If you too believe that art is at its best when it is an agent of change, you may already be familiar with the practice of subvertising. Known by many other names, subvertising has been around in one way or the other for the past 50 years, challenging the commercial media that covers our cities and blankets our minds. Groups like the Billboard Liberation Front and B.U.G.A.U.P. began by taking direct shots at the content of commercial billboards, and through small acts of civil disobedience, unmasked the slick marketing agendas of commercial media interests. Kalle Lasn called it Culture Jamming and the liberal left thought its media savvy would bring corporate greed to its knees with incisive detournements that drew on the Situationist’s belief that breaking expectations could bring revelatory results. Artists like Ron English and even early Kawsturned the messages of advertising inside out to reveal harder and colder truths.
What these early artists knew deep down was that the pandering of commercial messages to our inner desires was having long-term effects on our individual and collective health. They felt what social scientists had unmasked through years of research: that the more advertising you consume, the more inward you turn, focusing on the self, and leaving empathy and compassion towards others behind. These early culture jammers’ efforts focused on subverting the messages in hopes of neutering their effects, yet many years later it has become clear that Culture Jamming has become another marketing tool used deftly by commercial media to push consumerism further.