Books, Contemp Culture, Fuller, MP520, Reading Reflections

Book Review #5 – Culture Jam (Quill, 1999)

Author:  Kalle Lasn is a Canadian writer, activist, and founder of Adbusters

Outline:  Culture Jam focuses on information and advertising that Lasn believes is taking over our world and our minds.  Because of this ‘information overload’, Lasn argues that we are losing the ability to filter information effectively, causing our brains to be filled with junk. 

Culture Jam is divided into four sections: fall, winter, spring, summer.  The successive sections move from a diagnosis of society today, what is leading us down that road, solutions to the problem, and a picture of what Lasn’s dream for this world. 


Lasn paints a dismal, but accurate, portrayal of Western society.  In order to relax, we watch hours of television with little to no interaction with other human beings.  We prefer to spend time inside and have lost touch with nature.  We are more likely to be stimulated by what Lasn calls “jolts” in a virtual environment (any form of media) than a real environment (interaction with human beings).  We are losing touch with reality and at the same time with our humanity.  He believes that there is a direct correlation with this loss and the dominance of corporate advertising that has taken over public and private spaces in every sphere of life. 


As we are enveloped by more and more advertising, we are being trained as consumers.  Everything is a commodity that can be advertised, bought, and sold.  Lasn argues that, as consumers, we no longer have a say in what is presented to us, or what we consume.  He points to the numerous times he was denied access to commercial time on television, despite being willing to pay going rates.


But all hope is not lost.  Lasn writes about the Situationists, a group of European writers/artists who sought freedom in all areas of life by reclaiming spaces in culture by “rerouting spectacular images, environments, ambiences, and events to reverse or subvert their meaning” (103)  It is in the spirit of the Situationists that Lasn promotes ‘culture jamming’  with ‘meme warfare’ (a meme is simply “a unit of information” (123), the weapons of culture jamming).  Deface Calvin Klein ads, spam spammers, make your own commercials advertising nothing but ideas – these are the battles that will be fought in this culture war.


Lasn spends the last portion of his book describing his vision for the world.  It’s not a world void of consumers and commercials, but it’s a world where there is equal access to the flow of information so that we are more than just consumers.  We are all consumers, producers, and critics. 

Reactions:  I loved the picture that Lasn painted at the end of Culture Jam.  It’s not a world devoid of advertising, but simply a world not controlledby advertising.  To Lasn, the commercials, corporations, governments, and ad agencies are fallen powers, and his goal is to redeem these powers and end their oppression and enslavement of the human race.  Like Wink, Lasn seems to see potential for the power structures that govern society – his Summer utopia describes a world of cohabitation and coexistence- a balanced society that stresses freedom over consumerism.

I think Lasn’s approach is helpful to those looking to transform the powers and to point to the Kingdom of God.  Jesus didn’t support the overthrow of Rome and He didn’t force his way into the Templeto usurp the religious powers.  Instead, he did it subversively – with love, humor, and vulnerability as his primary “memes” of resistance.  

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2 thoughts on “Book Review #5 – Culture Jam (Quill, 1999)

  1. I think I’m going have to order that one. I’ve been wrestling with how to change my free time from empty entertainment, into meaningful and creative ways to propel the Kingdom. Thanks for sharing this…

    It reminds me of Project Mayhem.


  2. Pingback: can’t catch my breath » Blog Archive » MP520 - Thursday Reflections, Week 8 (Actions speak louder…)

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