- OurSpace: Resisting the Corporate Control of Culture
Here is a familiar story: a vibrant counterculture thrives until it is effectively co-opted by the corporate forces that it existed to resist. The alternative is swallowed up by the mainstream as soon as it reaches critical mass of “cool” to be commercially valuable. Space for authentically independent public expression is disappearing in the face of the increasingly commercial nature of culture. Christine Harold, assistant professor of communication at the University of Washington, points to the acquisition of MySpace, an online community space, by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. as an especially current and vivid example of this phenomenon. As she says, “Many fear in seeking to create consuming publics, corporate marketers also consume publics, absorbing and perverting the very entity on which democracy and citizenship depend” (xxv).
In OurSpace: Resisting the Corporate Control of Culture Harold takes a close look at the methods employed to resist commercial influence in culture known as “culture jamming.” Acts of culture jamming are loosely grouped together as jamming up powerful corporate media messages—“an interruption, a sabotage, a hoax, a prank, a banditry, or a blockage” (xxv)—or jamming with it—that which “artfully proliferates other media and messages that challenge the ability of corporate messages to make meaning in predictable ways” (xxvi). While culture jamming today is most recognizable in Adbusters magazine, with its advertising parodies—known as “subvertisements”—that mock and undermine corporate brand images, Our-Space lays out the many forms it takes.
Harold details historical and contemporary culture-jamming practices and assesses the successes and failures of each technique. Her analysis finds the tropes currently defining the cultural resistance as limiting and concludes by calling for a move in a new direction. For Harold the efforts of activists not typically associated with the culture-jamming camp hold the most promise for taking back the people’s cultural space: members of the movement most commonly known as “free culture.” Largely built off the work of Lawrence Lessig and the Creative Commons project, free culture— also known as “open content”—is defined by the kind of public sharing, creative collaboration, and open access in culture that current digital technologies make possible.
OurSpace is a response to both Naomi Klein’s No Logo (2000), which served as a flashpoint for the anticorporate movement, and Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter’s Nation of Rebels (2004), largely a critique of Klein’s form of anticorporate rhetoric. While Harold shares the concern of all three for the pervasive brand marketing of postindustrial capitalism and its intrusion on public cultural space, she positions herself outside the largely reductive and vague binary of Klein’s appeals to countercultural rebellion or Heath and Potter’s appeals to state-based political action. Harold intervenes to propose an approach that moves beyond simple opposition to commercial culture and looks toward sites of potential change from within the marketplace. Creative Commons, with its flexible and balanced “some rights reserved” approach to intellectual property in our digital age, represents for Harold a way toward a solution that accounts for commercial logic within culture: “It serves as a provocation to commercialism by taking market values more seriously than many free [End Page 85] marketers themselves. That is, open content frees markets from the modernist categories of property and authorship in such a way that disallows the hoarding of resources that makes contemporary capitalism, for most culture jammers, so unjust” (xxxii).
OurSpace is organized into three sections based on the three sets of strategies for resistance to the corporate commercial system that Harold explores. The first section is devoted to sabotage, the second section to appropriation, and the third to augmentation. The sabotage section begins with an examination of Situationist International (SI) in the book’s first chapter. SI, an artistically and politically subversive collective active in Paris from the 1950s through the 1970s, and its founder, Guy Debord, are widely considered the patron saints of the contemporary culture-jamming movement. Harold examines SI from this perspective, detailing its historical context, its theories of “the Spectacle” of...