisting the dominant ideology of consumerism and re-creating commer-
cial culture in order to transform society. Culture jamming includes such
activities as billboard “liberation,” the creation and dissemination of anti-
advertising “subvertisements,” and participation in DIY (do-it-yourself)
political theater and “shopping interventions.”
Many culture jammers view themselves as descendents of the “Situation-
ists,” a European anarchist group from the 1950s led by Guy Debord
(Harold, 2004). Members of this group created moments of what Bakhtin
(1973) and Kristeva (1986) would later call the “carnivalesque,” enacted to
fight against the “spectacle” of everyday life. The carnival, for Bakhtin
(1973), is created using folk humor positioned outside the officially sanc-
tioned culture of those in power. The spectacle is everything—advertising,
television, and so forth—comprising society’s “spectacular level of com-
modity consumption and hype” (Lasn, 1999, p. 100); it is a theatrical
performance that obscures and legitimizes “violent production and con-
sumption” (Boje, 2001, p. 437). According to the Situationists, the spec-
tacle stifles free will and spontaneity, replacing them with media-sponsored
lives and prepackaged experiences (Lasn, 1999). Like the Situationists,
culture jammers reject the spectacle in favor of authenticity.
In this article we explore how two groups—Adbusters and Reverend Billy
and the Church of Stop Shopping—use culture jamming as a means of
resisting consumerism; we chose these groups because they are among the
more widely known and enduring culture jamming groups. To frame our
research, we draw from cultural studies and the critical curriculum litera-
ture focusing on public pedagogy. Specifically, we ground our work in a
“Gramscian” cultural studies framework. This perspective conceptualizes
popular culture as an active process, where cultural commodities and
experiences are not simply passively consumed, but are the raw materials
people use to create popular culture, within various contexts of power
relations (Storey, 1999, 2006). From this view, popular culture is a promi-
nent sphere in which inequalities of class, gender, race, and sexuality are
made meaningful or brought to consciousness; it is also an arena for power
struggles between dominant and subordinate social groups—a terrain on
which hegemony, or consent, is fought for and resisted (Hartley, 2002;
Storey, 2006).
This Gramscian view of cultural studies is apparent in the work of critical
curriculum scholars, especially those who focus on popular culture as a site
of public pedagogy. However, much of the public pedagogy literature
emphasizes how popular culture perpetuates dominant values such as
racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, machismo, and violence (Mayo,
2002), rather than its counterhegemonic possibilities. This work includes
studies of various sites of public pedagogy, including the practices of cor-
porations such as Calvin Klein (Giroux, 1997), Nike (Tavin, Lovelace,
Stabler, & Maxam, 2003), Disney (Giroux, 1999; Tavin & Anderson, 2003),
325CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
and McDonald’s (Kincheloe, 2002); and the ideologies of films such as
GhostWorld (Giroux, 2003b), Dirty Dancing (Giroux & Simon, 1989), and
Fight Club (Giroux, 2001). Although we see the importance of exploring
how people are raced, classed, and gendered through popular culture, we
also believe it is imperative to investigate popular culture as a form of
resistance (Denzin, 2003; Duncombe, 2002; Solórzano & Delgado Bernal,
2001). Through our examination, we seek to “criticalize” the notion of
“public pedagogy” and thus expand the concept of “critical public peda-
gogy” (Giroux, 2000, p. 355, emphasis ours).
While scholars in other disciplines have recognized culture jamming as
a mode of communication (Harold, 2004) and as consumer resistance
(Handelman, 1999), too little research within education—with some
exceptions, including researchers within critical art education (Darts, 2006;
Freedman, 2003; Kincheloe, 2003; Springgay, 2005; Stuhr, 2003; Tavin,
2003), and educators who enact and research performance pedagogy
(Boal, 1985; Denzin, 2003; Garoian, 1999)—has focused on how popular
culture can act as critical pedagogy. This is surprising given the many
manifestations of critical public pedagogy occurring in popular and public
culture, including the work of activists and artists such as The Guerilla
Girls, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, James Luna, Adrian Piper, and The Yes Men.
However, despite a handful of studies of public pedagogy as a means of
resistance (e.g., Martin, 2005), much work in the area of “critical public
pedagogy” has remained theoretical, consisting mainly of “calls to action”
(Brady, 2006; Giroux, 2000, 2003a, 2003c, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c; Pozo, 2005)
and has been harshly criticized for perpetuating “highly abstract and
utopian” ideals that reinforce repressive myths and perpetuate hegemonic
relations (Ellsworth, 1988, p. 298). Moreover, while art education scholars
have examined how culture jamming may be used in schools to promote
civic engagement with images, society, and identities (Tavin et al., 2003),
much of this work is new, remains largely theorized, and is not widely
implemented in general or art education contexts. Like Mayo (2002) and
Giroux (2004b), we see the need to explore specific practices of critical
public pedagogies, in order to understand how they operate.
We find Ellsworth’s (2005) most recent work on public pedagogy helpful
in our exploration; she urges critical educators to explore what she calls
“anomalous places of learning”—museums, public art installations, films,
and other forms of popular culture. We engage with her idea of the
“pedagogical hinge” (p. 5) to examine culture jamming as critical public
pedagogy, and to discover how culture jamming functions as a powerful site
of learning. In addition, we borrow from Ellsworth a way of thinking about
education within popular culture as a process rather than a product, and seek
to understand how knowledge is created and experienced by the “learning
self in the making” (p. 2). To Ellsworth, public pedagogy is most powerful
when it creates “transitional spaces”—when it connects our inner selves to
people, objects, and places outside of ourselves.
326 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
Finally, we focus on culture jamming groups specifically addressing
issues of consumerism and overconsumption, following Reynolds’s (2004)
recent call for curriculum scholars to explore work that resists “the brand-
name corporate order” (p. 32). Reverend Billy and Adbusters are part of a
wider social movement focused on resisting consumerism and consump-
tion that has received little attention among educational researchers; this
movement includes groups working toward labor rights, fighting against
the destructive consequences of globalization and advocating for fair trade,
raising awareness about global sweatshops, and fighting against the eco-
logical destruction that accompanies massive overconsumption. This social
movement “attempt[s] to transform various elements of the social order
surrounding consumption and marketing” (Kozinets & Handelman, 2004,
p. 691). While a handful of educators have focused on various social
movements that resist consumption (Jubas, 2006; Sandlin, 2005; Sandlin &
Milam, 2007; Spring, 2003; Usher, Bryant, & Johnston, 1997), we believe
educators need to pay more attention to consumption, given the increasing
role it plays in structuring every aspect of our lives and in fostering gross
social and economic disparities (Bocock, 1993; McLaren, 2005).We thus
place our work in the context of recent concerns of critical curriculum
scholars about the increasing power of global corporate hypercapitalism
and the imperialism of commercialism which shape the educational mes-
sages of popular culture while eradicating any public sphere not controlled
by the market (Giroux, 2003c; McLaren, 2005).
THE CASES OF ADBUSTERS AND REVEREND BILLY AND
THE CHURCH OF STOP SHOPPING
We draw from multiple sources of data for this project. Following Ellsworth
(2005), we used secondary data from scholars in other disciplines who have
researched and written about culture jamming, and from culture jamming
activists who participate in, record, and write about their activism—“the
words and concepts of others”—as “raw material” (p. 13). We also analyzed
data from two culture jamming groups, Adbusters and Reverend Billy and
the Church of Stop Shopping. To examine Adbusters, we gathered textual
and visual material from its Web site, including blogs, articles, and “sub-
vertisements”; 10 issues of Adbusters magazine published between 2003 and
2006; and a curriculum guide for high school teachers published by
Adbusters that focuses on critical media literacy. To examine Reverend
Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, we gathered textual, visual, and
audio material from its Web site, including blogs, MP3s of Reverend Billy’s
“sermons,” photographs, and public performance “scripts” written by Rev-
erend Billy. We also examined two recent documentaries (Post & Palacios,
2006; Sharpe, 2001) containing interviews with Reverend Billy, footage
of Reverend Billy enacting performance interventions, and footage of
327CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
Reverend Billy preaching in various venues. Finally, we examined Reverend
Billy’s recent autobiography (Talen, 2003).
We sought in our analysis to make sense of how culture jamming oper-
ates as curriculum. Duncombe (2002) explains that when analyzing
cultural resistance, one must examine four aspects: the content of the
resistance, the form it takes, the ways it is interpreted, and the activities of
its creation. We viewed the various forms of data we gathered—including
visual, written, and performative—as “cultural texts,” and drawing upon
McKee’s (2003) approach to interpretive cultural textual analysis, we
sought to understand how culture jammers viewed and critiqued the world
around them, how they created alternative visions of the world, and how
they articulated these visions to others. To further understand culture
jamming as curriculum, we also drew upon ethnographic or qualitative
media analysis (Altheide, 1987, 1996), which focuses on the ethnography of
cultural texts and consists of the “reflexive movement between concept
development, sampling, data collection, data coding, data analysis, and
interpretation” (Altheide, 1987, p. 65). Altheide (1987) further explains
that this type of analysis is embedded in constant discovery and constant
comparison, but seeks to go beyond description of the content of texts, to
arrive at understanding of broader social discourses created by and
reflected in the texts.
Adbusters is a magazine produced by the Adbusters Media Foundation.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, Adbusters describes itself as “a global network
of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepre-
neurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the infor-
mation age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a
major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century” (Adbusters Media
Foundation, n.d.). The content of Adbusters focuses on two main themes—
how marketing and mass media colonize space, and how global capitalism
and rampant consumption are destroying natural environments (Rumbo,
2002). Adbusters magazine (Figure 1) is a reader-supported, not-for-profit
magazine with an international circulation of 85,000 and contains reader-
generated materials, commentaries by activists from across the globe, and
photographs and stories depicting readers’ social activism. Adbusters also
hosts a Web site (http://www.Adbusters.org/) where activists can read
about anti-consumption campaigns; download posters, stickers, and flyers
for distribution; and share information about their own activism. Some of
Adbusters’ ongoing campaigns include Buy Nothing Day (described
earlier) and TV Turnoff Week (a week in April where individuals are
encouraged to take a break from the incessant commercial messages
coming through their televisions by just turning them off; instead of watch-
ing TV, Adbusters encourages people to interact with others and become
involved in community activism).
Reverend Billy is an anti-consumption performance artist based in New
York City, and the leader of the Church of Stop Shopping. Bill Talen, whose
328 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
stage character is Reverend Billy, adopts the persona of a Southern, con-
servative, evangelical preacher—à la Jimmy Swaggart—including pouffy
hair and a white suit (Figure 2).
He stages “comic theatrical service[s]” (Lane, 2002, p. 60)—structured
as comic church services— with “readings from the saints (or the devils),
public confessions, collective exorcisms, the honoring of new saints, dona-
tions to the cause, a lively choir, and a rousing sermon” (Lane, 2002, p. 61).
FIGURE 1.
FIGURE 2.
329CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
During these services, he acts out a call-and-response style of preaching as
the audience responds with Amens! and Hallelujahs! Reverend Billy also
performs “retail interventions” in public spaces and retail stores along with
the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir; some of his popular targets of anti-
consumption activism include the Disney Company, Starbucks, Wal-Mart,
and Victoria’s Secret. In addition, Reverend Billy writes “intervention
manuals” and scripts that other activists can use in their own public theater
jams.
CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
Our analysis focused on how and why culture jamming activists enact what
we position as critical public pedagogy. Given the nature of our data—
which focuses primarily on the activities of the jammers themselves, and
much less on audience members’ reactions—we portray the espoused and
enacted pedagogy of culture jamming, and at this point can only speculate
about how audiences receive that pedagogy; we hope in future research to
focus more on audience reactions. We posit that culture jamming operates
as potentially powerful pedagogy through the ways in which it seeks to
foster participatory cultural production, engages with the learner and the
“teacher” corporeally, and aims to foster the creation of a community
politic. We further argue that culture jamming’s “pedagogical hinge” lies in
the ways it aims to produce a sense of “détournement” in audience
members, which can operate as a form of “transitional space.” Finally, while
we recognize culture jamming’s potential pedagogy of possibility (Giroux &
Simon, 1988), our analysis also revealed moments of coercion and
compliance—what we call culture jamming’s “loose pedagogical hinge”—
which can shut down rather than encourage the possibility of counterhe-
gemonic transgression (hooks, 1994).
Fostering Participatory, Resistant Cultural Production
Ellsworth (2005) argues that the question of pedagogy is “how to use what
has already been thought as a provocation and a call to invention” (p. 165,
emphasis ours). Powerful pedagogies thus engage learners as creators.
Critical pedagogy advocates argue that learners should become cultural
producers and build new, more democratic cultural realities (Giroux,
2004c). One aspect of culture jamming’s potential power as critical peda-
gogy, then, lies in how it seeks to foster participatory cultural production.
In our current condition of hypercapitalism (Graham, 2006) grounded in
consumption, it is a defiant notion that individuals are capable of and
should be responsible for their own entertainment (Duncombe, 1997); yet
330 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
it is this very ideal that culture jammers promote. Duncombe (1997) also
posits that current cultural critique necessarily involves a critique of con-
sumerism, arguing that “any vision of a new world must include a new vision
of how culture and products will be produced and consumed” (p. 105).
This new vision involves culture jammers becoming cultural producers and
creators who actively resist, critique, appropriate, reuse, recreate, and alter
cultural products and entertainment.
As evidenced by the varied Buy Nothing Day actions and the other
explications of culture jamming described at the beginning of this article,
culture jamming is enacted in many forms, all of which rely on creative
cultural production and ultimately seek to challenge and change dominant
discourses and practices of multinational corporations (Harold, 2004).
Duncombe (2002) explains that cultural resisters shift from being consum-
ers to being creators; indeed, this is what drove the genesis of Adbusters.
Lasn (2006) explains:
We had this nasty feeling that “we the people” were slowly but surely losing our
power to sing the songs and tell the stories and generate our culture from the
bottom up. More and more, the stories were being fed to us top-down by TV
networks, ad agencies and corporations...[Wewanted to take] the storytelling,
culture-generating power back from commercial and corporate forces. (p. 85)
As a form of cultural resistance, then, culture jamming is a “free space”
where artists and activists can “experiment with new ways of seeing and
being” and where they can “develop tools and resources for resistance”
(Duncombe, 2002, p. 5). Adbusters magazine, for instance, encourages
reader submissions; readers create and contribute a majority of text and
artwork in the magazine. These submissions range from “fake ads” (sub-
vertisements); to critical musings on politics, the environment, fashion,
culture, and nutrition; to visual artwork and poetry; to more journalistic or
academic articles on a variety of topics (recent issues have featured articles
on true cost economics, the Israeli–Palestinian crisis, and the effects of
Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War). During his “revivals,” Reverend
Billy also invites audience members to participate: to sing along, confess
their sins, or dance. Through his Web site, audience members can discuss
issues and share strategies for creating more awareness among consumers;
they can also find performance scripts that they can borrow, change, and
enact in local contexts. We posit that culture jammers thus hope to turn
typically passive activities into active ones in which they create culture rather
than simply consume it. In doing so, they aim to redefine themselves and
their relationships with consumption, and to redefine possibilities for the
future.
Both Adbusters and Reverend Billy engage in cultural production as
they alter and give new, resistant meanings to popular cultural symbols.
Culture jammers interrupt how public spaces are typically used and under-
stood “in ways that hold the potential for education to be contemporane-
331CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
ous with social change and identities in the making” (Ellsworth, 2005,
p. 58). Culture jammers thus clearly demonstrate how popular culture is a
field of contestation. Adbusters, through its “subvertisements,” plays with
and gives new meaning to the “memes” of popular culture, including
the iconography associated with multinational corporations such as
McDonald’s, Nike, Absolut Vodka, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and
numerous others. Memes are media viruses that spread throughout
society—for example, advertising jingles, quotes from movies and situation
comedies, advertising slogans, and the like that “work their way into every-
day conversations” (Duncombe, 2002, p. 369). Adbusters uses the forms of
media that viewers are already familiar with, and takes advantage of the
power of already-existing memes that are part of consumer consciousness.
However, through subvertisements, Adbusters “jams” or disrupts dominant
memes in ways that expose negative social, environmental, cultural, or
ethical consequences of the practices of multinational corporations; in so
doing, Adbusters lures viewers into interactions “with ‘alternative’ subject
matter which poses as a ‘dominant’ media deployment” (Tietchen, 2001, p.
117). Thus Adbusterssubvertisements operate like vaccines or antidotes to
memes, as they shake us out of consumer trances and refocus our attention
on messages that run counter to dominant media ideology (Boyd, 2002). If,
as Lasn (1999) argues, “whoever has the memes has the power” (p. 123),
then one potential avenue for social change lies in hijacking memes to
disrupt and counteract the very messages they are trying to convey.
For example, Figure 3 appropriates the memes originally created and
circulated by Calvin Klein’s Obsession perfume advertising campaign.
However, this subvertisement shows not a runway model which a reader
might, at first glance, believe she/he is seeing, but instead an emaciated
woman leaning over a toilet presumably to vomit. The subvertisement gives
new meaning to the media-produced ideal of “thinness” and to the Calvin
Klein brand by clearly associating it with eating disorders, and through
pointing out the ethical and health consequences of too many young
woman being influenced by the powerful fashion industry and its unreal-
istic standards of beauty.
Reverend Billy, too, plays with memes created and distributed by corpo-
rations such as Disney, Starbucks, and Victoria’s Secret. For instance,
during his “shopping interventions” at Disney retail stores, Reverend Billy
and members of his church often carry large wooden crosses with Mickey
and Minnie Mouse stuffed animals “crucified” on them. Reverend Billy
explains:
The Disney Company is the high church of retail. And that’s why we put Mickey
Mouse on the cross. We’re taking two great organized religions [Christianity and
what he calls the Church of Consumerism] and grinding them together and trying
to confuse people so they can think in a new way....I want the symbols and
meanings to fly away. (Reverend Billy, as interviewed in Post & Palacios, 2006)
332 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
Reverend Billy thus causes these memes to take on new meanings as they
are incorporated into new, unexpected counterhegemonic cultural scripts.
Mickey Mouse morphs from the Disney-sanctioned symbol of everlasting
childhood and nostalgia to the leader of the evil, child-labor-sweat-soaked
empire of Disney.
Engaging Corporeally
Ellsworth (2005) argues that effective pedagogy engages the whole learner.
That is, powerful pedagogy “involves us in experiences of the corporeality
of the body’s time and space. Bodies have affective somatic responses as
they inhabit a pedagogy’s time and space” (p. 4). We argue that part of
the potential power of culture jamming’s pedagogy, then, lies in how it
attempts to engage the whole person—including the body and emotions—in
a process of “becoming.” First, the act of culture jamming often literally
involves the body. For instance, one of Reverend Billy’s retail interventions
literally engages jammers’ and audience members’ physical bodies. This
intervention, targeted at Starbucks, is entitled “It’s a Party! Bump and
Grind the Buckheads” (Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping,
n.d.), and involves jammers filling a Starbucks store and proceeding to
FIGURE 3.
333CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
dance, strip, and handout pamphlets describing the questionable ethics of
Starbucks’ business practices. Directions for this jam read:
Gather a large number of party-prone faithful....Print (on two sides) many copies
of the Coverco report (which you can get at Coverco.org). Print it out in both
English and Spanish. There are lousy things in that report about people who bring
non-Fair Trade Coffee to market. The study took place in Guatemala, and a lot
Starbucks’ victims are kids. Instruct everyone to stuff the pages of this report into
their trouser legs, stockings, panties, undershirts and bras. Now with this large
throng of the party-prone, fill up a Starbucks until the ratio of people to floorspace
is like SOB’s on Saturday Nite. Go with saxophonists, kazoos and squeeze in a
Trinidadian drum. And a blaster with Thelonius Monk on it. Press the ON button.
Ask the musicians to play. Begin to dance. Everyone bumps and grinds while the
shoppers try to sip their $4 non Fair Trade lattes. The bumping and grinding gives
way to increasingly articulate stripping. The reports fly out of the underclothing like
bilingual white ravens. The sipping stops. Bump and grind them beans! (Reverend
Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, n.d., para. 15)
Reverend Billy explains the physical sensations culture jamming ignites
when he describes how he delivers his message to his audience. He says he
tries to lead “by example” in order to persuade people that it can be fun not
to consume. He further explains that participants have to
Embody the fun. It all comes down to the decision, what sort of dance am I involved
in here? Where are my arms, where are my hands? How far is my voice reaching,
what am I saying? It’s all physical. It’s the physical-spiritual. It’s sacralizing the
ordinary. Once you take responsibility for that and you’re willing to enter a state of
heightened oddness in public space—or even public space that they claim is private
[laughing]—you’re by your example having fun outside their consumer strictures.
(Quoted in Ashlock, 2005, para. 31)
Culture jammers also attempt to engage emotions when enacting culture
jamming. Elsewhere (Callahan & Sandlin, 2006; Sandlin & Callahan, 2004)
we have argued that culture jammers engage emotion to initiate action and
interest amongst members of society. We believe emotion plays important
roles in the responses or reactions culture jammers try to elicit in the
spectators who experience their jams. For instance, we posit that Adbusters
engages viewers emotionally, by transforming recognizable consumer
appeals into images that shock and disturb viewers (Sandlin & Callahan,
2004). Drawing upon our earlier work, we illustrate how Adbusters
attempts to do this through the subvertisement below (Figure 4). Upon
first glance, the viewer thinks she/he sees an advertisement for Nike shoes.
This subvertisement draws on the recognizable meme distributed as the
Nike “Why do I run?” campaign from the 1990s, which brought together
photos of runners with inspirational explanations of why they run. A viewer
familiar with the Nike memes should then think this subvertisement fea-
tures a dedicated runner and that the text contains inspirational phrases
about running. In a kind of double take, however, the viewer sees what the
334 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
ad really features—a worker in an Indonesian shoe factory who is running
(barefoot, without the Nikes she makes but cannot buy) to escape the harsh
working conditions she must endure to earn a fraction of the price the
shoes actually sell for, to consumers much like the one viewing the ad. In
this moment, the viewer feels off-balance because the expectations for and
the reality of the ad are at such odds. This realization produces a variety of
emotions in the viewer—outrage at the unfair labor practices and guilt over
buying (perhaps, even at that moment wearing) Nike products—and hope-
fully shocks the reader into viewing the Nike company in a different light,
and to changing his or her consumption practices with regard to Nike.
Reverend Billy, too, engages emotions in his work. He says that when he
is preaching:
It feels GREAT!...Ifeel SO GOOD preaching in a Disney store!...Itistimetobe
rude. It is time to be embarrassed. If you really do something that just makes you
SHAKE with the feeling of being inappropriate, you’ve probably found a strut, a
structure of their culture that was supposed to be there. (Reverend Billy, as inter-
viewed in Sharpe, 2001)
This emotional energy is also felt among some audience members who
witness Reverend Billy’s performances, as evidenced by data we gathered
FIGURE 4.
335CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
that focuses on audience reactions. For example, one audience member
wrote to Reverend Billy (at http://www.revbilly.com) to explain his emo-
tional reaction to viewing one of Reverend Billy’s public appearances:
HELLO REV.! i heard you on the Majority Report wed. night as i sat in my car (90
volvo, a real mess) and watched the beautiful snow flakes whirl about. it could not
have been more powerful. your words about buying gifts within walking distance
really moved me . . . yes, i AM a consumer sinner. i feebly try to do the best i can,
and feel guilty about not doing enough! commercial society repulses me and the
last thing i want to do is feed the beast that tries to rule our planet. i am weak. but
your message helps me stay strong and inspires me to keep working and spread the
word of CHANGE!!!!...Bill
In this passage we see evidence of an emotional reaction consisting of the
reader suddenly feeling moved; we posit that this reaction helped stir up a
sense of hope within the reader that is leading to a reconceptualization of
his identity.
Engaging corporeally does not mean simply engaging the physical body
and internal emotions, however. Within culture jamming, we also see evi-
dence of the kind of engagement of what Springgay and Freedman (2007)
call the imaginary body. That is, Springgay and Freedman draw upon and
extend the recent focus on the body in curriculum studies to engage not just
the physical body, but also the social products of the body and the ways that
bodies are shaped in culturally specific ways as they act and are acted upon.
In viewing the body as having and constructing meaning in and of itself and
in relation to other bodies, Springgay and Freedman are particularly con-
cerned with “inter-embodiment.” As Weiss (1999) explains, embodiment is
never a solitary experience; rather, it is constantly mediated as we interact
with others. We posit that it is precisely this “inter-embodiment” that lends
culture jamming its power as a way to engage participants with others—
visually, spatially, through imagination and literally—where one “touches
and is touched by others” (Springgay & Freedman, 2007, p. xx).
We argue that through engaging corporeally, culture jamming thus
helps to establish a strong relationality—or consciousness of being “with”
others. Springgay and Freedman (2007) suggest that a “bodied curriculum”
questions, examines and provokes particularities of different bodies rather
than accepting a homogenized and normalized conception of the body.
Thus, we posit that culture jamming—through its use of the physical as well
as visual representations of the body in various forms—is an example of a
critically bodied curriculum. Culture jamming as critical public pedagogy
pushes participants to (re)consider their understandings of themselves,
their relationships with others, and the interaction of their subjectivities
within society for the purposes of questioning and challenging the current
political and social milieu. This is accomplished through “rewriting” hege-
monic discourses of societal symbols and challenging viewer-learners to
“move beyond modes of passive spectatorship and towards more active and
336 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
expressive forms of communication with and in the world around them”
(Darts, 2004, p. 325).
Creating a [Poetic] Community Politics
An important part of Ellsworth’s (2005) “democratic civic pedagogy” is
how it puts us in new relationships “with our selves and with our others”
(p. 96). Ellsworth believes powerful pedagogy must “create places in
which to think about ‘we ” (p. 95, emphasis ours). We argue, then, that a
powerful aspect of culture jamming’s pedagogy is the ways in which it
seeks to create community. Drawing upon St. Clair’s (1998) discussion, we
view community as relationship. That is, communities are formed and
maintained as individuals form relationships with each other; as St. Clair
(1998) argues, community is not the result of interaction, it is interaction
itself. Community relationships are also sites of cultural production and
reproduction. In addition, community relationships help to develop and
support shared value systems and social activism (St. Clair, 1998). As we
saw above, engaging corporeally is but one way culture jamming seeks to
create a sense of community. In addition, the act of collaborative cultural
production—creating culture together—also discussed earlier, and the act of
sharing that culture with others helps culture jammers and their audiences
move toward creating community. In this way, the public in critical public
pedagogy, includes culture jammers themselves, those witnessing the jams
directly, and those who may interact with media, texts, and artifacts indi-
rectly thereafter. Indeed, Duncombe (2002) argues that through this
sharing and creating process, culture thus “becomes a focal point around
which to build a community” (p. 6). For instance, Church of Stop
Shopping member Jason Grote (2002) recalls the sense of community
occurring among culture jammers during recent interventions in the Disney
store:
I have noticed that there is a collective upswell of emotion that seems to occur at
demonstrations, or at least at the good ones. I think it would be dangerous if I were
to feel it more often: a mix of inspiration, sentimentality, camaraderie, self-
righteousness, righteous anger, abject fear, and what I think Che Guevara must have
been talking about when he said that the true revolutionary was guided by great
feelings of love: a deep, abiding compassion for everything and everyone. (p. 359)
Kalb (2001), in an article on Reverend Billy, also posits that culture
jamming creates a sense of community among the audiences or viewers of
jamming activities:
Flooding the halls he [Reverend Billy] performs in with an astonishing torrent of
righteous words about the spell of consumer narcosis, he ends up offering hun-
dreds of hard-core artsy skeptics (often in their twenties) their first chance ever to
337CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
shout “Hallelujah!” and engage in Pentecostal call-and-response. In so doing, they
find themselves possessed of a precious community that is not accessed via flicker-
ing screens, as well as a delightful channel for various inchoate angers that he has
done them the service of naming. (p. 164)
Thus, culture jammers like Reverend Billy offer audiences members
ways of relating to each other that they may have never experienced
before.
The community culture jammers seek to create is not just any kind of
community, however—it is a community drawn together with a sense of
political purpose and a community that engages in what Brookfield (2005,
p. 31) calls “political learning.” The creation of community is, in fact,
necessary for the enactment of culture jamming’s politics. Brookfield
(2005), following Gramsci, argues that critical consciousness, or political
learning, cannot form in an individual without that individual becoming
part of a collective public. Critical consciousness thus forms in groups—
communities—as people learn about their common situations and the need
for collective political action. Culture jamming, however, hopes to create
political community through a very different kind of political engagement
than traditional party politics or traditional social movement activism.
Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn (1999) argues that traditional social move-
ment strategies cannot bring about the kinds of change culture jammers
seek. With regard to the traditional political “Left,” Lasn (1999) states that
they lack passion; he argues that “there’s something drab and predictable
about them; they feel like losers” (p. 118), and states that individuals who
want to build an effective social movement must use new tactics. This new
paradigm of political activism involves the creative appropriation, creation,
and enactment of culture, along with large doses of humor and creativity—
this approach works by creating a political poetics. In an interview, Reverend
Billy explains:
I’m using strategies like entertainment, comedy, music, and then of course working
with small groups of people inside transnational chain stores inside the private
property of the enemy, of the great retail juggernaut—that also is much more
fun—it’s charged and less predictable than a demonstration that has its didactic
language and a set of terms that are very old. (As interviewed in Post & Palacios,
2006)
We believe that part of culture jamming’s potential effectiveness as critical
public pedagogy, then, is its ability to help participants to engage in com-
munal politics. When politics becomes poetic, and is presented or enacted
through culture—and especially through a fun, exciting, collective experi-
ence of culture—it can seem more open and inviting, and less predictable,
than other forms of political protest (Duncombe, 2002).
338 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
Culture Jamming’s Pedagogical Hinge: Opening Transitional Spaces
Through Détournement
Pedagogical “hinges” refer to those aspects of spaces of learning that make
them pedagogically powerful. More specifically, the “hinge” refers to some
aspect of pedagogy that puts “inside and outside, self and other, personal
and social into relation” (Ellsworth, 2005, p. 38). Pedagogy’s hinges create
possibilities for both inside and outside—self and society—to be disrupted
and refigured. We believe an important pedagogical moment—culture
jamming’s pedagogical hinge—occurs when audience members as learners
experience détournement (literally, a “turning around”). All of the peda-
gogical tactics used in culture jamming attempt to lead the learner to a
moment of détournement, where she is no longer who she used to be, but
rather is caught off guard by the possibility of becoming someone or
something different. Lasn (1999) argues that culture jamming helps
provide a new way of looking at the world, and describes this détournement
as “a perspective-jarring turnabout in your everyday life” (p. xvii).
Through moments of détournement, culture jammers seek to move
audience members away from scripted “spectacle-driven” experiences
through igniting authenticity. As one culture jammer writing in Adbusters
stated, “Is your life a project? Do you give a shit about anything? Can you
still get angry? Be spontaneous?” (Unattributed artist, 2003). Lasn (1999)
also describes how détournement can provide people with new, more
authentic choices about how to live and how to be:
You are—everyone is—a creator of situations, a performance artist, and the perfor-
mance, of course, is your life, lived in your own way....Manytimesaday, each of
us comes to a little fork in the path. We can then do one of two things: act the way
we normally, reflexively act, or do something a little risky and wild, but genuine.
(p. 100)
And Lane (2002) describes how Reverend Billy invites consumers to step
away from the well-defined script of consumption:
While many audiences mistake the performance for simple boycott gestures,
Talen’s [Reverend Billy’s] point is not to end the day’s shopping. Rather, the goal
is to arrest it long enough to make the underlying psycho-social investments of the
scene visible. While he speaks tongue-firmly-in-cheek of “saving the souls” of his
unsuspecting consumer-audiences through these interventions, he is, indeed, hoping
to release their imaginations from the strictures of consumer practice. (pp. 68–69, emphasis
ours)
Détournement also involves stepping away from one’s self, and suspend-
ing that self in the “unknown.” In an interview conducted by Sharpe (2001)
after a “shopping intervention” inside a Disney store, Reverend Billy
explains this moment of détournement:
339CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
I love it if I see someone and their jaw’s down and their eyes are . . . [demonstrates
a confused look]...“Whatisthis?—What is this guy doing—What? Mickey’s the
devil but he’s not a Christian?—What?—What?—Is he an actor or is this a stunt?”—
And you can see them looking at the cameras they’re trying to add it up—as soon
as they can add it up it’s less important to them. If that suspension takes place for
two or three or four minutes, they’re gonna take that home and they’re gonna still
be thinking about it a week later. They might even hesitate to buy a Disney product.
(Sharpe, 2001)
According to Ellsworth (2005), this suspension constitutes a powerful learn-
ing moment, as learning happens when the self is dissolving. Reverend Billy
seeks out this dissolution and sees it as the moment of the possibility of
change. He explains:
I consider the Disney store and Starbucks and so on—places were I might be
arrested—as theaters, stages. They’re stages. They’re charged....When Im
preaching there, people kinda go—[pauses, looks around with a confused expres-
sion on his face]....Their consciousness floats out away from their faces. They are
no longer in possession of themselves and that’s good—that means something real
might be changing in them or something. (Post & Palacios, 2006)
Further, we believe that this moment of détournement has the potential
to operate as a form of transitional space. “Transitional spaces” (Ellsworth,
2005) are spaces of play, creativity, and cultural production; they help us
bridge the boundaries between the self and the other. When in those
spaces, “we are entertaining strangeness and playing in difference. We are
crossing that important internal boundary that is the line between the
person we have been but no longer are and the person we will become”
(Ellsworth, 2005, p. 62). Our data highlighting audience reactions indicate
that when experiencing culture jamming, audience members sometimes
experience détournement and move into transitional spaces. Jason Grote,
now a member of the Church of Stop Shopping, experienced a moment of
détournement the first time he encountered Reverend Billy. We quote him
at length to emphasize the significance of his response.
He seemed to stir an honestly ecstatic religious impulse in that small theater. The
moment I remember most about that show is a bit wherein he holds a conversation
with a giant billboard of the model Kate Moss. “She’s looking at me,” he fumes. “She
wants me.” He continues to flirt with the billboard and in so doing is transported
back to an early adolescence romance. Suddenly, he realizes: this is my self. These
are my memories. These ads are taking our memories, attaching them to products,
and selling them back to us. He stops, horrified. We are completely with him. This
world is fallen and so are we. He leads us in a healing ritual, a visualization wherein
we see a Disney tchotchke, reach for it, then resist the temptation to buy. We are
given the following directive: “Remember your name.” It occurred to me that day
how branded I am. There is a huge chunk of my memory that is someone else’s
property, property that someone is right now making money off of. I think about
the tattoo of Bugs Bunny on my right shoulder blade. It is trademarked, licensed to
the tattoo company by AOL Time Warner. (Grote, 2002, p. 363)
340 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
Reverend Billy describes these moments of détournement as moments
where “a bright, unclaimed space opens up” (Talen, 2003, p. xii). He goes
on to state that:
Consumers think it is a vacuum. It is really only the unknown—full of suppressed
ocean life, glitterati from Bosch, DNA twists, and childhood quotes that if remem-
bered would burn down the Disney store. (Talen, 2003, p. xii)
Based on Grote’s (2002) response, quoted above, and other audience
reactions, one of which is cited later in this paragraph, we contend that
these moments of détournement may help audience-members-as-learners
to envision and begin to enact what Giddens (1991) calls “life politics”—
wherein people begin seeing their individual lives as intertwined with
others’ lives and with social issues, and begin enacting “civil labor,” which
involves individuals engaging politically with the commons in order to
increase the social capital of everyone (Rojek, 2001). The work of both
Reverend Billy and Adbusters is aimed at engaging détournement through
helping expose the connections between individual actions and global
social, economic, and environmental issues. For instance, by incorporating
information about the harsh working conditions in Nike sweatshop facto-
ries into what otherwise looks like it should be an inspirational or uplifting
Nike advertisement, the Adbusters Nike subvertisement presented above
turns the original ad’s message on its head and exposes the labor politics
behind the Nike corporation; this is done in order to assist readers to
rethink just how “cool” it is to wear Nikes and to support that multinational
corporation. And in a sermon cited in Lane (2002) from March 26, 2000,
in support of the unionization of local bodega workers, Reverend Billy
describes a moment where he began connecting his individual life choices
to others’ lives. Lane (2002) states that this sermon
Includes an anecdote about buying coffee at a local deli. As he [Reverend Billy]
reaches for the can on the shelf, his arm freezes in mid-gesture, before touching the
product. “I’m having a moment of accidental entry into another world,” he says, as
he narrates a lyrical but lurid vision of the coffee plantation where the beans were
grown, replete with underpaid growers and threatening goon squads and rich
children of the overseers flying to resort towns...he is “seeing backward,
upstream, into who made this, who worked, who lived, who gave, who was stopped
. . .” [he says:] “I realized, I was not alone. Next to me is a man. He’s been standing
there for a long time, but now I see him.” The presence of the worker, underpaid
and exploited in circumstances comparable to those that produced the sweatshop
coffee, has prompted all exploited and fetishized labor to be momentarily revealed.
(p. 76)
Lane (2002) goes on to explain that after Reverend Billy tells the worker’s
story, he then urges the audience to follow him out of the building and into
the streets to participate in an action at the bodega. One audience
member, witnessing one of Reverend Billy’s shopping interventions inside
341CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
a Disney store, reveals how a moment of détournement moved her to begin
connecting self and society in a new relationship:
I’m offended that Disney has sweatshops. I can see Kathy Gifford, but Disney?
Disney? I’m gonna check it out, I’ll tell you, ?cause I spend a lot of money in Disney.
Disney with all their billions of dollars, that’s the least they can do is pay a decent
wage and not to underage children. (Audience member, as interviewed in Sharpe,
2001)
We believe these various examples show how détournement operates as
a form of transitional space. That is, as détournement can help make clear
and trouble our habitual responses to experiences (Ellsworth, 2005). Tran-
sitional spaces suspend time and space and thus allow us room to think of
other ways of enacting particular moments. Transitional spaces introduce
“a stutter, a hesitation” and interrupt “the binary logics that keep self/
other, inner/outer, individual/social locked in face-to-face opposition,”
thus allowing us to relate to ourselves and others in new ways (Ellsworth,
2005, p. 64). The learning moment within transitional spaces is similar to
the Deleuzian “in-between” (Reynolds, 2004), Jarvis’s (2006) notion of
“disjunction,” and what Pinar (2004) calls “currere,” where the self is always
positioned in relation to others.
We argue that it is in these spaces that the viewer-learner begins to
(re)consider her/his role in society, both as an individual and in relation to
others. We contend that culture jamming as critical public pedagogy fosters
human agency and democratic participation in the public sphere by
opening said “transitional spaces” where détournement is a possibility for
those involved. We further argue that these moments of détournement are
desirable for all learners—a moment or space for the learner to (re)con-
sider her/his ideas or conceptions of the text, artifact, or situation.
Whether learners actually experience a turning around is ultimately left to
their desires and will—however, it is this opportunity that critical public
pedagogy potentially provides and we believe is most desirable.
Culture Jamming’s Loose Pedagogical Hinge?
Ellsworth (2005) argues that the “space” in transitional spaces refers to the
kinds of educational environments that facilitate new, creative, spontane-
ous ways of learning and of seeing the self in relation to others. While
culture jamming often facilitates the opening of such spaces, our data
analysis led us to believe that it also sometimes creates environments that
hinder rather than support learning-as-transgression (hooks, 1994). Some
audience members, upon experiencing a culture jam, react with anger not
at consumerism but at the culture jammers themselves. For instance, in one
culture jamming action captured on film by Sharpe (2001), Reverend Billy
342 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
preaches against sweatshops and corporate power in a Walt Disney store.
Immediately following the performance, Sharpe’s videographer captures
two women in the audience engaging in a conversation. One of the women
says to the other:
I’m just offended by what just happened in the store. Where I spend my money and
where I go to shop is my business and not anyone else’s. Especially an idiot like
whoever he was. (Audience member, as interviewed in Sharpe, 2001)
At another performance, Reverend Billy and members of his “congrega-
tion” are performing outside in front of the Times Square Disney store, and
as part of their action they are holding large wooden crosses with Mickey
Mouse and Minnie Mouse “crucified” on them. An angry man walks up and
yells, “Take the mouse off the cross! Because I’m a Catholic and I find that
very, very offensive—that you’re taking a symbol of my religion and putting
a friggin’ toy on it like it means nothing. It is very, very offensive” (as
interviewed in Sharpe, 2001).
Audience members also react negatively against Adbusters. A participant
in an online discussion about culture jamming stated, for instance:
I HATE Adbusters. Why? Because they have this preachy holier-than-thou attitude.
In the same way that MADD public service announcements make me want a double
Maker’s Mark on the rocks, and “Smoking Is Really, Really Bad For The Children”
ads make me want a big fucking cigar, Adbusters make me want to do nothing more
than rent a Ford Excursion and drive straight to McDonald’s. And I doubt I’m the
only one who feels that way. (Sulli, 2002)
Another participant on a different forum simply proclaims, “I hate
adbusters for being propagandistic” (Miriam, 2004). In these examples, it
is evident that rather than (re)considering their own subject position or
participation in what culture jammers would deem the social and political
hegemony of popular culture, the viewer-learner views the jammers (and
their actions) as offensive, judgmental, and oppressive. This “holier-
than-thou” attitude comes across in Adbusters magazine, as contributors
and editors define for readers how they are supposed to think and live,
and sometimes rant against what they perceive as “consumer sheep.” For
instance, in the July/August 2003 issue, contributor Hunter S. Thompson
asks, “Who does vote for these dishonest skinheads? Who among us can be
happy and proud of having all this innocent blood on our hands? Who are
these swine? These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and fooled by
stupid little rich kids like George Bush?...Ipiss down the throats of these
Nazis” (cited in Activistcash.com, 2007, para. 29).
This oppressive aspect of culture jamming echoes Ellsworth’s (1988)
critique of critical pedagogy, as she explains that the very attempt to put
into practice the elements of critical public pedagogy espoused in the
literature leads to the reproduction of domination as the discourse works in
343CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
repressive ways not intended. In line with Ellsworth (1988), these audience
members are reacting to a form of oppression—the assumption that anti-
consumption ideology is somehow a preferred moral condition and that
anyone not in agreement is immoral or wrong. We believe that these
examples demonstrate that despite culture jamming’s potential for foster-
ing critical pedagogy, it can also at times become a space where critical
learning is squelched. Ellsworth (2005) explains a similar distinction
when she describes the differences between learning-in-the-making-as-
experience and learning-as-compliance. Culture jammers must try to avoid
become “saboteur[s] of personal development” (Ellsworth, 2005, p. 75),
much like the “unattributed voice” squelching the ideal of open-ended and
unforced play in the Art Inside Out exhibit discussed at length by Ellsworth
(2005). While this exhibit opened creative pedagogical spaces and invited
children to play there, they also contained aspects that inhibited free
creative play. Alongside quotes from the featured artists highlighting their
thoughts about their creative processes, there were also blocks of “unattrib-
uted text” (p. 74) that provided interpretations of the artwork and guide-
lines to “assist children’s comprehension of the myriad concepts at play in
contemporary art” (Ellsworth, 2005, p. 75). Ellsworth calls this unattributed
voice a “rigid, imposing, preemptive presence” (p. 75) that limited creativ-
ity rather than enhanced it.
Culture jammers must, then, strive to revel more in possible, playful
spaces, where the “learning self of the experience of the learning self is invented
in and through its engagement with pedagogy’s force” (Ellsworth, 2005, p.
7). These transitional spaces operate as engaging learning sites because the
learning self is invited to play, to explore, to investigate partial knowledges
in the making, and is not dictated by the “final correct answer” (Ellsworth,
2005, p. 76). In the final section of this article, below, we explore how
culture jammers can work to keep learning spaces open and transitional,
and discuss some of the challenges they face in doing so.
TOWARD OPENING TRANSITIONAL SPACES
In a recent article focusing on the brand-name corporate order currently
permeating American schools, Reynolds (2004, p. 29) asks, “Where are the
confrontations, the protest, and the resistance?” While Reynolds concludes
that there has yet to be a “major political or policy battle on classroom
commercialization” (p. 29), we respond to his question by pointing to the
important activist work focused on commercialism in schools—see, for
instance, the film Captive Audience (Media Education Foundation, 2003).
We also, however, believe that when the terrain of pedagogy is widened to
include spaces outside formal educational institutions, many more sites of
resistance appear. Understanding the workings of public pedagogy is criti-
cal if we are to begin to explore how we are shaped by, and shape our own,
344 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
culture. We also want to note, however, that while our research focuses on
two culture jamming groups operating outside the formal classroom, there
is still much to be garnered from such an exploration by those working
within traditional school buildings. As Darts (2004) writes, “Although it
may not, for instance, be desirable to instruct students in the art of
jamming billboards, educators can still meaningfully engage their classes
in forms of creative and critical production inspired by culture jamming”
(p. 324). Furthermore, learners are shaped by and help shape popular
culture—and they bring those learning selves—steeped in popular
culture—into the classroom. As we posit elsewhere (Sandlin, Milam,
O’Malley, & Burdick, 2007), we believe that if educators ignore the peda-
gogical force of popular culture, we risk operating under the false assump-
tion that schools are closed systems—a position strongly questioned by
theorists such as Giroux (2000) and Ellsworth (2005).
We view culture jamming as a form of resistance that is potentially
aligned with resistance theories within critical curriculum studies. Within
the notion of resistance lies a celebration of the power of human agency,
and a recognition that individuals are not merely passive dupes or victims
of powerful social structures (Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001). Rather,
resistance theories focus on the power of human agency to question, reject,
modify, or incorporate dominant ideologies and cultures. Denzin (2003)
explains how resistance can be enacted through public, cultural perfor-
mances wherein the performer-as-cultural-critic takes sides to “show how a
participatory, feminist, communitarian ethic addresses situations of injus-
tice” (p. 199). However, while we see the potential of culture jamming to
foster critical learning, as a form of cultural resistance and critical public
pedagogy it is not a panacea; it is not without contradictions and potential
problems. As we explored, when culture jamming insists on the “right
answer,” culture jamming can also work against critical learning and close
down rather than open transitional spaces. Similar to Ellsworth’s (1988)
experience in developing a critical curriculum in her classroom, culture
jamming may in fact reinforce repressive myths by attempting to dictate
who people should be and what they should think, rather than allowing for
the open “talking back”—the “defiant speech that is constructed within
communities of resistance” (p. 310). We must be mindful of the tendency
of critical public pedagogy to rely too heavily on “rationalistic tools” that
“fail to loosen deep-seated, self-interested investments” based on typically
European, White, male, middle-class, Christian, able-bodied think and
heterosexual ideals.
Therefore, critical educators interested in the counterhegemonic possi-
bilities of public pedagogy must learn how to foster spaces of transition,
and to learn to avoid closing those spaces by imposing predetermined
moral positions already constructed. We believe an important part of this
learning involves avoiding certainty and encouraging exploration—what
Ellsworth (1988) calls a “pedagogy of the unknowable.” In this pedagogy,
345CULTURE JAMMING AS CRITICAL PUBLIC PEDAGOGY
narratives and ideas are always partial—“partial in the sense that the
meaning of an individual’s or group’s experience is never [completely]
self-evident or complete” (p. 318). Indeed, we posit that the work of culture
jammers is most powerful when it demonstrates the pedagogical force of
not dictating “the final correct answer” (Ellsworth, 2005, p. 76). Reverend
Billy, for instance, attempts—and often, but not always, succeeds—to leave
spaces open to be digested, (re)created, and acted upon by audience
members themselves. We posit that an important part of leaving these
spaces open involves Reverend Billy’s ability to implicate himself in his
critique and thus more easily form relationships with his audiences than
Adbusters, which more often points critique outward. Kalb (2001), for
instance, argues that “what sets him apart from other theatrical prophets of
capitalist excess, however, is his understanding that effective critique must
point inward and outward at the same time” (p. 165). As evidence of this
understanding, Kalb (2001) cites his Web site which encourages readers to
confess their shopping sins. Furthermore, Reverend Billy consistently
acknowledges his own “state of sin” with regard to consumerism. At one
performance captured on film by Post and Palacios (2006), in response to
a woman named Carol who has confessed to him her sin of being afflicted
with “American Affluenza,” he responds, “Sister! First of all I just want to
say, Sister Carol—[sings softly]—We are all sinners.”
Another issue that could potentially interrupt culture jamming’s poten-
tial as critical public pedagogy is closely connected to the seemingly infinite
capacity of capitalism to commodify dissent. Culture jamming has been
critiqued because of how it “hijacks” dominant culture, and essentially
makes the medium of mainstream commercial culture voice counterhege-
monic messages. In effect, because culture jammers “turn the power of
commercial culture against itself” (Duncombe, 2002, p. 328), they must
wrestle with these questions: “When you/hijack a vehicle do you carry along
a bit of its meaning? That is: when commercial media is pirated for radical
messages do these messages become mere entertainment or product? And
conversely: When the image of hip rebellion sells a product, does it also sell
the image that rebellion is hip?” (Duncombe, 2002, pp. 327–328). Reynolds
(2004) also highlights the ability of capitalism to commodify dissent, and
discusses the ease with which capitalism removes the possibility of resis-
tance from artistic creations, through turning them into commodities and
effectively co-opting them.
Giroux and others call for learners to learn how to create their own
culture—to become cultural producers building new, more democratic cul-
tural realities and spheres. We contend that critical researchers need to
continue to move past simply critiquing and deconstructing current hege-
monic and oppressive cultural narratives, and look to social movements as
activism-as-curriculum that are seeking to actively produce new, resistant
pedagogy using popular culture. As Giroux (2003c) eloquently explains,
academics need to connect with and learn from activists and others
346 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
involved in social change. As a site of critical public pedagogy, culture
jamming highlights ordinary people working collectively for social change.
We encourage other critical researchers and educators to continue to
explore the potential of culture jamming and to locate other sites of
resistance within civic spaces. We feel that these inquiries could provide
educators new ways of understanding educational practice, both within and
outside of schools.
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350 JENNIFER A. SANDLIN AND JENNIFER L. MILAM
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This article examines how internet memes both enacted and reproduced racialization of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were motivated to undertake this work by a surge in hatred towards and violence against people with East Asian heritage following the outbreak of COVID-19. We focus on memes because of their ubiquity in contemporary culture and their capacity to both reflect and shape discourses. We conduct a multimodal critical discourse analysis of two prominent memes – juxtaposing a ‘top-down’ process of meme selection and distribution (the sharing of ‘The Kung-Flu Kid’ meme on Instagram by Donald Trump Jr) with a ‘bottom-up’ process (the ‘Corona-chan’ meme that originated on the website 4chan). We situate our study in a growing literature on politicized memes, challenging an emerging consensus that lauds ‘bottom-up’ memes as a democratizing force enabling resistance to hegemony, inequality and injustice. While we do not reject this characterization outright, we add nuance, showing that racialized memetic discourses around COVID-19 were propagated both from the top-down and from the bottom-up. We conclude that memes are particularly powerful communicative tools in racialized discourse because their use of polysemy, humour and cultural reference allows them to subvert the mechanisms that sanction openly racist statements.
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In the West we are accustomed to thinking of knowledge largely on the basis of vision, which is distant and objective, a perspective that posits the separation of mind and body. In contrast, theories of touch pose a proximinal understanding of knowledge production. It informs how we experience body knowledge as encounters between beings. Body knowledge through touch includes sensory knowing and bodied encounters. In this article, I examine the ways in which students encounter emotional knowledge through an e-mail exchange. The article will attend to theoretical considerations of touch, posing the question: How is touch encountered through digital environments? The focus is on discerning the nature of student understandings of body knowledge that un/ravel in an e-mail generated art project.
Article
In this article, the author argues that visual culture is an essential direction for contemporary art educators who are committed to examining social justice issues and fostering democratic principles through their teaching. The study explores how visual culture education can empower students to perceive and meaningfully engage in the ideological and cultural struggles embedded within the everyday visual experience. The author examines the work of resistance theorists and socially engaged artists, including culture jammers, in an effort to support and inform the teaching and learning of visual culture. The study concludes with an investigation of cultural production as a pedagogical strategy within the visual culture classroom for generating and facilitating student awareness, understanding, and active participation in the sociocultural realm.
Article
The Studies Invited Lecture is a presentation given each year at the National Art Education Annual Convention. The presenter is acknowledged as a leading art educator and is elected by the Studies in Art Education Editorial Board. This year's recipient was Patricia L. Stuhr. She is currently Professor and Chair, Department of Art Education, The Ohio State University. Professor Stuhr has published extensively in art education and related fields on issues of multiculturalism, postmodernism, feminism, and community-based art education.
Book
In this eighth edition of his award-winning Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction, John Storey presents a clear and critical survey of competing theories of and various approaches to popular culture. Its breadth and theoretical unity, exemplified through popular culture, means that it can be flexibly and relevantly applied across a number of disciplines. Retaining the accessible approach of previous editions, and using appropriate examples from the texts and practices of popular culture, this new edition remains a key introduction to the area. New to this edition: revised, rewritten and updated throughout brand new chapter on class and popular culture updated student resources at www.routledge.com/cw/storey. The new edition remains essential reading for undergraduate and postgraduate students of cultural studies, media studies, communication studies, the sociology of culture, popular culture and other related subjects.
Article
I propose a critical postmodern application of Debord’s Spectacle and the carnivaJesque of Bakhtin to the theatrics I see happening in city streets, on college campuses, and Internet resisting the new globalized economy. In the past decade public administration has experienced the postmodernturn, becoming caught in the conflicting theatrics of corporate-mediatized spectacle and the carnival of resistance to globalization discourse. My contribution is to theorize the interplay of spectacle and carnival on the global stage as theatrical constructions of corporate and state power and resistance. I analyze growth of the spectacle of the monitoring industry that attests corporate codes of conducts in narratives of progress, while the anti-sweatshop and antiglobalization carnivals perform a devolution script in street theater, antisweat fashion shows, and cyber-activism.
Article
In this paper, the authors analyze the importance of critical pedagogy by examining its potentially transformative relations with the sphere of popular culture. Popular culture is viewed not only as a site of contradiction and struggle but also as a significant pedagogical terrain that raises important questions regarding such issues as the relevance of everyday life, the importance of student voice, the significance of both meaning and pleasure in the learning process, and the relationship between knowledge and power in the curriculum. In the end of the piece, the authors raise a number of questions that suggest important inquiries that need to be analyzed regarding how teachers and others can further develop the notion of critical pedagogy as a form of cultural politics.