TECH1002 Lecture Week Four – Culture Jamming

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been thinking about the idea of mediation and how it can be understood as a cultural and social process. Last week we asked:

  • How much control do we have over the process of mediation?
  • To what extent does digital media affords us the ability to re-echo and remediate?
  • We make sense of who we are through a process of ongoing mediation.
  • Is anything not mediated these days?
  • How do we use and make sense of the tools of mediation in our daily lives?

This week I wanted to take these ideas a little further and look at some concerns that have been raised in the past about the process of mediation. Concerns that push our commonsense and everyday ideas about media to a seeming breaking point. Put simply, thinking about mediation as a function or as a transaction leaves us in a limited and precarious position. We have to think about mediation as a symbolic process that allows representations and signs to shift and change, and to be understood from different perspectives.

To get things started we watch the video for 3AM Eternal by the KLF

Jones and Hafner, in one of the core recommended books for this module point out that “Digital media are even breaking down barriers that used to divide literacy practices themselves. Because they facilitate new ways of distributing our attention, they allow us to participate in many practices simultaneously” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 14). This is because, as Jones and Hafner go on to say, that “digital tools have a different kind of materiality than physical tools like books, they have a greater capacity to be modified (or ‘modded’), to be mixed, merged or ‘mashed-up’ with other tools, and to be adapted to unique circumstances and unique goals” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 14).

It is our ability, therefore to master the practices that are associated with digital media that we should keep in mind when we are thinking about how media is used and artefacts are circulated within communities and audiences. This, according to Jones and Hafner is not just being able to “mimic things that others have done, but rather on being able to mix tools with one another and with environments and people to create new meanings and activities and identities” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 14).

In this lecture, then, we look at the idea of ‘culture jamming’ and the way that media texts can be used to subvert or undermine the transactional, instrumental and deterministic approach to meanings and ideas. As a wise person once pointed out “the human race will begin solving it’s problems on the day that it ceases taking itself so seriously” (Younger, 2012, p. 78).

The idea of culture jamming is widespread and has been around for some time. Culture jamming is said to be a “form of disruption that plays on the emotions of viewers and bystanders. Jammers want to disrupt the unconscious thought process that takes place when most consumers view a popular advertising and bring about a détournement”

And it is the process of détournement that we want to spend some time thinking about. “Détournement is similar to satirical parody, but employs more direct reuse or faithful mimicry of the original works rather than constructing a new work which merely alludes strongly to the original. It may be contrasted with recuperation, in which originally subversive works and ideas are themselves appropriated by mainstream media”


For example, the phenomenon of subtervising gives us some insight into this process. “Subvertising is a portmanteau of subvert and advertising. It refers to the practice of making spoofs or parodies of corporate and political advertisements. Subvertisements may take the form of a new image or an alteration to an existing image or icon, often in a satirical manner. A subvertisement can also be referred to as a meme hack and can be a part of social hacking or culture jamming”

“Billboards are a one-way lecture. Graffiti creates a two-way communication” Jill Posner (1982). Subvertising, is a cultural guerrilla movement of loosely affiliated artists, activists and other individuals who target advertising. Subvertising is part of a wider movement known as Culture Jamming, a term coined in 1984 by the band Negativland.


So why would anyone want to subvert this process? What can be gained from the parodic and creative realignment of the function of meaning and the parodying of the communication process. One group who sought to do this where the situationists. The legacy of situationism has been felt in contemporary popular culture in things like the punk rock movement. “The situationists believed that the shift from individual expression through directly lived experiences, or the first-hand fulfillment of authentic desires, to individual expression by proxy through the exchange or consumption of commodities, or passive second-hand alienation, inflicted significant and far-reaching damage to the quality of human life for both individuals and society”

This is a useful video that gives some background to the Situationists movement:

In the book ‘Society of the Spectacle’ by Guy Debord, the idea that we can search for an authentic and realistic sense of what communication is gets challenged. We re introduced to the post-modern notion that all that we see or seem is but a set of images and signs that refere and relate to other signs. There is no authentic sense of self, or a sense of reality that is hidden behind a veil waiting to be discovered. Debord, instead “traces the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

“The Society of the Spectacle is a critique of contemporary consumer culture and commodity fetishism. Before the term “globalization” was popularized, Debord was arguing about issues such as class alienation, cultural homogenization, and the mass media”

This is explained in a very visual way in this video:

Story of the KLF:

71Jdb6M3fvL._SL1500_In the early 1990’s I was a regular clubber in Manchester, and one of the bands that was big at the time was the KLF. There combination of House sounds, combined with a rock format gave them a unique and distinctive feel. But did I really understand or could I really make sense of what they where about? Well at the time I didn’t really have a clue about the content of their songs and what the references where that are contained in them. It wasn’t until I read John Higgs excellent book ‘The KLF – Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds’ over the summer that I made much sense of what they were up to.

So, I’ve pieced together some fragments from different sources, based on the story and ideas that Higgs puts forward to try and tie their music together.


The KLF was originally known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu in 1987. In 1988, they had a UK number 1 hit as the Timelords with Doctorin the Tardis.

“From the outset, [the KLF] adopted the philosophy espoused by esoteric novel series The Illuminatus! Trilogy, gaining notoriety for various anarchic situationist manifestations, including the defacement of billboard adverts, the posting of prominent cryptic advertisements in NME magazine and the mainstream press, and highly distinctive and unusual performances on Top of the Pops. Their most notorious performance was a collaboration with Extreme Noise Terror at the February 1992 BRIT Awards, where they fired machine gun blanks into the audience and dumped a dead sheep at the aftershow party. This performance announced The KLF’s departure from the music business, and in May 1992 the duo deleted their entire back catalogue”

In the early 1980s Bill Drummond was Living in Liverpool, and was the manager of two important bands, the Tear Drop Explodes and Echo and the Bunny Men. In the late 1980s Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty began working together sampling music from The Beatles and Abba, and getting into trouble for copyright infringement. There music was something of an experiment in cross-cultural mediation and took the form of hip-hop, house music and rave and turned it into ‘stadium rock’. In 1991 the KLF where UKs best selling international artists, getting to number one in eleven countries.

Time Lords – Doctoring the Tardis

The Timelords
The Timelords

In 1988 Cauty and Drummond had a number one hit with the novelty record ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’, which is an “electronic novelty pop single” The song is “predominantly a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme music, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” with sections from “Blockbuster!” by Sweet and “Let’s Get Together Tonite” by Steve Walsh.” As a novelty single there was little critical credit given to it, but it was commercially successful in the UK and in other countries, “charting in the Top 10 in Australia, Ireland and Norway”

Under various names, The JAMS and then the KLF, Drummond and Cauty adopted a style of music production that was based on the use of samples. But rather than using samples that are subtle and in the background of the track, they instead lobbed whole sections of tracks into their singles. This caused them some trouble with the legal rights holders of the music, and meant that the had to destroy their album ‘What the Fuck is Going On’ and the track ‘The Queen and I’ for its wholesale use of Abba’s Dancing Queen.

“In 1987, the JAMS, also known as the KLF (Kopyright Liberation Front), released an album titled “1987, What the Fuck is Going On?” The album heavily sampled the single “Dancing Queen” from the Swedish super-group ABBA. KLF did not clear the samples, and consequently Abba filed a complaint alleging that the samples constituted a copyright infringement. In response to the complaint, in August of 1987, the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society ordered the JAMS to destroy all remaining copies of their “1987” LP”

“Shortly after independent release in June 1987, The JAMs were ordered by the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society to destroy all unsold copies of the album, following a complaint from ABBA. In response, The JAMs disposed of many copies of 1987 in unorthodox, publicised ways. They also released a version of the album titled “1987 (The JAMs 45 Edits)”, stripped of all unauthorised samples to leave periods of protracted silence and so little audible content that it was formally classed as a 12-inch single”

Other notable examples of their use of samples include:

“Kylie Said to Jason” was intended to be a top 10 record which The KLF — Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty — were hoping could “rescue them from the jaws of bankruptcy”.[2] Instead, it flopped commercially, failing even to make the UK top 100 and forcing the entire film and soundtrack project to be put on hold. The release did peak at number 6 on the UK Indie Singles Chart during August 1989”

The JAMs’ primary instrument was the digital sampler with which they would plagiarise the history of popular music, cutting chunks from existing works and pasting them into new contexts, underpinned by rudimentary beatbox rhythms and overlayed with Drummond’s raps, of social commentary, esoteric metaphors and mockery.

“Whitney Joins The JAMs” is a song and 1987 single by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (The JAMs). The song, released on The JAMs’ independent label KLF Communications, is built around plagiarised samples of Whitney Houston in which—thanks to studio technology—she “joins The JAMs“

So what underpins the approach that Cauty and Drummond took? According to John Higgs, they adopted the Discordian philosophy of chaos after reading the ‘Illuminatus!’ trilogy of books.

“In those novels, the JAMs are what the Illuminati (a political organisation which seeks to impose order and control upon society) call the group of Discordians they’ve allowed to infiltrate them (in order to feed them false information). . As The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, Drummond and Cauty chose to interpret the principles of the fictional JAMs in the context of music production in the corporate music world. Shrouded in the mystique provided by their disguised identities and the cultish Illuminatus!, they mirrored the Discordians gleeful political tactics of causing chaos and confusion by bringing a direct, humorous but nevertheless revolutionary approach to making records, often attracting attention in unconventional ways

200px-PrincipayellowYou can read more about the Discordian principles here:


Discordia Principles

“The Principia Discordia holds three core principles: the Aneristic Principle (order), Eristic Principle (disorder) and the notion that both are mere illusions. The following excerpt summarizes these principles quite well:

The Aneristic Principle is that of apparent order; the Eristic Principle is that of apparent disorder. Both order and disorder are man made concepts and are artificial divisions of pure chaos, which is a level deeper than is the level of distinction making.

With our concept-making apparatus called “the brain” we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality which our cultures give us. The ideas-about-reality are mistakenly labelled “reality” and unenlightened people are forever perplexed by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see “reality” differently.”

There is a useful passage in the Principia Discordia that states:

“If you can master nonsense as well as you have already learned to master sense, then each will expose the other for what it is: absurdity. From that moment of illumination, a man begins to be free regardless of his surroundings. He becomes free to play order games and change them at will. He becomes free to play disorder games just for the hell of it. He becomes free to play neither or both. And as the master of his own games, he plays without fear, and therefore without frustration, and therefore with good will in is soul and love in his being” (Younger, 2012, p. 78).

The argument is, and however bizarrely this is expressed and contextualised, “we look at the world through windows on which have been drawn grids (concepts). Different philosophies use different grids. A culture is a group of people with rather similar grids. Through a window we view chaos, and relate it to the points on our grid, and thereby understand it. The ORDER is in the GRID. That is the Aneristic Principle” (Younger, 2012, p. 51).

The Discordian philosophy (or anti-philosophy) is then absorbed and used as a basis for the books that for the

Illuminatis Trillogy!_Trilogy


“Illuminatus! is a huge cult sex-drugs-occult-paranoid conspiracy theory-science fiction book, where reality shifts and nothing is as is seems. Or is that what I want you to believe? It was first published in the mid seventies, written by Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea (who were employees of Playboy when they wrote it), originally as three separate novels: The Eye In The Pyramid, The Golden Apple, and Leviathan.”

“’Illuminatus!’ tells the tale of the international conspiracy the Illuminati, who attempt to order and control mankind, and receive individual power (become illuminated) by causing mass deaths. Their arch enemies The Justified Ancients of Mummu (The JAMs), are “an organization (or disorganization) who are at least as old as the Illuminati and represent the primeval power of Chaos”. Along with affiliated groups the LDD and the ELF (Erisian Liberation Front), the JAMs are engaged in a secret war to prevent the Illuminati from ‘immanatizing the eshcaton’ (bringing closer the end of the world). The JAMs were members of the Illuminati, but were expelled at the behest of a faction protesting “kick out the JAMs”. The illuminati control all the record companies, which is why all music is very dull, and how they managed to incorporate the anti-JAMs gibe “kick out the jams” into a MC5 song. The JAMs started their own company to bring out good music, and combat the Illuminati.”

Ken Cambell's Illuminatus! Stage Play
Ken Cambell’s Illuminatus! Stage Play

According to John Higgs, Bill Drummond, when he was twenty-three years old worked on the sets for a staged version of the ‘Illuminatus! Trilogy’, staged over nine hours in Liverpool by the maverick theatre director Ken Cambell. Later the play would transfer to London, where Jimmy Cauty saw the play.

Now, according to John Higgs “Discordians have something of an obsession with the number 23” (Higgs, 2012, p. 239). According to Discordian ideas, everything can be related to the “Law of Fives” which “states that everything is related to the number five, if you look hard enough” (Higgs, 2012, p. 240). As Higgs points out, “Bill Drummond was 23 when he worked on the Iluminatus! Play, which had 23 cast members…. Drummond and Cauty burnt the million pounds on 23rd August 1994 (1+9+9+4 = 23). ‘Docternin’ the TARDIS’ was released on 23 May, the car painted on its roof and the Turner Prize incident occurred on 23 November. November the 23rd was also a Discordian holy day (being Harpo Marx’s birthday), the date when Ken Campbell’s Illuminatus was first performed, the date this book was first published and, the date that Doctor Who was first broadcast. That first episode of Doctor Who was 23 minutes long and had a budget of £2,300, and it would be the disastrous 23rd series of Doctor Who that resulted in Ken Campbell and his protégé Sylvester McCoy auditioning for the role” (Higgs, 2012, p. 241).

Conspiracy Theories?
Conspiracy Theories?

The principle idea of the ‘Illuminatus! Trilogy’ is that the world is controlled by a secret sect who are trying to impose a form of order on the world, but they are opposed by an alternative faction, the JAMMS, the Justified Ancients of Mummu, who seek to ensure that the world remains disordered. There is a conspiracy theory developed in the book that goes like this:

“The puppets in the Kremlin have no idea that they and the puppets in the White House are working for the same people. The Illuminati control all sorts of organisations and national governments without any of them being aware that others are also controlled. Each group thinks it is competing with the others, while actually each is playing its part in the Illuminati plan… At present rate, within the next few years the Illuminati will have the American people under tighter surveillance than Hitler had the Germans. And the beauty is, the majority of the Americans will have been so frightened by Illuminati backed terrorist incidents that they will beg to be controlled by a masochist begs for the whip” (Shea & Wilson, 1998, p. 198).

As such, it is the role of artists and performers, writers and musicians to ensure act in the vanguard of the discordian principles of chaos. Here’s another passage from the book:

“’Right,’ said Hagbard. ‘America is the target now. They’ve got most of Europe and Aisia. Once they get America, they can come out into the open. The world will then be much as Orwell predicted in Nineteen Eighty-four. They bumped him off after it was published, you know. The book hit a little to close to home. He was obviously on to them – the references to Inner and Outer parties with different teachings – and they got to him. Orwell, you see, ran across them in Spain, where they were functioning quite openly at one point during the Civil War. But artists also arrive at truth through their imaginations, if they let themselves wander freely. They’re more likely to arrive at the truth than more scientifically-minded people.’” (Shea & Wilson, 1998, p. 200).

So if we look at one of the music videos that the KLF made, we can see these ideas expressed in the style of the video, the signs and images that are used and the sense that there is a story underpinning these songs. There is a pyramid, but rather than an eye at the pinnacle, there is a ghetto blaster. There is a temple, monks with rhino horns, a submarine, dolphins and other iconic images from their books. The motto of the JAMMS is ‘Okay, everybody lie down on the floor and keep calm’. Which is a key sample used by the KLF.

In 1992 the KLF where asked to preform at the BRIT Awards ceremony. “They caused controversy with a succession of anti-establishment gestures that included a duet performance of “3 a.m. Eternal” with the crust punk band Extreme Noise Terror, during which The KLF co-founder Bill Drummond fired machine-gun blanks over the audience of music industry luminaries

What has become known as “their most notorious performance was a collaboration with Extreme Noise Terror at the February 1992 BRIT Awards, where they fired machine gun blanks into the audience and dumped a dead sheep at the aftershow party. This performance announced The KLF’s departure from the music business, and in May 1992 the duo deleted their entire back catalogue”

With the dissolution of the KLF and the deletion of their music catalogue the next provocative act of Cauty and Drummond was to burn a million pounds. An extreme act of randomness that is difficult to justify in any

So How do we make sense of this, and what’s it’s relevance to the way we might think about the web? Well have you ever wondered where Memes come from and what purpose they serve? There is an emerging line of thinking that suggests that the world is defined through a ‘network of thought and ideas’. This is called either the Noosphere or the Ideaspace. For example:

“In 1938, a Jesuit priest wrote a book in which he postulated the existence of “a sphere of thought” enveloping the Earth. This book, The Phenomenon of Man, wasn’t published until the late 1950s, after its author, Teilhard de Chardin, had died. In it, he called this enveloping sphere of thought the noosphere and described it as “a living tissue of consciousness” enclosing the Earth and growing ever more dense”

Listen to what Alan Moore talks about when he describes magic and the way ideas exist in the world around us.

To conclude, there is a simple question we can ask, if you want to develop an antidote to processed pop, how would you go about doing it?



Higgs, J. (2012). The KLF – Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds. London: Phoenix.

Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.

Shea, R., & Wilson, R. A. (1998). The Illuminatus! Trilogy. London: Raven Books.

Younger, M. t. (2012). Principia Discordia. Seattle, Washington: Pacific Publishing Studio.

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