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Opinion Column
For the week of August 23 through 29, 2000

Adbusters’ cultural jamming movement aims at altering our lifestyle

A culture that allows its major economic entities to pay inordinate amounts of money to people to write about shivering with business excitement over a global campaign to sell packaged and canned soup is in dire need of a revolution.

Express Staff Writer

There exists a publication found on some newsstands called Adbusters: journal of the mental environment. It has so far printed 31 issues and says of itself, "cultural revolution is our business."

Adbusters explains its use of the possessive personal pronoun in this way: "We are a global network of artists, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century. We believe culture jamming can be to our era what civil rights was to the ‘60s, what feminism was to the ‘70s, what environmental activism was to the ‘80s. It will alter the way we live and think. It will change the way information flows, the way institutions wield power, the way TV stations are run, the way food, fashion, automobile, sports, music and culture industries set their agendas. Above all, it will change the way meaning is produced in our society."

I’m not sure that "meaning" is a production like an automobile, a song, a bag of French fries or a dress, but I like the intention to topple the existing power structures. Power needs toppling from time to time, if for no other reason than to clean out its inevitable corruption and keep it honest and alive. And jamming the present culture can only benefit the people who live within it.

Adbusters is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, a status from which it is free to cut to the chase and go for the jugular of the culture it wishes to revolutionize. They do this with a free-wheeling sense of fun, sometimes black satire and prescient insight into the values and self-serving self-deceptions of our predominant culture.

Such deceptions are wonderful to behold for the cynical, interesting to contemplate for the thinker, and hard to digest for anyone. Whether one believes that our culture is just fine as it is, perhaps needs only a little work and shift of focus, or should be completely thrown into the scrap heap of the history of civilization, Adbusters is worth the price of admission if only for its wit.

Each issue of the magazine has a theme, taking on some facet of the culture that the mainstream media, for the most part, panders to, ignores, or investigates with tepid enthusiasm and a tether from the advertising department. The most recent Adbusters announces "The aim of this issue is to crack the Corporate ‘I’." As illustration, it contains this quote from the 1994 annual report from the Campbell’s Soup Company: "As I look to the future, I shiver with business excitement. That’s because Campbell’s Soup Company is engaged in a global consumer crusade."

A culture that allows its major economic entities to pay inordinate amounts of money to people to write about shivering with business excitement over a global campaign to sell packaged and canned soup is in dire need of a revolution. If the writer had written, "I shiver with greed" one could at least credit the report with a form of honesty, but it would still beg the question of the Corporate "I."

Who is the "I" in the Corporate "I" of America’s corporations? In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court made the decision that, under the Constitution, a private corporation was a "natural person," entitled to all the rights and privileges of a human being.

It is not hard to appreciate the premise that a culture giving the legal status of a natural person to, say, Exxon, General Motors or Monsanto is in need of a revolution and a new mental environment.

Adbusters corporate issue contains this: "Corporations are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we walk on. They are in the food, the clothes, the cars, the speed, the news, the music, the cool, the hype, the sex. They are in the pill that calms us when we can no longer control our rage.

But who are these legal fictions that we ourselves created? And why have we allowed them to worm their way so intimately into our lives? How did they get to be omnipotent? Who gave them personhood, limited liability and immortality under the law? And many of the same constitutional rights and privileges that we humans have? Does a corporation have a soul? Can it love? Show remorse? Seek revenge? Do corporations serve us, or do we serve them?"

The answer is probably contained in this Adbusters No. 31 quote from Wal-Mart CEO and President David Glass: "Our priorities are that we want to dominate North America first, then South America, and then Asia and then Europe."

The world has learned, or at least should have learned by now, that the desire to dominate North America and then the world is both crazy and a threat to the well-being of that world and all its inhabitants. Adbusters quotes the president of Nabisco Corp.: "(I am) looking forward to the day when Arabs and Americans, Latins and Scandinavians will be munching Ritz crackers as enthusiastically as they already drink Coke or brush their teeth with Colgate."

The natural person in the corporate "I" sees nothing wrong in a world dieting on Ritz crackers and Coke, cleaned up with a squirt of Colgate. Adbusters sees a lot wrong with it and with the culture that supports it, and cultural revolution is their business. Check them out for a bit of cultural jamming fun. They can be found at, or at 1243 West 7th Ave., Vancouver, B.C. V6H 187, Canada; or at (604) 736-9401.


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