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Consequences of Over Exposure to Billboards and Cultural Jamming

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Abstract

Signs are never innocent of meaning; sometimes universally clear others having a restricted local meaning, their heterogeneity defining cultural differences, while globalization homogenizes any symbol in a unique worldwide meaning. Welcome to our world, full of so many signs that nobody seems to note anymore, where the ability to decode is a plus because it increases the possibility of reaching success and even survive according to Darwinian evolutionary theory. A time overfull of images pumping out of screens, passing through us on our way home or towards somewhere else: in the gigantic billboards -mechanical, digital or mobile- standing all over the highways exactly 30° from our eyes angle while the automobile passes, watch out, don't crash. Beware! Existence has been burst by a bunch of gigantic outside images able of shrinking our brain's capacity. On the rooftops of the big cosmopolitan centers grows a jungle of billboards covering the clouds. Everything is flashing, neon lights screaming "here, here, here!" and there isn't anyone there. Emptiness: an existence of short term sparkling just until the next spot, the new absolutely essential thing that we just have to buy or die. There is less space for introspection and critical thinking in the suffocating atmosphere made of billboards and other outdoors advertisement. There is less time in-between fast cars and quick emotions to deepen ideas concerning those images made to socialize a troop ready to defend the well being of endless consuming values. But sometimes the minimum becomes the most visible spot. In culture jamming the artist expresses his ideas by making use of simple resources to transform the advertisement medium. This paper intends to reflect on the intrusive role of billboards in individuals' personality development and on the work of culture jamming in alerting
Consequences of Over Exposure to
Billboards and Cultural Jamming
Dalila Honorato
Abstract
Signs are never innocent of meaning; sometimes universally clear
others having a restricted local meaning, their heterogeneity defining cultural
differences, while globalization homogenizes any symbol in a unique
worldwide meaning.
Welcome to our world, full of so many signs that nobody seems to
note anymore, where the ability to decode is a plus because it increases the
possibility of reaching success and even survive according to Darwinian
evolutionary theory. A time overfull of images pumping out of screens,
passing through us on our way home or towards somewhere else: in the
gigantic billboards -mechanical, digital or mobile- standing all over the
highways exactly 30° from our eyes angle while the automobile passes,
watch out, don’t crash. Beware!
Existence has been burst by a bunch of gigantic outside images able
of shrinking our brain’s capacity. On the rooftops of the big cosmopolitan
centers grows a jungle of billboards covering the clouds. Everything is
flashing, neon lights screaming “here, here, here!” and there isn’t anyone
there. Emptiness: an existence of short term sparkling just until the next spot,
the new absolutely essential thing that we just have to buy or die.
There is less space for introspection and critical thinking in the
suffocating atmosphere made of billboards and other outdoors advertisement.
There is less time in-between fast cars and quick emotions to deepen ideas
concerning those images made to socialize a troop ready to defend the well
being of endless consuming values. But sometimes the minimum becomes
the most visible spot. In culture jamming the artist expresses his ideas by
making use of simple resources to transform the advertisement medium. This
paper intends to reflect on the intrusive role of billboards in individuals’
personality development and on the work of culture jamming in alerting
conscious awareness.
Keywords: billboards, culture jamming, consciousness, advertisement,
globalization, perception.
You can’t miss it
If a programme on the television or radio is giving on your nerves
you just have to shut off the transmitter. If you don’t like to read a newspaper
you don’t buy it and if the new issue on your favourite magazine has been
nothing else than disappointing you just throw it in the trash. But if you are
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driving over the highway and meet a billboard on the road-side you can’t
close your eyes, can you? (I mean, technically, you can but it is not
advisable). If you are walking in the city and you don’t like the heavy
advertisement decorating” both sides of the street you can always try
another road next time but the truth is that the objective of the billboard itself
was reached and the advertisement has been a success since you saw it, so
you were caught.
Once your eyes have hit the image you can’t erase it. And you never
know where the new billboard is going to pop up from. With television and
the computer screen you have control over the location of the transmitter, at
least concerning those within your own house, over a shelf, on the wall, on
your desk, it’s there and it stays there were you have placed them. They will
play once you push the button but will never start by themselves, unless you
have programmed them. If you live alone you can have absolute control over
your wall’s cover: colour, paper, texture, pictures, you can choose to have
works of art or your dogs’ photograph, you can choose to have a plain wall.
Light, sound and other components of life at home can be limited by exterior
factors but controlled through synthetic ones. Once you approach the window
and look through it, what you will be able to see is out of the reach of your
hand. (Unless you live under the surface). Although thick curtains might be a
temporary solution for the visual shock caused by the confrontation of your
within and outside life, sometimes you can not avoid to go out. And there you
will possibly get caught by images that you have never asked for.
How sacred is the world of the icon
Cinematically, I was never an admirer of westerns. Good guy, nasty
guy, easy girl, hard woman, a lot of shooting, may be some Indians, but there
was always an incredible open field and a great horse riding towards this
unbelievable sunset. (Any resemblance to reality is pure tobacco
advertisement). As if the buildings were not tall enough, there have to be
billboards on the roofs also. And fine, we could live with five percent of sky
visibility; if our optic nerves were not attacked at night by lighten outdoors.
Is there any law recognizing the universal right to see the stars?
In 2004, while the city was getting ready for receiving the Olympic
Games, an estimated $750,000 was spent on clearing thousands of billboards
from buildings and rooftops around Athens. This single gesture was more
important to the improvement of the Athenians’ daily life than the building of
new stadiums. There was the sense of the city being cleaned-up and the
feeling that one was rediscovering his or her own city because it was given
the opportunity to the people of finally seeing walls that had been covered
from the public eye for years. Additionally it was also offered visibility to
new artists by giving them the chance to decorate a few high exposure public
walls. Obviously, neither Greece nor Athens became billboard-free; during
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the Olympic Games the advertisement dedicated to the main sponsors was
visible but limited to the areas close to the stadiums
(http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/europe/3565616.stm).
In the U.S.A., since federal regulations leave much of the decision
making to states and municipalities on this issue, there are states which are
billboard-free and other states that control the numbers of existing billboards
by prohibiting the construction of new ones. These actions seem to be
negative only to the billboard industry. Experience has demonstrated that
after banning billboards, which commonly advertise international branch
marks’ products, local economies saw increase of their profits, in the sectors
of both tourism and retail sales. Would you photograph an historical building
half covered by a gigantic billboard? Or would you sit and have a salad in a
vegetarian restaurant with a view towards the image of a gigantic meat burger
which doesn’t even resembles the one you would be having if you were
sitting instead at the establishment of this widely known fast-food
franchising?
Billboards mischaracterize a community’s intrinsic qualities by
introducing homogenizing aspects, which can be commonly found worldwide
among the features that contribute to the distinctiveness of each specific
place. Like a virus contaminating scenic, natural, historical, recreational,
archaeological and cultural spaces, mutating their unique sense of place and
time, positioning people into a virtual space and removing from them their
own identity. Concerning the issue of environmental aesthetics it seems
interesting to refer the campaign created by DDB New Zealand in March
2007 as response to the Auckland city council's attempts to ban billboards:
the "Say No to No Billboards" ads focus on the beautification action of
billboards placed on ‘ugly’ buildings (http://www.etre.com/blog/2007/03/
say_no_to_no_billboards_auckland/).
The impact of billboards on natural environment has been all but
‘beautificating’. In fact, outdoor advertisement has been the cause for
deliberate cutting trees on the public right-of-way to provide a clear view of
billboards. Although the billboard is placed in private property its value
consists on the proximity to public highways, on its visibility on behalf of the
drivers. In the U.S.A., the outdoor advertisement companies’ claim having
the legal right to visibility but such so-called right has not been recognized by
the courts. Cutting down trees represents, for this reason, destruction of
public property for a purpose that is alien both to the public and the highway.
Seeing and buying
Another issue concerning billboards is the possibility of causing
safety reduction on highways. During March 2007 the Federal Highway
Administration in Washington commissioned a $150,000 study to assess the
safety of digital highway billboards
4
(http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/index.php?feed=TopNews&article=UPI-1-
20070306-14581500-bc-us-videobillboards.xml). Critics involve the danger
that digital billboards on highways might represent by causing distraction to
the drivers, especially when there is a limited time reaction to traffic signs in
areas involving high levels of information concentration. At psychosomatic
level, after being exposed to stressful situations, there seems to be a quick
reduction of high stress levels, while driving through a billboard-free road of
rural character, compared with driving through a road with billboards, where
drivers experience higher blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, and
increased eye movements and facial muscle activity
(http://www.scenic.org/billboards/background/public_health).
As with television, it is not the visual narrative content of the digital
billboard but its stylistic tricks (cuts, edits, zooms, plans, sudden noises, etc.)
that activate orienting response to the screen since human beings are
biologically programmed to detect and pay attention to movement. Is it
possible that constant long-term exposure to billboard information reduces
the brain’s neurological capacity to make judgements about what is been seen
and heard on the screen? In television’s case, after 30 seconds of exposure,
the brain waves switch to predominantly alpha waves (unfocused, receptive
lack of attention), the brain’s left hemisphere (logical and analytical
information processing) tunes out, and the involvement of the frontal lobe
(self-control, moral judgement and attention) is subdued. The brain releases
dopamine when in contact with information but, when daily exposed to more
than four hours of television watching, the brain develops a neurochemical
dependency. Images surround our visual environment, fill our perception
with colors and affect our mood. They can attract our attention and provoke
disgust; they can relax us or draw us. Advertisement uses the survival tool to
detect movement and multiplies image kinetics in order to trap human gaze.
Media corporations and advertising agencies have conducted
intensive research into audiences and identify its members' socio-economic
class, lifestyles, motivation, disposable income, fantasies etc. and that
knowledge enables them to sharply 'target' their audiences. According to New
Audience Research theory, audiences are active producers of meaning,
instead of simple consumers of media meanings. Each individual’s use of the
media is closely connected to the rest of daily life and conditioned by what he
or she wants to get out of it, resisting the constructions of reality chosen by
the mass media and constructing personal meanings for media texts. During
the act of viewing, the audience is involved in the co-construction of
meanings and interpretations and the same image might be decoded
differently by different audience members according to their social and
cultural circumstances and the ways that they, individually, experience those
circumstances.
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Michel de Certeau criticizes the generalized assumption that the
public is shaped by the products imposed on it, and refers that instead what
should be considered are the uses people give to those. According to the
author, ordinary people develop 'tactics' for carrying out 'raids' on the
dominant culture. They pinch their own meanings from the cultural
commodities offered to them through 'strategies' of the dominant elite (used
by total institutions such as the army, cities, supermarket chains to create and
delimit their own place), according to their needs, as 'poachers'.
Like de Certeau, John Fiske recognizes that the dominant classes'
strategy is to impose their preferred reading. Adjustment is made to the
dominant readings coded in media texts by members of a community,
through interpersonal communication, so that it can suit the specific needs of
that community. Research shows that there are patterns of interpretation; the
personal interpretations produced by media users are not always radically
different from other individual interpretations. In Fiske’s view, the generation
of meanings by readers of popular texts, their guerrilla tactics of resistance to
the dominant order, is essentially progressive. The existence of a variety of
synchronized media texts being expressed by dominant opinion forces seems
to be a proof that these guerrilla tactic of resistance are contributing to the
retarding spreading of a cultural homogenizing unilateral sense of reality.
Although popular culture is seen as operating to maintain the status quo,
Fiske, on the other hand, sees the generation of oppositional meanings as an
emancipator source. It starts by providing examples of resistance at the micro
political level, this way empowering the repressed ones to act against
oppression, and acting as a constant erosive force upon the macro political
level able of making the system progressively weaker and preparing it to
adapt to change.
How liberating a world without logos
A social movement that aims to bring changes at cultural levels, by
interacting differently with mass media and changing the way meaning is
produced in society is culture jamming. A worldwide spread movement
which actions, such as anti-billboards activities, are practiced by media
activists, it integrates individuals from different backgrounds and some long-
time activists (left, green, anarchists, feminists, etc.) who found a common
ground for action: the feeling that life’s real values have been sold for a brand
image, culture jammers refuse a world where everything is sold and
everything is bought. They resist the society of spectacle (Guy Debord)
where products, celebrities and entertainments became culture, citizens were
transformed into members of the audience, who listen, watch and buy. They
are aware that words which had meaning such as democracy and freedom
became slogans to sell products, where images of drinking can be associated
to self-confidence and smoking a sign of maturity, depending on the
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trademark. To culture jammers the economic agents have overlapped their
field of action and have penetrated the political and cultural structures, in
order to increase their profits. Because corporations know no ideology, the
same company sells fizzy drinks to both the Allies and the Nazis, being
careful enough to change the name and the product. By joining both sides one
does not risk to loose, or compromise, or choose. The attitude towards the
common good is inexistent. One fizzy drink to fit each ideology, without
remorse or principles: the important is to take profit out of it.
Media and new cultural forces suppress individual emotions and
personality. They promote an idea of life based on the act of sleeping, eating,
sitting in a car, working, shopping and watching television. In-between these
actions there is no personal time, no silence for introspection, no opportunity
is left to the achievement of conscious moments. There are no surprises in
this life, where everything is limited to the programme that has been
stipulated for our lives: once more sleeping, eating, sitting in a car, working,
shopping and watching television day after day.
Our moments of happiness are by command the instants we are told
to be happy. Everybody is laughing with the same funny scene on television,
so I laugh because everybody else seems to be doing so. Except that those
laughs are recorded on the programme with the purpose of informing me
when to laugh, but why is all people laughing? Slowly one learns to associate
certain behaviours with a certain reaction, like the bell to Pavlov’s dog, and
we laugh. When we laugh together with those previously recorded laughs we
feel less alone, we feel we belong, but our participation in the team is limited
to our abandoning of any element of creativity of spontaneous behaviour. We
are what we seem to be, dressed with the t-shirt of the team, the one we had
to buy and will possibly be forced to change for a new one every now and
then, so that we do not stay behind and stop belonging. The new cultural
pressure propelled by the media can flatten in a couple of years communities,
traditions, cultural heritages, sovereignties and replace entire pieces of
history by its own versions, an homogenized front considered politically
correct but which should be called instead an economically profitable version
of history. If one is used to drink tea and enjoys it, why drinking a fizzy drink
with caffeine? May be because the company that owns the fizzy drink with
caffeine bought the old tea company and stopped distributing tea in the
traditionally tea consuming market. Without tea one is finally free to enjoy
the new drink. That is the power of choice according to capitalistic
democracy.
Who are we actually? Our clothes, our hair style, our diet, do all
these things put together describe us? Can the things we own define us? Do
we decide what things to buy in our everyday life or have these things been
suggested to us through different media? Are we being programmed to buy
passively? By the end of the day what is the product? Culture jammers
7
remind us, using a renewed adaptation of McLuhan’s motto, that the product
is you. The screens train our mind to seated submissiveness and we stop
questioning. There is no more why just now; there is no more who am I’,
just what I own’. I am a plurality of potential personalities, lacking
consistence to compromise, patience to try and courage to create. In front of
the possibility we rather choose cynicism and commonly reject the idea that
change is at the reach of our hands.
Media jammers pretend to shake the values imposed by these new
cultural forces of social pressure by inverting their text meanings. Their
forms of action are diverse but consist in using the same media that
advertises corporative interests to promote individual creativity. Their main
message is that human beings have the right to live in a world free of
advertisements, because before we are buyers we are all citizens. Each person
has the right to develop his or her own personality before buying the next
fashion object. In order to develop ones personality the person needs to live
in an environment free of commercial spots, one has to fight to win the right
to live in a world where there is space for silence and horizon to the eye. One
should cross the seas and reach the highest mountains instead of running to
the shop in the sales’ opening. By putting obstacles such as billboards in-
between the human eye and the sky, the advertisement companies are
violating the universal right to each individual pursuit of happiness.
Consuming has been converted into religion. Feuerbach defends that
each society creates a god at its own image according to their needs but this
god brings alienation to the individual because while attributing to the divine
qualities that are initially human the person is dissociating itself from its own
consciousness. Sartre reminds us that man is too afraid to abandon the idea of
god because he refuses to be responsible for his own existence and can not
accept the fact that he is alone. Media jammers fight the new profitable
‘sacred’ gods by destroying their icons in billboards and they launch an
invitation. Do not be afraid. Happiness comes with consciousness: the clear
image of what one really needs in order to live, the relief from the pressure of
what one just has’ to acquire. Actions such as the buy nothing today might
be liberating at personal level but disastrous for corporations. Imagine
Christmas celebrated with gifts made by your own hands? Imagine a world
where happiness is not sold inside cans. Imagine a world free of logos, a
world without billboards between you and the sky.
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8
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Author identification: Ionian University, Department of Audio & Visual Arts,
Corfu, Greece
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Book
Das Wahrnehmen von Bewegung ist eines der interessantesten und die Wissenschaft und Forschung h?chst anregensten Arbeitsgebiete. Bereits die Gestaltpsychologen nahmen ein Probleml?severhalten durch Einsicht an. Für sie war Wahrnehmung ein Prozess der Organisation der dem Gehirn übertragenen Daten, deren Ordnung nach bestimmten Regeln (Gesetz der N?he, Gesetz der gleichen Bewegung, Gesetz der ?hnlichkeit, Gesetz der weichen Kurven) erfolgte. Diese Gesetze sind heute allgemeingültig in Bezug auf Bildgestaltung und finden nicht selten Anwendung in der elektronischen Bildverarbeitung (z. B. : Bilderkennungssysteme).
Chapter
This revised edition of a now classic text includes a new introduction by Henry Jenkins, explaining 'Why Fiske Still Matters' for today's students, followed by a discussion between former Fiske students Kevin Glynn, Jonathan Gray, and Pamela Wilson on the theme of 'Reading Fiske and Understanding the Popular'. Both underline the continuing relevance of this foundational text in the study of popular culture. What is popular culture? How does it differ from mass culture? And what do popular "texts" reveal about class, race, and gender dynamics in a society? John Fiske answers these and a host of other questions in Understanding Popular Culture. When it was first written, Understanding Popular Culture took a groundbreaking approach to studying such cultural artifacts as jeans, shopping malls, tabloid newspapers, and TV game shows, which remains relevant today. Fiske differentiates between mass culture - the cultural "products" put out by an industrialized, capitalist society - and popular culture - the ways in which people use, abuse, and subvert these products to create their own meanings and messages. Rather than focusing on mass culture's attempts to dominate and homogenize, he prefers to look at (and revel in) popular culture's evasions and manipulations of these attempts. Designed as a companion to Reading the Popular, Understanding Popular Culture presents a radically different theory of what it means for culture to be popular: that it is, literally, of the people. It is not imposed on them, it is created by them, and its pleasures and meanings reflect popular tastes and concerns - and a rejection of those fostered by mass culture. With wit, clarity, and insight, Professor Fiske debunks the myth of the mindless mass audience, and demonstrates that, in myriad ways, popular culture thrives because that audience is more aware than anyone guesses.
The Uncooling of America Messaris, Paul, Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising
  • Lasn
  • Culture Kalle
  • Jam
Lasn, Kalle, Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America (New York: Harper Collins, 1999) Messaris, Paul, Visual Persuasion: The Role of Images in Advertising (London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1997).
Remotedly Controlled -How television is damaging our lives -and what we can do about it
  • Aric Sigman
Sigman, Aric, Remotedly Controlled -How television is damaging our lives -and what we can do about it (London: Vermilion, 2005).