I’ll admit I didn’t know what the hell was going on at the beginning of this film. I thought it was supposed to be a documentary about artists who go out and alter billboards and advertisements, but what I seemed to be getting was some sort of goofball mockumentary. I blame this on the film starting out with its focus on a group of artists in San Francisco called the Billboard Liberation Front. These guys were constantly in suits and masks to disguise their identity and it seemed like they were always putting on a show for the camera, acting up like kids or college frat boy douche bags do when a camera is pointed at them. Thinking back on it now, I guess these guys weren’t too bad. They were just really goony and I thought the whole thing might be fake. On top of that, this whole alteration of advertisements has a name and its called Culture Jamming. I had never heard this name before and thought it sounded pretty stupid, so I figured hell, it’s gotta be fake. But, alas, once the film shifts its focus onto some of the other artists, it became very clear that this was a real documentary I was watching and a damn swell one at that. S**t, this stuff really is called Culture Jamming. Oh well, at least what these people are doing is cool.
When revisiting the Billboard Liberation Front further into the film, they seemed to mellow out in order to focus on informing the viewer the idea behind their whole movement, which is to rewire the message advertising companies are constantly jamming down our throats so that the message backfires to present an underlying truth. These are the guys responsible for turning the Camel cigarette billboard into an “Am I Dead Yet” billboard, amongst many others. I started to like these guys as they exposed their thought process and even took the filmmakers behind the scenes of their operation. Turns out that they realize whatever they alter, there’s always going to have to be someone who has to clean it up. So they devised a way to make it an easy clean up and they sometimes even leave a 12-pack of beer waiting for the clean up crew.
Another one of the featured artists is Carly Stasko who works on a smaller scale by plastering ads around the city with stickers she’s made herself, which usually draw attention to the lurking evil within the ad. She also teaches at various schools the art of Culture Jamming.
And finally, there’s the great Reverend Billy, who I had first seen in the documentary The Gods of Times Square. In Gods, Billy is seen going into a Disney Store, holding a huge plush Mickey Mouse, and declaring that Mickey is indeed the Anti-Christ. It’s a funny segment and I thought the guy was just some weirdo, but then here he is again as a featured artist in “Culture Jam.” Turns out the f*****g guy is a performance artist that uses his energy by taking the piss out of Disney. Under the guise of a reverend, Billy gathers camera crews and enters the major Disney Store on Times Square to preach about the evil sweatshops Disney has going in other parts of the world. These sermons occasionally lead to his arrest, but he always returns to the Disney Store to stir up more s**t. Goddamn, I love this guy.
So there it was, after a rocky start, I got what I wanted – an entertaining and informative documentary on the people that dedicate a good part of their lives in f*****g with commercial culture. If you’ve ever passed by an altered billboard or ad or have even seen some strange guy speaking the word of “Stop Shopping” in a Disney Store, good chance is you’ve seen the work of a Culture Jammer.