Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Culture Jamming

I have a stats assignment and an essay on  Marxist media theory due tomorrow, so I don't have time to write a new post.  However, I'm really proud of how I've been updating this regularly (Wednesdays and Sundays for those of you who aren't paying attention), and I don't want to mess that trend up.  Therefore, today I'm just going to post a project I did first year for MDST 201, Intro to Media Studies.  

For this project, we had to perform a culture jam on a piece of print advertisement and then include a writeup explaining what we did.  To quote the assignment, "Culture Jamming is the practice of taking preexisting texts and altering their content so that they critique themselves.  The practice goes beyond parody in that its goals are not simply comic but political.  The successful culture jam subverts and destabilizes the text by pointing out its complicity in problematic practices."

I will say right now that this is not one of my best papers (it was quite a few years ago), but the assignment was an interesting one, and it's short enough that I don't feel it'll be overwhelming to post here.  I'd love to know what you think!
Original Advertisement
My Culture Jam
Culture Jamming Project: Write-Up
            In our current society, much of what we encounter is mediated; in fact, most of what we experience happens vicariously and is presented to us through images.  In an article by Marc Derys, consumer culture critic Stuart Ewen states, “We live at a time when the image has become the predominant mode of public address, eclipsing all other forms in the structuring of meaning”.  The power these images wield can be dangerous, possibly causing people to think in a certain way or to support specific values or standards.  Therefore, the use of culture jamming to subvert their message is both a way to protect consumers and to upset the hegemony of the advertising world.  Through culture jamming, it is possible to adjust what the meanings and structures people have access to actually are, moving power from the corporate creators into the hands of the consumers themselves.  In this way, they are able to change what others hear, communicating new values and ideas in the place of those generated by the mass media and corporate worlds. 
Through this culture jamming project, I attempted to critique the impossible standards of beauty set by the fashion industry, particularly those of companies like Victoria’s Secret, who cater to the “skinnier is prettier” ideology.  The images produced by these companies create an unattainable, and largely fictitious, portrait of reality.  The women who are being photographed are made up, air brushed and photo-shopped to the point where they may not even resemble themselves.  They are carefully posed to look thinner or taller while at the same time trying to look like they are in a “natural” position.  Then these photographs are passed off as being objective presentations of reality, supposedly showing the models exactly as they appear in real life.  Quite obviously, this is not true.  Instead, this process can be described as part of Jean Baudrillard’s idea that we live in a “hyperreality”, where the things we experience are reflections of a truth that does not exist.  As in his example of Disneyland’s “re-creation” of an idyllic time period that never truly was, the heavily edited pictures used in catalogs and magazines naturalize beauty that they themselves created.  What makes this practice worse than that of Disneyland, however, is that the photographs then cause people to attempt to match this “reality”.
            Because fashion media cause impossible and unnatural ideas of what is beautiful to become the norm, they can often be held directly responsible for the rampant rise of eating disorders in the United States, as evidenced by the fact that eating disorders are most common among young women, those targeted by catalogs and magazines like Victoria’s Secret. Thus, through jamming the Victoria’s Secret ad in the way I chose to, I was able to draw attention to the problems caused by these images.  The text “Sexy Little Things” applied quite well in both advertisements, translating from emphasizing the sex appeal of Victoria’s Secret lingerie to drawing attention to the disturbing “littleness” of people suffering from anorexia or other eating disorders.  Furthermore, the bleak colors of the anorexia picture and its disquieting, almost sickening traits provide a stark contrast to the bright, cheerful pink background of the original ad, highlighting the seriousness of the eating disorder problem.  I changed the ad in the way I did in order to emphasize the horrifying results that a seemingly harmless clothing advertisement can cause when released to the general population.  It now demonstrates one of the many problems that contemporary standards of beauty cause and attempts to change what people see as beautiful.  The skeletal features of the anorexic model show quite clearly that skinnier is not always prettier. As long as people are inundated with images that show certain values, however, they will frame their world according to these standards.  It will take projects like culture jamming to introduce varying ideas and cause change.

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