Book Review: Culture Jam – How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge – and why we must by Kalle Lasn

“Your living room is the factory, and the product being manufactured is you.” You are being programmed to consume. You are being programmed to never be satiated. You don’t need to think, the television will explain it all to you – what you need to belong, what you need to be unique like everyone else.

Culture Jam is a good look not only behind the scenes of big corporation agendas, but it is a good look at ourselves as we are duped. Does anyone get cooler than James Dean? C’mon, James Dean is the die-cast Tonka compared to today’s plastic... today’s cool is fed to us via marketing because you can’t get rich selling plain white t-shirts. Kalle hits it in the book when he mentions that truly cool people don’t need fashion. 

From the first chapter, a scary picture is painted about the state of mind kids are in due to the constant stream of advertising. Later, Kalle describes “jolts,” which are technical events on television which interrupt the flow of sound, thought, or imagery. in 1978, regular programming averaged 10 jolts per minute and commercials averaged 20. MTV averages 60, but that was eight years ago. I can hardly stand to watch television sometimes with the new, ceaselessly wavering camera work that seems to be so prevalent. Not only are commercial breaks (a form of jolt) too close and often, but the same commercial often plays at every break. How dumb are we? I purposely don’t ask,” how dumb do they think we are?” They know what they are doing.

Culture Jam lays out many methods used to program us, but it also lays out many methods to fight back. Unfortunately, corporate America is pulling the media strings, and we can’t do much about it. Even though we have as much right to the airwaves as the major television stations, the major television stations own the broadcast equipment, which means they can decide who gets to advertise on the channels that are watched by the most viewers.

What is being done to us. What we are allowing to be done to us. How the corporations block attempts to educate the public. What consumerism is doing to our country. What can be done to make a difference. This book runs through it all. The most important point to remember? Kalle feels that it would only take a few hundred well-organized people to turn things around for all of America. Hmmmm...

I will be reading this book again.

Beyond the book...

Have you ever heard how much money goes into the science of advertising? Yes, lots of money goes into advertising, but I am talking about what is spent to determine what works best. Millions and millions of dollars are spent on advertising research. Do you think this would be necessary if most of the products being offered were so necessary that they sold themselves? This research money is so that the corporations can sell ice cubes to Eskimos. Screen doors for submarines. Jeans with big, faded areas on them. The half-shirt. This research money is spent so that you will always want what you don’t need. This research is to figure out how to trick you into consuming more and more and more.

I wouldn’t mind quite as much if people thought more about the things they buy. Pickup trucks in Seattle? Dumb and not practical. Fashion is one of the most obvious indicators that people buy blindly. How big was that fad with the faded areas on the jeans? Did you ever notice how weirdly shaped those jeans made some people look? Girls were buying these things not realizing that a faded area in the wrong place makes their flat ass flatter, or their big thighs bigger, or all sorts of other optical effects that are not flattering if they aren’t placed properly.   How come I figured this out, and I am a straight guy??? Blind buying happens because people are taught it is the fashion that is important, not how it looks on them. I remember shopping for pants once, and the young sales person pointed me to some ultra-chic brand name. I said I didn’t really care for the style, and the mindless twit actually said, “But they are blah-blah jeans.” He actually thought that I was going to buy a name rather than a style that I like.

It seems like nobody is themselves anymore. I see guys who have to walk differently because their pants are falling down. This isn’t the bop or the strut of someone trying to be cool, this is the joint-wrecking Ministry of Funny Walks walk to keep their pants up. I see chubby girls stuffed into jeans and wearing shirts that are too short, their fat hanging over the sides of their belt line. This is not them, they are misshapen blobs because of the ill-fitting waist. And then there are the orange people... you know, those tan-in-a-can people? And if it isn’t a fake tan, what are you going to look like after ten years of tanning?

Did anyone see “Three Kings” with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg? The guy essentially says that Americans made Michael Jackson hate the way he was, and Americans made him ruin himself by trying to be something he wasn’t. He chopped up his face because he wanted to look different. That is what marketing is doing to our culture. Where is the prevalent message that there is someone for everyone and, if you attract someone while you are in disguise, is that someone going to like the real you? Stop trying and stop buying and start enjoying the freedom from constantly keeping up.