Book Review: Culture Jam: How To Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge—And Why we Must. By Kalle Lasn, Quill: 1999.

October 31, 2006

Kalle Lasn awakens readers to the corporate agendas controlling mass media and to the damaging impact consumer culture is having on our world. With the urgency of this reality in mind, he asserts the need for a revolution of organized resistance and authentic living in order to go about restoring a “noncommercial heart and soul” to America (p.xvi).

Lasn begins with an investigation of the impact that consumer culture has had on the mental and physical landscape of our world.   He asserts, “Our media saturated postmodern world, where all communication flows in one direction, from the powerful to the powerless, produces a population of lumpen spectators” who are not living to their unique potential or fully participating in a democracy (p104). Further, Lasn comments on the media’s pacifying and manipulative impact on the public as it overwhelms minds with information from all directions, and allows corporate sponsors the sole voice on what is cool, beautiful, and/or signifies success.  Lasn goes on to describe in greater depth how the unchecked consumption and attainment of the American Dream fostered in media and culture has in time proven dysfunctional and damaging to the environment, communities and the human psyche.  

From this platform, Lasn defines parameters for how to start a revolution that would ignite the minds of the public who have apathetically followed the social script handed to them. He calls those who would participate in this movement, “culture jammers,” because their authentic choices to live outside of the norms of a consumer culture can shock others out of their trance-like submission to the flood of ideologies imparted through our culture (p.107).

Lasn suggests both individual and collective acts of resistance to the powers pushing for cultural conformity.  He emphasizes that everyday life provides the opportunity to make spontaneous choices that involve confronting corporate powers. One of the most interesting in my opinion was the example of those who “demarket” the consumer lifestyle by not buying into it—taking lower paying jobs and living in counter-culture ways that allow greater freedom to “obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption” (p.172).  Lasn suggests a number of other strategies to empowered living such as airing or publishing dissenting ads in order to bring awareness to the public of the false ideologies that corporations are pushing, and lobbying at a grassroots level.

Overall, I found Lasn’s thoughts quite challenging and helpful in creating an understanding of the larger framework of the dynamics and powers that are involved in social transformation.  It is startling to learn of the ease in which the sweeping influence of corporate America on our culture has run unchecked.  I am hesitant to assert, as does Lasn, “the best way to explain and define ourselves [“culture jammers”] is to be clear about who—or what—we aren’t” (p.113).  It is at this point that the life of Jesus offers insight into defining, at least for those considering themselves Christians, who we are as a people. Yet, Culture Jam, though not intended specifically for a Christian audience, has much guidance to offer to the Church.

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