[iDC] KC, Egypt, and Culture Jamming in the Age of Social Media

Snafu snafu at thething.it
Sat Feb 5 18:40:51 UTC 2011

dear IDCers,

since this is only tangentially related to the thread on the Twitter 
revolution, I am starting a new one, hoping to start a conversation as 
interesting as the other one.

Marco Deseriis


//KC, Egypt, and Culture Jamming in the Age of Social Media
HTML version: http://www.thething.it/snafu/?p=605

A couple of days ago American clothing designer Kenneth Cole posted a 
tweet to promote his spring line that read:

"Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring 
collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo-KC."

Note that the tweet is signed "-KC," which means that it was either 
penned or approved by the designer himself. After widespread outrage and 
several parodies on Twitter, Cole deleted the post and apologized on 
Facebook. While the apology was met with sarcasm and skepticism 
<http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=9291921501&topic=16039>, somebody 
decided to take it one step further and re-posted or rather 
//re-pasted// the tweet in the form of a slick decal on a KC store 
window in San Francisco 

In the1980s-1990s culture jammers attacked billboards and TV ads to 
denounce the "infoxication" of our urban and media environment. By 
turning Joe Camel in Joe Chemo and the "Hit" of the "New Exxon" in the 
"Shit" of the Exxon Valdez disaster 
<http://www.flickr.com/photos/24301298@N08/2299349480/> they were also 
exposing the kind of information corporations spend so much money on to 
greenwash.//Contemporary culture jammers can limit themselves to return 
this information where it belongs.

In my work, I use the term "disowning-function" to describe the 
decoupling of property and propriety, matters of ownership and matters 
of reputation. As Mark Rose has shown, modern bourgeois authorship was 
able to conflate property and propriety by suggesting that authors 
should be economically rewarded for what society (identified here with 
the marketplace) considers appropriate. If today such a conception has 
been naturalized, Rose notes how until the early modern period the 
author was considered a disinterested gentleman whose writings, 
knowledge and scientific findings were considered honorable precisely 
because un//tainted by personal interest. With the introduction of 
modern copyright law, the opposite becomes true as ownership and 
reputation, royalties and fame, are conflated and tend to find their 
identity in the marketplace. (Simply put, by market standards 
best-selling authors enjoy a higher reputation than non-best-selling 

My argument is that the disowning-function is a crack in the 
author-function that becomes visible when what is proper appears as 
inappropriate and vice versa. For instance, Hollywood film directors 
have shared the pseudonym Allen Smithee 
<http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000647/> (or Alan Smithee) for over three 
decades to disown films re-cut by a film production against their will. 
In this way, Alan Smithee allowed directors to formally honor their 
contract while working /outside of their reputation/. More recently, the 
Catalan art-activist collective YoMango! has shown that shoplifting from 
corporate chain stores can be a creative, edgy, controversial, and 
therefore reputable activity (at least within the language-game of the 
contemporary art world).

In the case of the KC intervention, re-pasting a tweet on a store window 
is a simple gesture of returning what has been quickly disowned to its 
referent. No matter how hard Cole tries to disown his (trademarked) 
speech, Twitter's persistence creates a record that is available to 
millions of users, who can appropriate it, without even having the need 
of altering it. Through a simple recontextualization, the ready-made 
decal reminds the designer himself that what he said really belongs to 
him as any other tweet, any other marketing campaign. On the other hand, 
it reminds us that there is a limit to the more or less calculated 
cynicism of marketing campaigns, the obliteration of the actual 
suffering and courage of millions of people, the endless play of 
simulacra. In other words, this cynical game is not only proper to /a/ 
Kenneth Cole but reveals a culture--namely, how far brands can go in 
order to grab more eyeballs. Obviously, KC's apology bespeaks how 
worried he must be for the negative impact this PR Waterloo may have on 
his brand. And yet this incident is also one of those powerful moments 
of truth in which the conflation of property and propriety, trademarked 
speech and the viral societal penetration of this speech, creates a 
backlash through which it is possible to glimpse at an effective 
cultural politics--a culture jamming that is native to the new 
information environment in which it operates.

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