Culture jamming can be defined as modifying mass media to convey a conflicting message. Jams can be obvious or subvert depending on the context. The movement aims to expose cultural assumptions and political attitudes.
I first learned about the movement in my sophomore year Principles of Advertising class. The instructor showed us a few examples and I became enthralled with the concept. Jammers took on outdated advertising values and made them fresh through force. It wasn’t long before I noticed feminism’s role in the culture jamming movement.
A radical feminist group, Guerrilla Girls appeared in 1985. Although culture jamming was present before this, the Guerrilla Girls are perhaps the most well known. The group dons gorilla masks to shift the focus from their identities to the message they are bringing awareness to.
In 1989, Guerrilla Girls took on The Metropolitan Museum of Art. After conducting a “weenie count,” the group noticed that although women’s artwork was near absent from the museum’s archives, female nudes were not. The Public Art Fund commissioned a poster and then deemed it too suggestive for display. The fan in the models hand was said to be too phallic, yet there were no objections to the naked woman.
On Sept. 14, 2010, the French Senate passed a law banning burqas in public places. The bill language was careful to avoid the words “women,” “Muslim” and “Islam” and instead used the term “face-covering veil.”
The bill claims to promote gender equality and imposes severe fines on anyone covering their face in public. Although Muslim is France’s second most prominent religion, the bill ignores freedom of religion.
In the dead of night, Princess Hijab uses graffiti to veil sexually charged advertisements in dripping black burqas. She calls it “hijabisation.” Due to a stringent police force, most of her culture jams are left untouched for less than an hour. Despite this, photos of her work circulate the internet.
Although Princess Hijab remains anonymous, a few journalists have managed to get her side of the story. No one knows if she a Muslim, a feminist or even a woman.
“I’d been working on veils, making Spandex outfits that enveloped bodies, more classic art than fashion. And I’d been drawing veiled women on skate-boards and other graphic pieces, when I felt I wanted to confront the outside world. I’d read Naomi Klein’s No Logo and it inspired me to risk intervening in public places, targeting advertising.”
Her anonymity has brought awareness to her work while many debate if her work is even feminist at all.
When Snack Factory began displaying Pretzel Crisps ads with the tag line “You can never be too thin,” even men took notice. Activists wasted no time before posting rebuttals.
An objector posted articles on anorexia and other eating disorders on the advertisements. “Actually, you can” challenged the tag line. The jam brought eating disorder awareness to light while challenging the public’s ideas of health and body image.
Culture Jams expose the true nature of advertisements while urging the public to examine what exactly the company is trying to sell. Jamming disrupts the advertising message and calls attention to the real message at hand.