Borrowing from the French, occupiers turn figures from the cultural mainstream into symbols of dissent VIDEO
TV-show writers, pop culture purveyors and peddlers of general stuff-we-don’t-need didn’t take long to latch onto the Occupy brand. The language of the 99 percent is popping up in sitcoms and terrible pop songs; the word “Occupy” now adorns a neon green Swatch. It’s probably beside the point to mention that revolutionaries in Egypt and Greece are fighting on without the help of branded watches; this is America, after all — what did you expect?
But Occupy supporters are taking from pop culture too. Not in the obvious sense of message amplification and popularization, but by helping themselves to items from the cultural mainstream and flipping them on their heads for propaganda purposes. To see what I mean, check out this video attributed to “nycgeneralstrike”:
The clip does not come from any official Occupy working group, but is part of a vast array of guerrilla propaganda efforts from autonomous, anonymous creators, which is ricocheting through the Twitterverse and blogosphere. It’s a well-known scene from “Rambo, First Blood,” in which Sly Stallone’s character overpowers an entire police precinct. The video cuts to black, with the messages in bold type “de-arrest your comrades” (meaning: pull them away from cops if they’re grabbed) and “#NYCGeneralStrike” (referencing the Occupy calls for a May 1 general strike). The video, part of a series featuring scenes from “The Terminator,” “Robocop,” “I Am Legend” and more, with titles including “Class War” and “Avenge Zuccotti,” relies on a technique known as “détournement.”
The idea, first propounded by French radical artists of the Letterist International in the 1950s (who fed into the Situationists), is to take elements of capitalist media and use it to create an antagonistic message. Crucially, the original media that is “détourned” must be widely recognized (like Rambo or the Terminator), otherwise the impact is lost. Take, for example, the “subvertising” campaigns created by culture-jamming magazine Adbusters, which use recognizable corporate logos to impart anti-consumerist messages. Indeed, one of the symbols most affiliated with Occupy — the Guy Fawkes masks donned by Anonymous hackers — is a détournement of sorts: Wrenched from its origin in a Warner Bros. blockbuster, “V for Vendetta,” and repurposed as a genuine symbol of dissent — a real Guy Fawkes mask.
The effect of nycgenstrike’s videos is jarring. We remember cheering for Rambo as he pummeled cop after cop, and then the video forces us to think about how we personally interact with aggressive policing. As radical propaganda, it’s also hugely effective — a cheeky “fuck you” to late capitalism: We will take your products, spit them back at you to call for insurrection and everyone will know what we’re talking about, because, yeah, we all saw “Robocop” too. Détournement is the technique of occupying products of consumerist media. As writer Max Fox put it in the most recent edition of the New Inquiry Magazine, “Just because capital has brought something inside itself doesn’t mean that thing can’t also threaten it.”
So while concerns (justifiably) abound about the recuperation of Occupy, there’s solace in the idea that everything recuperable can be détourned.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email email@example.com. More Natasha Lennard.
More Related Stories
- Justin Timberlake: I'm a mediocre folk singer!
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
- Stephen Colbert to UVA: "You must always make the path for yourself"
- "Game of Thrones," season 3, episode 8: A salon
- Bieber booed, Miguel falls on fan at Billboard Awards
- "Mad Men" recap: Love, acid and whores. Lots of whores
- Taylor Swift leads Billboard winners
- “Game of Thrones” recap: “We must do our duty”
- "The Unwinding": What's gone wrong with America
- Michael J. Fox wins: The best and worst of the new fall shows
- First look: The Coens' marvelous folk-music odyssey
- New York's most persecuted subway artist?
- James Franco: "I really felt I was in conversation with Faulkner"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11