20 July 2012

Billboards and Culture Jammers

Buyways by Catherine Gudis, 2004, Excerpts

Since the 1970s, a new generation of activists determined to rid the landscape of “litter on a stick,” and impatient with a system that favored corporate over grassroots interests, took up their own “extralegal” means of policing billboards. Their activities ranged from that of the “Billboard Bandit,” who used a chainsaw to cut down billboards along Michigan highways in 1971, to feminist groups who staged demonstrations at the foot of billboards and spray painted or pasted over sexist ads, labeling them demeaning to women.

Similar strategies were revived in the 1980s and 1990s, when urban residents noticed that while wealthy residential areas were billboard free, poor minority neighborhoods were under siege from liquor and cigarette advertisements. Beer and liquor brands have always been leading advertisers in the outdoor medium, with cigarette companies joining them after a forced withdrawal from television and radio advertising in the 1970s. For some time, the two products generated at least 40 percent of all outdoor advertising revenue. 

Frustrated by his fruitless attempts to have such billboards banned in his impoverished African American parish of the south side of Chicago. Reverend Michael Pfleger took matters into his own hands in 1990 with a bucket of red paint and 118 billboards as his target. Soon after that, Reverend Calvin Butts, of the Abyssinian Church of Harlem, also took up battle with a paintbrush, whitewashing the boards in his neighborhood. Pioneers in these billboard-busting efforts are Jack Napier and San Francisco’s Billboard Liberation Front [active since 1977], Ron English, and other anonymous “culture jammers” whose activities are often documented at Web sites and in magazines such as Stay Free! and Adbusters.

Work of culture jammer Ron English

17 Jul 2012
The Brandalism project saw 25 artists from 8 countries coming together for the biggest subvertising campaign in UK history.  Over five days a team of guerilla installers travelled to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and London and put up artworks that seeks to confront the ad industry and take back our visual landscapes.

Gallery Page

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