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More Culture Jamming
April 5, 2007, 8:59 pm
Filed under: Random

Hank Willis Thomas received his BFA in Photography and Africana Studies from NYU as well his MFA in Photography and Visual Criticism from the California College of the Arts. His series “Branded” hopes to provoke serious conversations about race by using advertisements to draw connections between stereotypical images of strong, particularly physically strong, African American men and slavery. Many of these works have been displayed as public installations on phone booths and bus stops. He also uses many of the images as logos on t-shirts. In his series “Unbranded” Thomas removes all of the identifying advertising traits such as logos and text from existing ads that feature the African American community in order to reveal what is really being sold.

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“The Yes Men” Review
April 2, 2007, 3:56 am
Filed under: Write Ups

The Yes Men are activists that practice a particular form of culture jamming known as “identity correction”. Culture jamming utilizes or manipulates traditional forms of mass media such as advertising in an attempt to comment on the often vicious negative impact that excessive commercialization has on society. In other words, culture jams regularly expose the true environmental or human cost of corporate practices. The specific concept of “identity correction” involves otherwise honest people impersonating government and corporate leaders in an attempt bring to light how these “truly evil” organizations harm the public.

The two main members of The Yes Men go by a number of different aliases; in the film they are Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum. In real life Mike Bonanno is Igor Vamos, an assistant professor of media arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York while Andy Bichlbaum, really Jacques Servin, is best known as the designer who programmed unauthorized images of men kissing into the computer game SimCopter.

One of their very first pranks was the 1999 satirical website GWBush.com, which they deliberately designed to resemble Bush’s official website GeorgeWBush.com in order to call attention to the many hypocrisies found there. Their most famous prank, which they made into a documentary film, began when they set up the website GATT.org to spoof the World Trade Organization. This fake website began to receive e-mails from various groups wishing to have WTO representatives speak at their conferences. At a conference in Finland The Yes Men proposed that CEOs of large corporations should implant themselves and their remote employees with electrodes, so bosses could watch their workers at all times. To make the speech as ludicrous as possible Andy Bichlbaum donned a garish, gold, skin-tight suit fully equipped with a large, inflatable phallus. At the end of this phallus a hands-free screen allowed CEOs to watch their employees wherever they pleased. Since the movie release, The Yes Men have continued with their pranks. Most recently, they impersonated HUD in New Orleans.

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I am somewhat conflicted about the methods that The Yes Men use. I really enjoy their satirical websites because they say a lot about society. We have a tendency to take things at face value without adequate questioning. It surprised me that so many people unwittingly invited imposters to speak at their conferences. However, as far as I can tell The Yes Men never informed anyone at these conferences at any point in time that they are not actually legitimate representatives of the WTO. I have to wonder if their point actually gets across if they never let other people in on the joke? They claim that they do these pranks for the articles written afterwards, which in theory reach far more people, but I have never read one of these articles. Furthermore, I would argue that articles hardly ever truly impact people while most people remember odd, quirky events.

The predominant problem with the prank is that their main message warns against the possible dangers of globalization, yet they rely heavily on the Internet and news articles circulated through mass media, which epitomize globalization. While I realize that this dichotomy is intentional, at times it takes humanity out of their pranks and makes me think that they are not fully aware of their intended or potential message. They do not use the Internet as fully and responsibly as possible. Instead of using connections made through the Internet as springboards for new, productive, global relationships, they exploit peoples’ ignorance. However, change does have to start somewhere, and the Internet is a great place to reach people across the globe. So while The Yes Men may still be catering soley to likeminded artists, they are reaching far more of them than they otherwise would. I am definitely more knowledgeable about the WTO and its practices because of their work.