Once again I have to say that I am sadly disappointed with Adbusters. The above ad, which recycles a Situationist slogan, is a poor substitute for organizing. I think Adbusters is becoming its own worse enemy be reducing the causes they believe in into images and slogans. It’s a bit like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” a song that I love dearly, but it’s a vague slogan that reduces the cause to a crafty sound bite with little meaning. Adbusters wants you to pay to have this ad on TV as part of their so-called “meme war,” but please don’t waste your money. Running ads on television is not social change. If you want to get down and dirty, this strategy just further props up the thing they are against by throwing money at it. My belief is that running an ad like this is like throwing a glass of water into Niagara Falls. This is a kind of pseudo activism that I have seen repeated over and over again as people see themselves as heros who merely have to show people the truth to set them free. As noble as it is, I think the online comic Shooting War also repeats the same trope.
This “great adventure” substitutes ideas with images. It glorifies people fighting the police. What good does that do except generate fear, anger and hatred between people? The Situationists were engaged in in real interventions, things that involved people contacting each other in dialog in the streets. Their bodies moved through space. This ad is just empty mental space. Moreover, it is a kind of passive, armchair activism that I liken to “riot porn.” The ad “others” the rioters by reducing their cause into hollow symbolism. As memes go, where’s the beef?
I don’t want to discount Adbusters entirely, because they have inspired many people and have created many insightful projects that brought important issues to the forefront. But when I was at a conference in Seattle and complained to the magazine’s founder and publisher Kalle Lasn that the publication was no longer useful as teaching tool because of its increasingly incomprehensible avant-garde design, he said it was worth the risk of alienating people such as myself to deconstruct the idea of a magazine. OK, great within the schema of museums and art history, but totally impractical.
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