culture jam

A culture jam uses the media of a dominant culture (corporate, entertainment, political) to criticize and subvert the ends of that culture.

Culture jams may be audio, video, or still images, and could possibly exist in other modes as well.

A culture jam is something more than a parody (of, say, an ad). Its intentions are to disturb you and your normal passive unconscious consumption of mainstream culture.

Dominant culture typically aims at seduction, reassurance, a pleasing message, and to keep you unconscious of its “constructedness” (that it is not just the natural way of the world). Ads, for instance, aim to make you feel good about what they are showing you, and to desire it. For instance, a beer ad, two attractive young people, the girl in a bikini, everybody looking good and happy, familiar, nothing you need to think about.

Culture jams typically try to be disturbing, upsetting, disruptive, leave you uncomfortable or even outraged. They want to make you feel different about the dominant culture.


Culture jamming is a form of disruption that plays on the emotions of viewers and bystanders. Jammers want to disrupt the unconscious thought process that takes place when most consumers view a popular advertising and bring about a détournement.

Activists that utilize this tactic are counting on their meme to pull on the emotional strings of people and evoke some type of reaction. The reactions that most cultural jammers are hoping to evoke are behavioral change and political action. There are four emotions that activists often want viewers to feel. These emotions – shock, shame, fear, and anger – are believed to be the catalysts for social change.

Negativland, The Greatest Around

Watch Sonic Outlaws, Craig Baldwin’s 1995 documentary about Negativland and other early jammers, on YouTube.

See also détournement