culture jimmy

A form of d√©tournement proposed by Dr Jim Nielson in which signage and other public media put out by mainstream dominant culture are modified to use the slick or seductive or publicly prominent platform to send more progressive or disruptive “public service messages.”

Dr Nielson explains how this idea came to him:

I attended a talk in the President’s Lecture Series at Humber College in January 2017 by Dr Sarah Hunt on the special predicaments faced by indigenous women in Canada. Dr Hunt talked at length about the notorious “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia, a stretch of wilderness highway on which many native women have disappeared, in most cases later being found to have been raped and/or murdered.¬† Spent considerable time describing the ways in which the police, local government, and the media have traditionally blamed the victims in various ways for their plight.

Dr Hunt pointed out how the B.C. government had actually put up billboards along the highway telling girls not to hitchhike, and then elaborated “So, instead of – for one – finding a bus system, this is where provicial money went, into this billboards. We don’t see billboards saying not to be violent. We instead see billboards telling girls to stay home.” This was part of her broader discussion of the various kinds of “victim blaming” going on in the response to the Highway of Tears situation.

Provincial signage along the Highway of Tears

This really struck a chord with me. Why don’t we have billboards up on that highway saying “Men: don’t rape women. It is always wrong and cowardly” or something like that.

I began to think of the ways commercial advertisers use our shared public space whether we like it or not, and how that could be “detourned.” You sometimes see this with graffiti artists who modify the messages of billboards. In those cases, it is usually obvious that the billboard has been “defaced,” but what if we could modify those signs in ways that made the modifications hard to distinguish from “official” signage?

Culture jimmy via graffiti


Humber students can watch the video recording of Dr Hunt’s talk here.

The idea of a culture jimmy is to change mainstream media that is in the public eye in a way that makes it indistinguishable from mainstream promotional media, but makes the message far different.

Culture jimmy of a prada ad in the subway, which has had new text added (stencil and spray paint, vinyl lettering, etc) [concept]

Crisps ad billboard, jimmied

A variation on the jimmy is the snapjam or instajam. Because it is so difficult to modify public signage in such slick ways, the practice of culture jimmy requires costly materials such as vinyl letters as well as a lot of time to “vandalize” the public media. Much easier is to photoshop an image that contains signage and then post it on social media. Selfies with billboards and posters in the background are excellent candidates for this treatment.

Times Square selfie snapjam featuring jimmied billboard