publisher and founder of Adbusters Media Foundation
(and its magazine), Kalle Lasn is at the forefront of
media skeptics. A gadfly in his own right, he also created
Culture Jammers (WWW.CULTUREJAMMERS.ORG),
an organization that sees itself as "one of the most
significant social movements of the next twenty years.
Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge
a major rethinking of the way we will live in the 21st
century... It will alter the way we live and think. It
will change the way information flows, the way institutions
wield power, the way TV stations are run, the way the
food, fashion, automobile, sports, music and culture industries
set their agendas. Above all, it will change the way we
interact with the mass media and the way in which meaning
is produced in our society."
What is this
movement all about? It's about reversing the obsessive,
snowballing consumer culture we live in. Part of this
is done through mindset and part is done by acts of non-violent
resistance; culture jamming, as evidenced by manipulated
billboards, the hacking of corporate websites to reveal
the truth about their real goings-on and protesting it
all with public service announcements. Lasn, angry at
the plenitude of Americans and our spoiled sense of materialism,
created a protest against our consumerism: "Buy Nothing
Day," which falls on the biggest shopping day of
the year, the day after Thanksgiving. Lasn writes of his
movement as one that unites people on the left as well
as the right; it isn't bound by any ideology besides its
own. Atheists and Believers, Democrats and Republicans,
rich and poor, alikeanyone who rejects the consumerism
of today and does something about it is a culture jammer.
It's about reclaiming democracy, returning this country
to its citizens as citizens, not marketing targets
or demographics. It's about being a skeptic and not letting
advertising tell you what to think.
assuming many of our readers havent read Culture
Jam. Rather than my summarizing it, how would you
The book is
a manifesto for the culture jamming movement. Its
saying, "Lets go out there and start a cultural
revolution." Its a rabble-rousing book.
its really an optimistic book. You kind of have
to be an idealist at heart to envision the changes you're
know about idealist. There certainly is a bit of idealism,
but you have to be very practical and come up with strategic
breakthroughs for how this cultural revolution can be
propagated. Ive talked to a lot of young people,
and I feel that they are cynical. They phone me up and
say, "You think we can have this cultural revolution?
I dont think so. Its gone too far, we are
trapped in a university here, etc." To me, they are
cynical. And the book is exactly the opposite. I actually
believe that over the next ten years, this revolution
will happen. That, in fact, it has already started. Everyone
who worked on that book, we tried to turn it into a hands-on
manual for how to actually catalyze that revolution.
came out in November 1999, and the paperback one year
later in November 2000. If you were going to do a revised
edition, what would you add to it? Are there subsequent
topics you would like to have addressed?
progressed quite a bit since then. I sent the final version
to the printer just a few weeks before I went to Seattle
for the WTO, the battle in Seattle. And, of course, that
started a whole chain of events around the world, which
to some degree supports whats being said in the
book. If I was going to do a second version of the book,
I would add a whole bunch of strategic advice that wasnt
possible to make one year ago.
that you already see this revolution underway; how do
you think the Bush administration will affect the movement?
I think that,
quite frankly, in a perverse way, it will energize it.
Because looking at Bush
he doesnt quite seem
to understand the world. I think he will do a few crazy
things that will allow the new activists and culture jammers
to jam him and his policies. I think Clinton was a very
hard guy to jam. He was a very media-savvy guy, fleet
of foot. Even his speech when he came to Seattle was proof
of how expert a guy he is in diffusing whats happening
and somehow enamoring himself to the people who are against
him. Yes, I think Bush is a much easier opponent.
there is something to that, that such opposition will
energize people. I think thats true of Ralph Nader
supporters, where having Bush in office would motivate
the left further. I recall you saying in the book that
its a "loose network" of people, not necessarily
people currently part of our network, who we communicate
with through the Internet, these people are very hard-nosed
activists. A huge percentage of them would vote for Nader
rather than even consider voting for Gore. These are not
people who pussy-foot around thinking about the next four
years; these are people who think ten or twenty years
ahead, who think of fomenting a culture revolution in
the long term.
course of the last few years, Ive read books like
White Noise by Don DeLillo, and watched films like
The Insider and Fight Club
address truths behind and the effects of consumer culture.
What are your thoughts on these fictional presentations
of these issues?
When I saw
Fight Club I said, "Wow, this is quite amazing."
I thought only a few culture jammers and people in the
simplicity movement were really outraged by consumerism.
And here is suddenly a film that was overtly giving expression
to it and millions of people were going to see it and
could identify with this kind of rage against consumerism
that it portrayed. To me, it was a signal that things
are moving in the right direction, and some portions of
mainstream society are now getting this anti-consumerist
funny, because the film was released by 20th
In this post-modern
age, there are lots of contradictions like that. Even
my book Culture Jam started off being published
by a small publishing group, William Morrow, and then
one month before publication, it was bought up by Rupert
Murdoch and his Harper Collins. So even my own book is
published by one of my biggest enemies.
another thing I was curious about. In the book you talk
about how it is unavoidable to interact in some way with
corporations. You even drive a Toyota. You are right;
there is no way to completely isolate yourself and still
be a part of society enough to change it.
lots of people who confront me on this and say, "Why
dont you walk your talk?" Every one of us is
an incredible contradiction. We are all caught in this
post-modern hall of mirrors. But people who say, "No,
you have to be pure. How can you do this? How can you
do that?" I think they are not being effective. What
is my choice? That Im not going to publish my book
because I refuse to give it to Rupert Murdoch? I think
you have to get used to the fact that we are walking,
talking contradictions, all of us. And this is what culture
is right now, a very contradictory culture we live in
you to have the widest broadcast of your message.
Yes, but not
only that. We all have to play footsie with the enemy.
This has been true of every revolution. The revolutionaries
have interacted in very profound ways with the enemy.
And that may well be the only way to pull the enemy down,
to play this sort of Trojan Horse game.
you most proud of about the movement?
The fact that
over the last ten years weve built up a global network
of jammers, which is now a part of this new activism which
is sweeping around the world. And the fact that some of
our campaigns like "Buy Nothing Day" were celebrated
in over fifty countries around the world. And our magazine
is now reaching a circulation of over a 100,000 people.
The growth of this movement has been phenomenal.
read criticism of your use of the phrase, "Liberating
a billboard." Its obviously destruction of
property, so why not call a spade a spade?
We do. To
me, liberating a billboard or doing some of the other
illegal things that we do, to me this is a legitimate
part of civil disobedience. Every cultural revolution
has had its lunatic fringes and civil disobedience. The
anarchists in Seattle who broke windows
they were an essential part of the process. If they werent
there, if everyone had totally walked the line and out
of the 60,000 people there, if there werent fifty
people who were so outraged that they broke a few windows,
then I would have been disappointed.
it have gotten the attention that it did.
Not only that.
I dont think its possible to have that many
people together without 0.1 percent of them being crazies
and angry people who feel they have to lash out.
you say Adbusters the magazine has changed since
Well, we started
as a kind of volunteer rag, similar to many other lefty
rags that were basically lashing out and being angry.
And, bit by bit, I think we got better artists, writers
and photographers. And now, instead of just talking to
the converted, were sitting in newsstands, and I
think were being picked up by corporate people,
and lawyers, and advertising executives and all kinds
of people. I think we are actually changing minds now
telling people that there is a cultural revolution bubbling
away, and youd better get with the agenda or used
to the fact that it will happen.
I can see
a lot of influence of Adbusters in new advertising,
like the Sprite ads that say "Image is Nothing."
They are playing into the anti-advertising to sell their
We have hundreds
of ad execs who secretly like us a little bit because
we have a lot of fun and do the campaigns that some of
them dream of doing. But they also subscribe to us and
buy us to see what the enemy is up to.
would you say the Internet has helped bring your network
of jammers together?
Its been the key fact. We communicated as best we
could for many years without the Internet. We had 300
organizers around the world for Buy Nothing Day. We had
to send them expensive packages through the mail. It was
quite a cumbersome and expensive system that actually
stopped us from growing as fast as we could grow. And
as soon as we started making our posters available through
the Internetjust print from the website, look at
Quicktime versions of our website, and order them if you
want toas soon as we went on the Internet, things
really took off for us on many of our campaigns. And the
300 or 400 people we used to deal with
as I said,
its grown to 35,000, and we are now a different
kind of organization. And we are global. Before that,
most of the action was in the Pacific Northwest, and,
now, some of the most interesting BND jams have happened
in Australia, Israel or Estonia.
that most resonated with me in Culture Jam was
the changing definition of cool. Going from unique and
interesting to now meaning anything that is the latest
trend. What sections of the book have gotten the most
response? What have people picked up on the most?
hard to say. What they seem to pick up on is that this
book wasnt couching its bets, wasnt succumbing
to cynicism, that it out front said, "We are going
to change the world, and this is how we are going to do
it." I think those that liked the book liked that
sort of modernist belief that we can change the world.
And many other people felt a personal resonance, that
the book somehow described their own disillusionment and
their own dissatisfaction with their lives, their own
wrestling with their cynicism. They felt a resonance there.