Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America, Kalle Lasn tells the reader of a profound realization that he had in a parking lot supermarket. Lasn was about to drop a coin to pull out a locked shopping cart when he felt a surge of anger towards the supermarket chain for forcing him into obedience. Furthermore, Lasn was angered by the lack of any local produce or other products in the "sterile supermarket."
Lasn, editor of the postmodern magazine Adbusters, then forced a bent coin into the slot, sabotaging the locking mechanism. He then vowed to never come back to the supermarket and instead went towards a fruit and vegetable store, one that sold locally-grown produce.
This story sets the tone of Lasn's book. Culture Jam reads like an angry and passionate rant against the "mediated, consumption-driven culture" that has taken over American society. Every American was forced into a sort of trance. Since then, we have fallen into comfortable patterns without even realizing what has happened. We head off to the mall instead of craftspeople and artisans. We go to supermarkets to buy mass-produced bread instead of going to the bakery in the corner. We buy frozen fish flown in from New Zealand instead of, well, picking up a fishing rod and going down to the river ourselves.
The triumph of mass culture, Lasn argues, is that these changes have been so ingrained and have been accepted, all in the name of convenience. The act of buying from anywhere else has acquired a novel flavor. Instead, we have been brainwashed by giant corporations and conglomerates that grow wealthy based on the "rampant, oblivious consumption" of people who have willingly given up the beauty of a world of diverse choices. For Lasn, American society's effect is akin to living in a cult.
Viewed in this late, Lasn's act of jamming a coin into the supermarket's cart machine seems less an act of vandalism. Instead, the reader sees this as an act of protest -- the first of many that Lasn would initiate. The 50-year-old Lasn now spearheads larger national and worldwide campaigns, including "Buy Nothing Day" and "Turn Off the Television Week."
The aim of these campaigns -- and Lasn's lifelong goal -- is to undermine the brainwashing corporate American has done on the country's citizens. This brainwashing promotes a culture of consumption, promising potential buyers that they could achieve happiness through their purchases, most of which they probably do not need.
In essence, American has ceased to become a free country. Instead, it is now a "multi-trillion dollar brand."
To combat this trend, Lasn has embarked on a mission of "culture jamming." His campaigns aim to "demarket" or "unsell" the unnecessary products and ideas that corporations foist on consumers. Corollary to this, Lasn also undermines the image of "coolness" many of these marketers push as the ideal or as the norm. The author strives to show how we are all unwitting victims of such conditioning.
Lasn's book is an eye-opener, particularly for people who have ever manipulated by businesses. The pushy car salesman, the interruptive telemarketer, the jarring commercial and the deluge of junk mail are all manifestations of Lasn's message. Anyone who has been subjected to these aggressive marketing techniques will find plenty to identify with in Culture Jam.
In this sense, the mainstream appeal of this book is understandable.
However, Lasn goes beyond persuasion and does some aggressive marketing of his own ideas. The author is fond of using dramatic techniques such as contrasting images, stating "Many people...seem to be experiencing higher highs and lower lows these days...We soar the skies one moment, then feel slack and depressed the next." Lasn attributes these swings to the fact that people are alienated from their real lives by corporate America's marketing of what is "cool."
However, without offering any back-ups to this argument, statements such as these often read like nothing more than overwrought impressions.
Lasn seeks to expose that we, as a society, are not truly happy. People who actually think they are happy have been brainwashed. According to the author, these are people who prioritize a false ideal and who turn to images to fulfill their needs. Such people laugh at sitcom jokes instead of listening to the funny…