Book Report: Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs

The book: Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs written by Mark Dery in 1993 looks to theorize and historicize the concept of Culture Jamming by understanding its history and philosophical foundations. To undertake that endeavor, Mark Dery structures his conceptual inquiry in four book chapters that look to understand the theory, context, and future of the concept.

   In the first chapter Empire of Signs, Dery starts by contextualizing and providing the socio-historical and economical panorama that made possible the multiplicity of culture jamming practices we know today. He argues that with the spread of TV usage in 70’s, the image became incredibly important in how we as a society understand and consume information. Furthermore, he believes that the expansion of corporate owned media, the development of media conglomerates, the supersession of the information economy from the formal economy,  created the material and ideological conditions that would provoke incredible discontent with corporations as intuitions and ignite the cultural was against them.

   In the second chapter: Culture Jamming, he explains the origins of the jamming concept: as the practice of intercepting radio conversations with noise and how Negativland coined the use of Cultural Jamming, in a 1984 JamCon, to describe the alteration of imagery referring particularly to Billboards.  Furthermore, he explains how the predominant status of imagery to shape public discourse fostered the use of imagery alteration as a political tool against corporations by introducing other interpretations on the ideas sold by capitalist institutions. Basically, using the imagery and tools that corporations used to promote and envelop society in consumerist culture against them in order to promote critical thinking for a more just and equal society.Moreover, Dery explains some of the techniques deployed by culture jammers to intercept consumerist messages 1)Snipping – dissemination of anti ads 2) Media Hoxing- creating pranks the media believes, 3) Audio Agitpropt- digital sampling that challenges copyright law, and 4)Billboard Banditry- “damaging” corporate billboards to display subversive ideas to corporate ideology.

   In the third chapter,  Guerrilla Semiotics  Dery explains how semiotics (the study of sign process and meaningful communications)  is employed in non-academic forms by activists in what Umberto Ecco called Guerrilla Semiotics (a technique to decipher the signs and symbols that constitute culture’s secret language or systems of signification) to alter our understanding of corporate messaging and capitalist ideology.

Finally chapter four, Postscript from the Edge talks about the future of signs, images and culture in the context of the electronic frontier and interactive media as substitutes for TV. In the chapter, He poses more questions than answers. He wonders: who is going to able to participate in the production? Will it be helpful for further critique or detrimental? Will it further promote consumer culture or limit it? Nevertheless, he ends up on a hopeful note. He states that even though cyberspace might have its faults (underrepresentation/harassment of minorities, etc) it can be seen as a more democratic space for cultural production and for the dissemination of transgressive communications.

Dery’s theoretical development of the culture jamming concept allows us to understand its uses as a political tool as well as its origins. Furthermore, it allows us to understand the power that mediated information has in construction public opinion and shaping power structures in our organized society. The concepts that he presents are incredibly useful to understand not only our political and ideological concept but how we can perform engage mediated politics in the future.


Dery, Mark. 1993. “Mark Dery › Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs.”


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