Culture Jamming for Public Health
Culture jamming is a subversive technique used to counter mainstream advertising and consumer culture by challenging the norms it supports. Culture jamming asks people to think beyond the advertisements they are presented with by challenging the assumptions the that our society often takes for granted, like the idea that we need to shop, that we need makeup to be beautiful, or that parking spaces are just for cars. Jamming generally builds on pre-existing advertising campaigns to get an alternative message out.
Recently in Victoria, BC, a group of front-line service providers who want to challenge the city’s lack of progressive action on homelessness and harm reduction started the Radical Health Alliance (RHA), which works to question how homelessness is thought about in Victoria. Rather than an individual problem, the RHA challenges people to think about how the ways that we organize society actually create a situation in which some people are rich while others are poor, and in which those who are poor are excluded from ‘public’ spaces and cannot access necessary health care services.
Recently, the RHA launched a culture jamming campaign in response to the City of Victoria’s ‘Unacceptable’ campaign. In an attempt to highlight the idea that homelessness is unacceptable, the Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness posted images like this one:
According to the RHA, the problem with the City’s campaign is that it ignores both the corresponding levels of class privilege in Victoria, and the ways in which people in the city further marginalize homeless people. The RHA therefore jammed the Coalition’s campaign by creating images like this one:
Every day for 19 days the RHA highlighted specific ways that the City of Victoria works against homeless people instead of against homelessness, providing a striking image with a tagline, as well as an explanation for why they chose that image, every day of the campaign. They blogged, Tweeted and used Facebook to get their messages out each day. In addition, the RHA created press releases to inform media of their campaign.
I love this campaign. I used to work in housing and harm reduction in Victoria and I feel like the campaign raises some great points about homelessness, lack of services, and policing, in Victoria. I also think the group has made great uses of media and images by creatively piggybacking on the campaign by the City of Victoria’s Coalition.
As a society, we often tend to look past the upstream factors that impact public health, like over-consumption, class inequity, and war. Jamming already existing campaigns that ignore root health factors can be a relatively cheap and impactful way of getting a message out.