Adbusters is a magazine that attacks the culture of consumerism by turning its own tactics against it--employing the glossy tactics of advertising to encourage people to take part in "Buy Nothing Day" and "TV Turnoff Week." Culture Jam takes the revolution to another level, as the magazine's publisher, Kalle Lasn, issues a call to arms to "the advance shock troops of the most significant social movement" of the early 21st century. Dissatisfied with the results of both academic and mainstream liberalism and feminism, Lasn harks back to the situationist roots of the 1968 Paris uprisings, a brief moment when it seemed possible that men and women might be able to wholly re-create not only their own lives but society as well.
That revolution stumbled and fell, however, and Lasn views contemporary existence as one in which people have almost entirely succumbed to the cultural mandates of consumer capitalism, turning to corporations for guidance about how to look and what to desire. He offers several tips on how you can "demarket your life," including talking back to telemarketers and intensified boycotts (want to strike a blow against tobacco giant Philip Morris? Stop buying Maxwell House coffees, Kraft dairy products, Post cereals, and Miller beer). Lasn also pushes for the return of corporations to a subordinate role in people's lives, citing the 1886 U.S. Supreme Court decision that rendered corporations "natural persons" in the eyes of the law as a horrendous miscarriage of justice that must be overturned. (One of his biggest targets is media conglomerates who are able to disseminate their ideology throughout the information spectrum; in an ironic twist of fate, perhaps, the publisher of Culture Jam became a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation scant months before the book's release.)
Culture Jam is an extreme book--among its declarations: "consumer capitalism is by its very nature unethical"--and Lasn's reasoning is not without flaws. One of the weak links in his argument is his insistence that, because none of the major television networks will allow him to purchase airtime for his "subverts," there is "no democracy on the airwaves" and his freedom of speech is being denied. The First Amendment says only that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech"; it says nothing about what he deems the "right to communicate ... through any media." On the other hand, he also raises a more plausible line of attack--since it's the government that grants broadcasters access to the airwaves, citizens should press for more say in how broadcast licenses are distributed. But whatever the book's excesses, Lasn is driven by a righteous anger--and Culture Jam may likely convince you, too, that the models of material success presented to us are not only inadequate to true happiness, they must be overturned. --Ron Hogan
From Library Journal
For Lasn (publisher of Adbusters Magazine), "America is no longer a country but a multitrillion-dollar brand": the media and corporate greed, he argues, have hooked Americans on conspicuous consumption, turning vigilant citizens into hypnotized consumers. America's salvation lies with culture jammers, "a loose global network of media activists" whose activist program is to topple the system the book sets forth. Lasn provides lots of statistics on the harmful effects of television and advertising, but his arguments tend to rely more on intuition than proven facts. The media's pervasive influence on American culture cannot be denied, but it's not clear that its influence is as pernicious as Lasn claims. Still, while his urgent, sometimes sanctimonious tone may not convince anyone but the already-converted, Lasn's book raises important issues that deserve discussion. Recommended for public and academic libraries.AWilliam Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
See all Editorial Reviews
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.