Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Culture Jamming with Revelation

Culture jamming - transforming the images of mass media to provide satrical or ironic comedy in order to to subvert their messages!
The first one, admitedly, is a little too close to home!
I want to make a case for saying that the book of Revelation is an early example of culture jamming - certainly the oldest I know.
The urban landscape of the Roman Province of Asia where John was writing was littered with images - advertising, you might say. They were in people's homes, on street corners, in the gymnasium, in the banqueting halls, at public baths, on walls. Everywhere, through sophisticated and subtle use of subliminal messages these images saturated the consciousness of the people. Ring any bells yet?
These images communicated a broad message - Rome brings you peace and luxury. All you need to do is accept the empire and a bit of war in foreign lands and it will all be yours. And the message was incredibly successful. There were no Roman legions in the Province of Asia. It didn't need them. People acquiesed because they believed the message. How similar to the American dream - it promises freedom, wealth, higher standards of living, all you need to do is consume. The message is published on every road side, at 7 minute intervals on TV, on every web page. And the message is so successful that even now I feel the pressure to make the case for saying that actually buying products will not increase your happiness. Instead, our children are made anorexics and the poor in Indonesia are made slaves. And we just become increasingly dissatisfied by life, because the message tells us that we 'need' more. So, with feverish excitment we move around shopping malls with an apparent insatiability, and an urgency we wouldn't usually associate with leisure. And we call it 'retail therepy' when in reality its a fix of the shopping drug that never quite satisfies.
At the heart of John's approach to these images is to see their message as religious. John had no concept the enlightenment division of the secular and the religious. Or, the idea that the religious can easily be defined as that organised credal thing that now goes by the name of 'religion'. Religion, for John, was a set of myths that explain and give meaning. At the heart of these religious systems are icons / images that encapsulate these meanings. Coca Cola is our modern day fetish, as are the golden arches of McDonalds. The icons of the consumerist religion are everywhere.
Then john does a bit of culture jamming (or 'iconoclasm' as it used to be called). He takes these images and subverts them. One of the most important images was Roma - she represented the fruitfulness and prosperity of Rome - a bit like the Statue of Liberty represents the idea that America brings freedom. One of the most popular images was a picture of Roma slouched against the Rome's 7 hills and her foot touching the Tiber River. John subverts this image. He describes a whore sitting on 7 hills, and on "many waters", drinking the blood of the saints. This is what is really going on - says John - Roma is a whore, plying her trade with the world, offering them an illusion of love and sustaining itself on bloodshed. This is the truth behind the image.
Ring any more bells? Nike, plying her trade with the world, sustaining itself by slavery and offering the world an illusion of freedom and hope which it never delivers.
Who's up for a bit of culture jamming?


DS said...

Me, me, me!

there is a person / group? in Sheffiled who do some great graffiti on posters /walls that is wonderfully hopeful and subversive

Anyone else seem them ? - get them posted on here if you do - maybe with pics?

(should we join in with that?? - Risk of getting collar felt!)

Anyway - Mark PLEASE do an Engage face2face session on Revelation & culture Jamm'in - you know you want to!

rache said...

hopeful and subversive I like - will look out for those

all that revelation stuff sounds fascinating. I never read revelation - too wierd and incomprehensible, but it sounds v. interesting, would love to know more . . .

mark said...

oh go on then, you've twisted my arm. Revelation & Culture Jamming for our next session it is.

mark said...

Is this the kind of hopeful but subversive stuff you had in mind?