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'Culture Jam' slams commercial culture

If you listen to Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters magazine and author of "Culture Jam: The uncooling of America," the average American gets about 3,000 advertising messages every single day.

If you listen to Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters magazine and author of "Culture Jam: The uncooling of America," the average American gets about 3,000 advertising messages every single day.
At the same time, we plop ourselves in front of mass media, watching nature shows instead of going hiking, while we get fatter. We surf the Net rather than meet our neighbors for coffee; we absorb act after act of violence and gratuitous sex on television. Then we order a pizza.
Lasn, as you might guess, is waging war against all this. He's fighting a guerrilla war against commercialism, and he wants to recruit you. Don't brush him aside too readily.
The litany of evils Lasn recounts is staggering: Children sent home from school because they wore a logo for Brand X soda when it was "Brand Z Day" at the school; children unable to relate in any meaningful way to their families on vacations because, "unplugged," they go through something akin to physical withdrawal; a nation of girls so body-image obsessed it's killing them and a nation of boys whose steady diet of supermodels has numbed their libidos to everything but.
Can it really be true that a company is working on space-based advertising visible from Earth? If so, it gives new meaning to the term "captive audience."
Lasn also holds up the growing specter of corporate power, which he says is buying off governments and feeding the culture of overconsumption that may rather quickly choke the planet on its own waste.
This is a book for a wide range of people: Those concerned with TV violence or campaign finance reform will find useful information. So will those worried about the economy or mental health or the safety of children in schools or the plight of the environment.
Lasn's magazine, Adbusters, is involved with a number of movements that may or may not have penetrated your consciousness in the meme war. From days without television to Buy Nothing Day (celebrated annually the day after Thanksgiving) to a movement to invoke the corporate death penalty on corporations that break the law repeatedly, these salvos are meant to raise consciousness and start a groundswell.
And "Culture Jam" is all the background information you need to see why.
All advocacy books like this follow a pretty standard format, no matter what the politics of the author. Whether it's bashing Clinton or the meat industry or welfare or Big Oil, it goes something like this: 1) You give an overall outline of the evils of whatever it is you're against. 2) You expand on each aspect of that bogeyman, complete with whatever damning statistics, quotes and conjecture you can come up with. 3) (optional) Show how things are starting to come around to the way you want them or why they're bound to get worse if somebody doesn't do something. 4) Explain why your way is the one to right the ship.
Can you tell I'm a little jaded?
"Culture Jam" follows exactly that format to the letter. It could be used as a template. The four parts listed above are labeled "Autumn," "Winter," "Spring" and "Summer."
It's rage-against-the-world tone is a little strident for my taste, but that's personal preference.
Like the standard advocacy book, this one is loaded with statistics and iscopiously footnoted. However, watch for this trick: While some sources are known entities like Scientific American, the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal and JAMA, others are just other advocacy books like his.
Getting a quote from, say, Abraham Lincoln this way means it's a secondhand source, i.e. if you go to the book cited, you'll probably find another footnote, hopefully to the primary source, but who knows? It could go on forever into some research black hole. It may not even be true.
The mark of a well-researched book is the use of exclusively or almost exclusively primary sources, and that's an area where "Culture Jam" could be improved.
None of that means Lasn doesn't make good points; it only means you should be careful, good advice anyway. Much of this book rang very much true to me.
What's even better, Lasn writes in an entertaining style -- what you'd expect from someone fighting a meme war -- and it's just around 200 pages of copy, so it's an easy read. I tackled the thing in a single night.
If you want to know where all the fuss about globalization and commercialization and multinational corporations and Calvin Klein is coming from, "Culture Jam" is as broad and coherent an introduction as I've found.
So ... fundamentalist right winger? pinko? anarchist? tree hugger? Chances are you'll find something of value here. If you're just a mainstream American, don't be afraid -- that bubble bursting as you read "Culture Jam" doesn't so much hurt as surprise you.
Kyle Eller is news editor at the Budgeteer News. Contact him at 723-1207 or at kyle.eller@duluth.com .

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