Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge--any Why We Mustby Kalle Lasn
America is no longer a country but a multimillion-dollar brand, says Kalle Lasn and his fellow "culture jammers". The founder of Adbusters magazine, Lasn aims to stop the branding of America by changing the way information flows; the way institutions wield power; the way television stations are run; and the way the food, fashion, automobile, sports/em>… See more details below
America is no longer a country but a multimillion-dollar brand, says Kalle Lasn and his fellow "culture jammers". The founder of Adbusters magazine, Lasn aims to stop the branding of America by changing the way information flows; the way institutions wield power; the way television stations are run; and the way the food, fashion, automobile, sports, music, and culture industries set agendas. With a courageous and compelling voice, Lasn deconstructs the advertising culture and our fixation on icons and brand names. And he shows how to organize resistance against the power trust that manages the brands by "uncooling" consumer items, by "dermarketing" fashions and celebrities, and by breaking the "media trance" of our TV-addicted age.
A powerful manifesto by a leading media activist, Culture Jam lays the foundations for the most significant social movement of the early twenty-first century -- a movement that can change the world and the way we think and live.
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Imagine that you are a member of a typical postmodern family, living in a typical house, in a typical neighborhood, in a typical North American city. You're overleveraged and overworked. You eat a lot of takeout, your kids holler for Nikes and the TV is on five hours a day. One day it dawns on you that, as a family, you're failing. You aren't so much a family as five strangers sharing power and water.
You decide, as a tonic, to go on a camping trip--a pit-latrine-and-flame-cooked-wieners experience uncorrupted by phones, faxes or Baywatch. In the absence of electronic distractions, you will get to know each other again.
After only a few hours in the wilderness, though, it becomes clear that you don't know how to do this. You might as well have been shot into deep space, so psychologically ill-equipped are you for the enforced camaraderie of the outside world.
Your kids experience actual physical withdrawal from television. Your seven-year-old can't finish a whole sentence or stay focused on more than three bites of her Van Camp's beans. She wears a Village of the Damned expression and asks you to repeat almost everything you say.
Your fourteen-year-old finishes his meal in silence and excuses himself to the tent, where he scavenges for magazines and, finding none, just konks out. There are no signs of life. The kids' senses have become so deadened from disuse they can't touch, taste, smell or see that they are in a marvelous place. To them it doesn't feel marvelous. It doesn't feel like anything at all.
If you have read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, you will recognize that the stages your kids are going through -- denial,anger, depression, bargaining -- closely mimic the stages of grief, as if they are adjusting to a loss. 'Which in a real way they are: the loss of their selves. Or rather, the loss of the selves that feel most authentic to them. Their mediated selves. Those selves that, when disconnected from the urban data stream, cease to function.
Your family, like most postmodern clans, finds itself adrift at a historically significant time. The last couple of centuries have marked a radical transition in human lifestyle. We've gone from living in a natural world to living in a manufactured one. For two million years our personalities and cultures were shaped by nature. The generations alive today -- who cannot recognize an edible mushroom in the forest or build a fire without matches -- are the first to have had their lives shaped almost entirely by the electronic mass media environment.
Most of us are now fully detached from the natural world. We can barely remember the last time we drank from a stream, smelled wild skunk cabbage or saw the stars from a dark remove, well away from the city. We can't remember when we last spent an evening telling stories, instead of having Jerry or Oprah or Rosie tell stories to us. We can't identify three kinds of tree, but we know how much Mike Tyson received for his last fight. We can't explain why the sky is blue, but we know how many times Susan Lucci has been passed over for a Daytime Emmy Award.
This detachment from nature may not seem like much of a problem, but it is. In fact, it's a disaster. In her 1994 book Bird by Bird, writer Anne Lamott reflects on a California vineyard in early fall. It is "about as voluptuous a place as you can find on earth: the sense of lushness and abundance; the fullness of the clumps of grapes that hang, mammarian, and give off an ancient autumnal smell, semiprotected from the sun by their leaves. The grapes are so incredibly beautiful that you can't help but be thrilled. If you aren't -- if you only see someone's profit or that in another month there will be rotten fruit all over the ground -- someone has gotten inside your brain and really fucked you up." I think she has it right. Someone has gotten into our brains. Now the most important task on the agenda is to evict them and recover our sanity.
Rediscovering the natural world ought not to be difficult. It ought to be an instinctive act. Not just in random bursts of virtuousness should we be moved to replace our divots. If the Earth felt less like something out there and more like an extension of our bodies, we'd care for it like kin. We'd engage in what German philosopher Immanuel Kant called "beautiful acts" rather than "moral acts." We'd pull in the direction of global survival not because we felt duty-bound to do so, but because it felt right and good. At a 1990 conference titled "Psychology As If the Whole Earth Mattered" at Harvard University's Center for Psychology and Social Change, panelists concluded, "If the self is expanded to include the natural world, behavior leading to destruction of this world will be experienced as self-destruction."
Sounds promising. But don't hold your breath.
To "ecopsychologist" Theodore Roszak, our rampant, oblivious consumption at the expense of the planet is, simply, a sickness--one no less harmful than the disorders catalogued in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), the encyclopedia of modern psychiatric complaint. It's too new a phenomenon for psychologists to have given much consideration to it.
Roszak views the current widespread sense of malaise as "a kind of separation anxiety" from nature. It should be an easy metaphor to connect with. We're bombarded these days with analyses of failed relationships, of the psychological havoc that breakups wreak. The psychological fallout from our breakup with nature is like that. When you cut off arterial blood to an organ, the organ dies. When you cut the flow of nature into people's lives, their spirit dies. It's as simple as that.
Meet the Author
Featured in the PBS documentary Affluenza, Kalle Lasn, whose documentaries have been broadcast on PBS, CBC, and around the world, has won 15 international awards, and has been profiled in Time. As publisher of Adbusters magazine and founder of Media Foundation and Powershift Advertising Agency, Lasn has launched social marketing campaigns like Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week. He and his wife, Masako Tominaga, make their home in Vancouver, Canada.
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