Thursday, March 09, 2006

GEEZ:adbusters, culture jamming, holy fools

No, this is not a photo of me...though it almost could be.

And that's the point.

Maybe the whole point.

I have long appreciated Adbusters Magazine.

Heads up for surfers: it's not a Christian site/mag, and may be rated R in places..

But in places is painfully prophetic.

Very simply, it does not accept is a voice against consumerism and greed, so in good conscience does not accept ads.

So its only "ads" are spoofs like the one above. And they speak with authority from a perspective and approach called "Culturee Jamming," which wikipedia (itself a manifestation of collaborative, noncommercial, adfree information) defines as

... the act of transforming existing mass media to produce
negative commentary about itself, using the original medium's communication
method. It is a form of public activism which is generally in opposition to commercialism, and the vectors of corporate image. The aim of culture jamming is to create a contrast between corporate image and the realities of the corporation. This is done symbolically, with the "detournement" of pop iconography.
It is based on the idea that advertising is little more
than propaganda for established interests, and that there is a lack of an available means for alternative expression in industrialized nations. Culture jamming is a resistance movement to the perceived hegemony of popular culture, based
on the ideas of "guerrilla communication".
Culture jamming's intent differs from that of artistic
appropriation (which is done for art's sake) and vandalism (where destruction
or defacement is the primary goal), although its results are not always so
easily distinguishable.

I am sure anyone off the cutting edge enough to be reading this blog can immediately pinpoint several helpful starting points for the church to engage in a responsible and prophetic "culture jamming" of both "secular" and church culture.

So I was glad to see Duane Smeets of Kaleo Church stir us up in this regard in this article:

Culture jammers are a collective of "artists, activists, writers, pranksters,
students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social
activist movement of the information age." Their aim, "to topple existing power
structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century."
Their name coincides with their mission, to try and jam up present ideologies
and the forms that allow them to create “a culture gone wild.” Adbusters says
our "toxic culture" has "stolen our clarity of mind." What we need is no more
Prozac and other drugs that "throw us into mental dysfunction." Instead, do
"simple things like not living alone and keeping close contacts with family and
friends, live more fully, live in the moment, live more slowly and live more
locally." They call this mental ecology. ... Adbusters is a non-Christian
movement but in many ways is more active and clear in the pursuit of their goal
than we are about bringing spiritual revolution. Many of the sentiments of
Adbusters seem to line up with the teaching of the Bible. Things like, renewing
our mind, being stewards of God's creation, caring for and giving to all who
have need, and not seeking our own benefit, prosperity, and power. The biggest
freakin' wrench in being a Christian is the duplicity of our hearts. We say we
love our neighbor, but they are starving and we are going out to dinner. ..
Perhaps the most significant thing about Adbusters is that much of what these
culture jammers are involved in are things Christians could be doing or
participating in as expressions of the gospel. We may mince here and there, and
ought to judge everything with Scripture, but my question is, if the revolution
comes, will you be ready and what one will you be fighting for?


Bono once took up the mantle of CS Lewis, and a battle plan that was culture jammish. In the 90s, he dresseed up as the devil/Elvis as a means of divesting himself from the satanic cult of celebrity. "Mock the devil, and he will flee from thee," he often quoted and had projected on the concert screen. As you might expect, this approach was not always understood or appreciated by Christians, particularly "squeaky" Christians (Irish slang for fundamentalists). Yet Bono twice went out of his way to tip his hand. Once, in a cartoon music video in which Bono was dressed in the devil outfit, he was made to obviously drop a book, literally tipping his hand as to the title: "The Sreewtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis. The other related episode Bono remembers as follows:

One night I was doing my Elvis devil dance own stage with a young girl, in
Wales, and she said are you still a believer ? If so, what are you doing,
dressed up as the devil ?" I said have you read The Screwtape
Letters ? Which is a C.S. Lewis book that a lot of intense Christians are
plugged into. They are letters from the devil. That’s where I got the whole
philosophy of mock the devil and he will flee from you. So she said "yes" and I
said "so you know what I’m doing". Then she relaxed and said "I want to bless


The ever in touch, Isacharrian Christian columnist Terry Mattingly concludes from this episode: "U2 is attacking, in word and deed, the modern church's retreat from art and popular culture."

Precisely. Culture jamming. Ad busting.

One must ask deep questions about when and where..and employ culture jamming. There are times when it may feel prophetic but actually become self-defeating in Kingdom-provocation.

But in their amazing midrash (itself an early form of culture-jamming ?) on Colossians, Walsh and Keesmat remind us of the shape and scope of our hope, which: not the cheap buoyant optimism of global capitalism with its cybernetic
computer gods and self-confident scientific discovery, all serving the predatory
idolatry of economism. You know that these are gods with an insatiable desire
for child sacrifice. That is why your hope is not the shallow optimism of the
"Long Boom" of increased prosperity. Such optimism is but a cheap imitation of
hope. Real hope-the kind of hope that gives you the audacity to resist the
commodification of your lives and engenders the possibility of an alternative
imagination-is no human achievement; it is a divine gift. This hope isn't
extinguished by living in "the future of a shattered past," precisely because it
is a hope rooted in a story of kept promises, even at the cost of death. "Colossians
Remixed: Subverting the Empire" p.39

I sometimes refer to my calling as a "Kingdom culture jammer," yet if I am to keep integrity with the prophetic tradition, I must complete and contour my jamming with; my tearing down with building (Jeremimiah 1:10 : "See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.") , my deconstructing with a remixing and imparting of wild and practical hope.

As Bruggeman would have it (maybe replace "prophet" with "culture jammer"):

The prophet is called to be a child of the tradition, one who has taken it
seriously in the shaping of his or her own field of perception and system of
language, who is so at home in that memory that the points of contact and
incongruity with the situation of the church in culture can be discerned and
articulated with proper urgency… The task of the prophetic imagination and
ministry is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that
have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they
are there, Hope, on the one hand, is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak
about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts.
Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority
opinion; and one does that only at great political and existential risk.. On the
other hand,. hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the
present…the public expression of hope (is) a way of subverting the dominant
royal embrace of despair. (The Prophetic Imagination, p.67)

I have often wished someone would start a "Christian" Adbsuters. I knew it would have to be a "child of the tradition" who could handle holy subversion without it imploding. So I thought, "It must not be me." Well, I see that someone has risen to the challenge. Thanks to the amazing apostolic abbess Karen Ward who tipped us off to the launch of "Geez" Magazine. It turns out some Anabaptist types (of course) have behind it, including one who was a former managing editor of Adbsuters (I though I smelled some stealth Christainity between the lines) who was given the challenging advice by Ched Myers: "Have one foot in the church and one outside. And keep your weight on the one outside."

I don't know Chaed Myers, or the team behind "Geez", and they may not appreciate me saying this. But I would see them "holy fools."

Put that on your business card and smoke it

And I mean that as qute a compliment. It puts them in a small and select class of saints and simnnners; from Bono to Bruggeman; in a lineage traced from Jeremiah to Jesus.

By way of Adbusters of course.

“Holy Fool,” which is a wonderful tradition of the Eastern Church who
periodically pops up here in the West. In the Russian tradition, some of the
saints would do almost anything to avoid being perceived as saints. One of them
kept offering to wrestle bears so people would think him a nut and not praise
him as a saint. In the West, St. Philip Neri acted goofy, partly because he
enjoyed being a goof and partly to throw people off the scent of his sanctity
and keep them from gushing over him. When offered a cardinal's hat, he proceeded
to play football with it. Currently, we saw something of the Holy Fool in
Forrest Gump a few years ago. All such fools have one thing in common: they know
they are not wise. Similarly, those who are convinced of their innate wisdom are
invariably great ninnies. It's far better to be a fool for Christ than to be a
fool on one's own. Today, thank God for the folly that is his wisdom. 1
Corinthians 3:18: Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that
he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

-Mark Shea

"Geez Magazine" is not exactly how I would have done it; I would do more ad spoofs and culture commentary, and wouldn't steer it so politically, and thus interface it into the vortex of the unwinnable culture wars. But maybe that's necessary to the task. (Lenin said politics was defined as "who can do what to whom."see Ricahrd Rohr's "Jesus Shows Lenin His Wounds.")

Geez, I don't know.

I'm probably not holy or foolish enough yet.

And no, that picture at top is really not me.

It's just an ad.

(For more info on culture jamming...and for a good time, click the words "culture jammer" under my profile on the blog masthead)

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