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For a few years now the "Culture Jammers" have been taking aim at the destructive nature of corporate advertising. Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters Magazine, wrote a book called, "Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America." It spoke about the need to understand the crippling effect that advertising culture has on the public conscience, and disable it through shock tactics. Being an ex-advertising executive himself, Lasn spoke passionately about the need to turn corporate images against themselves; to playfully twist distorted meanings back to reveal the sinister reality of mind control that lies at the heart of the propoganda project of corporate advertising.

Closer to home I heard about a bunch of locals who, fed up with the amount of McDonalds rubbish in their street, published a series of 'vouchers' whereby people were guaranteed a free Big-Mac with every two pieces of McDonald's litter picked up off the street. Though dishonest, this was a highly ingenious way of bringing McDonalds' waste back where they would be forced to notice it.

Culture jamming is a broad and diverse movement which operated on many levels. It involved mischievous acts like the one above, street theatre, global action days (such as the 'Buy Nothing Day'), advertising on television, graffitti, re-facement of billboards (such as the 'Billboard Liberation Front' in America), life-sized puppets (Such as 'Jo Chemo' who would follow American politicians around and, closer to home, Melbourne's own Snuff Puppets who ritually sacrificed babies with Nestle's Baby Milk Formula.)

The common ground shared by these people is a reaction against the dehumanisation of people, as is captured in Lasn's slightly arrogant attempt at a 'manifesto':

Culture Jammers Manifesto

We will take on the
archetypal mind polluters
and beat them at their
own game.

We will uncool their
billion-dollar brands
with uncommercials
on TV, subvertisements
in magazines and anti-ads
right next to theirs in
the urban landscape.

We will seize control of
the roles and functions
that corporations play
in our lives and set new
agendas in their industries.

We will jam the pop-culture
marketeers and bring their
image factory to a sudden,
shuddering halt.

On the rubble of the old
culture, we will build a new
one with a non-commercial
heart and soul. [Lasn, p.128]

I strongly encourage anyone interested to look up some of their critique at www.adbusters.org.


source: adbusters.org

In response to the increasing popularity of culture jammers, Nike has taken the battle to a new level through its latest billboard campaign around Melbourne which contain the message, "Our most offensive boot ever."

It comes as no surprise that Nike has tackled the notion of offensiveness. After the amazing success of the Nikewatch comapaign (www.nikewatch.org) to highlight the appalling conditions within factories manufacturing Nike shoes, and Nike's million dollar marketing campaign to convince consumers that they are misunderstood ethical manufacturers, a recent BBC documentary has shown that human rights abuses continue unabated within factories manufacturing the Nike (and GAP) label. In a massively popular email interaction with a person wanting a personalised pair of Nikes with the label, "Sweatshop," Nike refused the request without stating any good reason.


source: nike.com

This has been the most popular email forwarding this year around many networks.

Nike needed to respond in the face of their haemorraging public image.

And their latest billboard campaign around Melbourne is that response.

Nike's advertising people are professional enough to see that their name is in danger of becoming offensive. People are morally repulsed by the fact that a company with massive profits and power can be tight-arsed enough to not even ensure a living wage and safe working conditions within the factories that manufacture its product. Nike is faced with two options: Either stop being offensive by reforming production conditions; or appropriate and trivialise the idea of offense. It chose the latter.

At a first glance Nike's latest billboard, "The most offensive boots we've ever made," uses a simple word play to confuse the notion of offensive. Offensiveness is a football tactic, they tell us, not a response to injustice. This created fictional sense of 'offense' crowds out any notion of real moral offense. The passive spectator of the ad, the one who doesn't consciously notice the billboard and couldn't be bothered thinking about it, has their notion of 'offense' blurred and slightly confused. It's far easier to think sport than to think about the complexities of human rights abuses in other countries. The powerful cultural voice of Nike is telling me that offense has to do with sport, and I don't like getting into arguments.


source: anon

Not content with the normal boundaries of advertising, Nike's publicity takes it further. They build upon this fictional offense by 'jamming' their own billboards. They paste over their own billboards (though conspicuously never covering over the Nike swoosh) with messages, "What next, rocket packs?," and "Fair Minded Footy Fans say Not Fair Mr Technology" in order to feign outrage at the supposed injustice of boots that are simply too good. These 'jams' even go as far as to mimic the messy typefont used by previous authentic jams.


source: bantheboot.com

They've done their homework.

Some of their billboards go even further with a jam by the "Fans Fight for Fairer Football" group. This is truly frightening. What appears at first glance to be a community group concerned with the state of football turns out to be nothing other than a thin and deceptive marketing ploy on the part of Nike. Here is some of the blurb from the website, www.ffff.com.au.

A few seasons ago, a small group of Footy fans set aside their club allegiances and banded together for a single cause that they believed was fair and just and righteous and honest and really very important. We are that group. We are the FFFF. Which stands for, Fans Fight for Fairer Football. As you can imagine, our cause is a provocative one. Perilous to those involved. So you will forgive us our anonymity. But just because you can't put a face to us doesn't mean that we aren't real. As this world wide web site proves, we are SERIOUS. We believe in football. We believe in fairness. Perhaps you do too Fans Fighting For Fairer Football believe in a future where fairness is the only winner and integrity the key to true happiness. Like us, you may have noticed a decline in fairness in our towns and cities. A loss of goodwill and generosity. Declining friendliness and outwardly insubstantial lessening of overall niceness and kindness. We believe this decay in our once fair minded society can be attributed directly to a decline in fairness in football.

Football's overall importance to life in general should not be underestimated. And with the recent slip in fairness on the field we can see an era of hardship emerging for the young and young at heart wanting fun and jocularity but receiving only sadness and an unnerving sense of confusion. For example, what kind of example is a player like Matthew Lloyd giving to future generations when he kicks 100 goals a season? Not a fair one, and one that might lead to frustration and possible teen angst.

We are ready to fight those trying to introduce unfairness to our great sport by introducing technologically advanced products such as the Nike Air Zoom Total 90 and Nike Air Zoom Internationals. And say Enough is enough! To the players hell bent on helping themselves to fame and fortune with the use of technology and no doubt damaging the game we love.

This is really dangerous stuff because it adds to the cynicism felt by ordinary citizens to do something about their world. By pretending to be a group of ordinary citizens expressing community concern, but in fact being just the latest branding tactic of a largely faceless transnational corporation, it casts doubt on every other community group organising around principles of community concern. Every time I now hear a community group expressing concern I will wonder what corporate interests are at stake. Sharon Beder, a lecturer from Woolongong University, has recently documented in "Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism" the process by which corporations in America have been able to manufacture 'grassroots support' for an issue when, in fact, no such spontaneous feeling existed.


jammers jamming the jammers jamming the jammers

It makes a mockery of public democratic discourse and, on a deeper level, fuels the fire of a cynicism that scorches everything it touches - including our most cherished notion of ordinary people having a say in the decisions that affect them. If this protest isn't real, one may ask, then is any oppositional discourse in society really real? If Nike can blur the lines so easily between authentic process and corporate spin, then how can we tell the difference? Nike is ruthless is fictionalising authenticity when authentic offense threatens the profit margin of the company.

There's a cultural trade off occurring in this process. Nike is destroying the true spirit of meaningful democratic participation so that such a voice won't damage its profits. It's like the abusive hushband ripping out the vocal chords of his wife because she has threatened to speak out against him. It's the corporate equivalent of crying wolf on every billboard until nobody will have the trust left to believe the facts of Nike's corporate crimes. This is compassion fatigue taken to a whole new level; the lack of belief that any ethical imperative is sustainable in the face of corporate power.

BUT THE MOST SCARY FACT OF ALL IS THIS: Nike has commissioned me to write and distribute this article. They paid me a very handsome sum up front and further bonuses according to any media coverage it gets. This includes the number of times this text passes around email networks, something Nike considers an crucial form of information distribution. You have no idea how much Jonah Peretti's email hurt the Nike company.

You may be disappointed in me. You may wonder how such a seemingly intelligent and moral voice like mine could possibly shake hands with the devil. I do this as a photo opportunity for you to ponder, a cultural soundbyte for you to ruminate upon. Nike not only fucks with the lives of innocent people in developing countries, it also deeply fucks with our emotions in rich countries. How could you never name the demon that possesses Western culture? Our protest over the mistreatment of overseas workers is largely emotional projection. What we really need to focus on is the cultural violation it does to us every time we are bombarded with their imagery. You need to discern the receeding horizon of cultural reality for yourselves; you can't rely on people like me to show it to you.

What are the implications of Nike owning the cultural critique of itself? REALLY THINK ABOUT IT. Unfortunately I can't fight this battle because I am not real. I was created by corporate funding.

And you thought 1984 was scary!


nike::: revolution

[this text was supposed to have been found on a photocopied poster stuck on a melbourne nike billboard, and was emailed to us]

UPDATE:::

NIKE have withdrawn the FFFF advertising campaign in Australia after a strong backlash against it and the publicity of website www.bantheboot.com

THEIR CAMPAIGN:::

step a. placed billboards declaring new boots to be 'the most offensive boots we've ever made'
see jammed version:
http://nikesweatshop.net/images/nike-100-percent.jpg (source unknown)

step b. photocopied flyers handed out at train stations by 'activists' (actually actorvists) chanting "ban the boots" warning of the unfair advantage the 'perfornamce enhancing' nike football boots.

they were called Fans Fight for Fairer Football with website
www.ffff.com.au.

the website was amateurish in design. the site also went into the relative merits of nike's star aussie rules and rugby players.

( the fax number used to register the website owned by international ad. company foote, cone & belding )

step c. parts of the billboards were covered with a red square containing an idiosyncratic range of anti-tech slogans in a stencil font and the ffff.com url.
eg.

FAIR MINDED FOOTY FANS SAY
"NOT FAIR" MR. TECHNOLOGY

see pic:
http://nikesweatshop.net/images/notfairmrtech.jpg
(adelaide, au)


MEANWHILE:::

we (s11.org co) put up a critique of the campaign at
http://www.nikesweatshop.net
anon sent this to us

we used the graphics and some slogans from the ffff.com.au to produce http://www.bantheboot.com

we declared:
"THERE WILL BE NO NIKE SHOPS *OPEN ON MAY 1ST 2001
"*UNLESS NIKE SIGN THE FAIRWEAR AGREEMENT + WAYNE CAREY SAYS SORRY TO ALL THE NIKE SWEATSHOP WORKERS WORLD WIDE!!!!!"
(wayne didnt apologise, nike's melbourne megastore was boarded up on may 1st all day)

we direct people to their local mayday 2001 website. we have a homo-erotic animation of football players.

people all around the city of melbourne graffittied on the billboards with slogans like

$1.25 per day wages.
"Not Fair" Mr Nike.
www.nikewages.com

the bantheboot.com url got street coverage thanks to a sticker campaign and grafitti.


AND THEN:::

two days after the site was mentioned in a mainstream news source the www.ffff.com.au site was taken down. reports also came in of billboards being covered, but most stuck around with broken url.


SO:::

bad layout and Impact font belong to the activist community again. (for now...)


LINKS:::

VIDEO: FFFF = Fans For Fairer Factories (ban-the-boot 3min) by Access News
http://clients.loudeye.com/imc/melbourne/nike.ram

www.ffff.com.au = PROHIBITTED - indymedia
http://www.melbourne.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=8313&group=webcast

Protesters target Nike ads - mainstream
http://www.theage.com.au/frontpage/2001/04/09/FFXUQWU3BLC.html

'magazineX' refuses to publish Jean Poole's article
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/subvert/message/972

disinfo
http://www.disinfo.com/pages/article/id1095/pg1/

analysis
http://nikesweatshop.net

jam>jam>jam
http://bantheboot.com

more
http://s11.org

BACKGROUND: a computer hacker hijacked the nike.com web site on 21 june 2000 and redirected all its traffic to s11.org for 19 hours

 


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