Culture Jam – Book Review

October 30, 2006

Culture Jam: how to reverse America’s suicidal consumer binge – and why we must
Kalle Lasn
Quill: 2000 

Author
Kalle Lasn is a documentarist and an activist, committed to fighting against the effects of popular media. 

Thesis
Lasn asserts that corporate America is quickly turning us into mindless consumers, and that it is time for a revolution to reclaim our individuality and freedom of speech. 
 

Summary
Autumn
Lasn begins his book by laying out the symptoms of our down-spiriling culture.  He asserts that Americanism has become a brand that we sell to the American people, and that through advertising, the internet and media, we have lost our individuality and our sense of identity. 

Winter
Next, Lasn fleshes out the problem in America.  We have lost our individuality and have become consumers, controlled by the economy and media.  Our identity has been engulfed by the things that we buy, and our self worth is manipulated for corporate gain. 

Spring
During the middle part of the book, Lasn offers glimpses of hope to those struggling against the powers that be. He encourages the spreading of “metamemes” such as “True Cost”, “Doomsday Meme” and the “Media Carta” to redefine how individuals view the world (p. 124) and advocates for people to take direct action in order to spread this worldview.  

Summer
Finally, Lasn calls for individuals to over throw the systems of consumerism, media and consumption that are holding our society captive.  He demands true freedom of speech and he seeks to redefine progress in a way that is not tied to corporate success, but instead to individual happiness and ecological preservation.   

Reflection
Maybe it is because I am generally trusting and optimistic, but this book seems to take conspiracy theory to a new level.  While I agree with Lasn’s general observations that consumerism, carelessness for the environment and media over consumption are sicknesses in our society, I don’t immediately assume that corporations are intentionally forcing this upon us simply to make more money.   On an individual level, I would like to think that I am free from the power of advertising, yet I know that I am not.  But still, I have a hard time believing that we are purposefully being made into consumeristic drones by the power of the corporate world. 

Setting the intentions of the corporations aside, I disagree with Lasn’s method of bringing reform.  He seems driven by rage, and at a number of points, advocates his readers to develop for wrath (p. 139).  Many of his actions, such as breaking a shopping cart dispenser or yelling at a telemarketer, are directed at the wrong person. It isn’t the telemarketer who is wronging you, it is the organization that the telemarketer works for.  What gives us the right to attack her, when she is being abused by the system just as much as we are. Our country does not live by an “eye for an eye” and one wrong wont right another one. 

Yes, we need to be bold in fighting against injustice, but maybe the answer is to transform the system from the inside. Instead of attacking it, couldn’t we focus on helping to heal the system that developed corrupt corporations? What if we worked to help people find fulfillment outside of consumerism? Or helped foster empathy and a desire to help others, instead of focusing simply on economic gain?  

I agree with Lasn that it is time for change, but I have a hard time believing that the corporations are the big bad monsters that he makes them out to be, and I certainly do not approve of his methods of reform.   

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