As culturejammers, we need our own culture. That is the essence of our movement. We see that western culture is beholden to commercial interests whose sole concern is to extract profit from our social interactions and artistic achievements. In the face of this overwhelming consumerism we strive to achieve a new culture – unadulterated and authentic.
The mega-corporations have made a mistake in assuming they can use money to seize our creative communities. Instead they have initiated a cat-and-mouse game. The moment they swoop in to purchase our spaces, we abandon them as they have ceased to be ours. Hence the perpetual struggle: corporations constantly chase our cultural achievements and claim them as their own because they can never create true art themselves. But this game has gone on long enough. By abandoning our spaces and allowing them to be overrun by corporate influences, we have failed to build a tradition strong enough to stand against the dominant consumer culture. It is time we devise a new strategy to protect and spread our new culture.
Consider the example of Blackspot Shoes. In the years since its launch, Blackspot Shoes has sold 25,000 pairs – proving that an ethically produced, anti-corporate shoe is a viable alternative to sweatshop sneakers and massive advertising campaigns. But what is to prevent a mega-corporation from buying Blackspot Shoes? The answer is simple: Blackspot Shoes are based on the principle of “Customer = Participant,” a principle that would spell the death for any corporation that attempted to co-opt it. By building into itself virtues anathema to mass-produced corporate culture, Blackspot Shoes ensures that it will always remain a stronghold for culturejammers.
The challenge culturejammers must now consider is how the lesson of Blackspot Shoes can be applied to founding a widespread anti-corporate culture. On this question, history holds some clues. The 2,000-year-old Roman historian Livy wrote that Romulus founded Rome by welcoming all immigrants whether they were vagabonds, outlaws or outcasts. From this diverse group he created a unified people through the adoption of symbols and rituals, some borrowed from nearby cultures and others created. Culturejammers find themselves at a similar place in our history. We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and anarchist entrepreneurs unified by a culture of anti-corporate rituals and shared artistic symbols we produce. The campaigns we have adopted are our defense against assimilation and to co-opt our rituals would mean the death of consumer culture. However, we should not be content with what we have already built for there is one direction in which our cultural development is sorely needed: the charitable care of our needy compatriots.
In an economy dependent on consumer spending, the anti-consumption message we embrace will have fundamental economic effects that hit the poorest culturejammers first. Of course, one of the ways that consumerism is perpetuated is out of fear of moving away from this economic model. However, we cannot let this fear keep us from the direction we know our culture must go. Instead, we should adopt a new social campaign that will provide a safety net for those culture jammers living at the lowest levels of consumption – those tireless, full-time activists and artists who put their beliefs ahead of their own careers and livelihoods.
To support the heroes of our movement, I propose a voluntary and self-imposed tax inspired by the Islamic notion of Zakat, the Christian Tithe and the Jewish Tzedakah. The idea is simple: every month, culture jammers should set aside two percent of their earnings. Once a year, these collected savings should be given to a deserving culturejammer in your local community whose efforts have furthered the movement. The goal is not to create another institutionalized charity organization, but instead to give our support directly to the individuals in our communities who deserve it the most. In this way, we will insure that an increasing number of culture jammers are encouraged to make building the movement into a full-time pursuit. I call the idea Blackspot Zakat and have already begun by putting aside two percent of my income while I look for a deserving culture jammer. It is a simple idea that is anathema to capitalism and that will give our movement self-sustainability and independence while preventing the desire of our most talented vanguard to “sell out.” If we adopt this voluntary ritual, then we jammers will finally begin to build our own lasting culture.
Micah M. White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters Magazine and an independent activist. Micah is currently writing a book on the future of activism. He lives in Binghamton, NY with his wife and two cats. www.micahmwhite.com