“Anti-Pub” movement. Illustrate your essay with specific examples.
iThis dissertation is an investigation of the anti-pub (short for publicité or advertising) movement in France. The movement’s roots are discussed and considered in regard of a number of twentieth century concerns, including fears of subliminal advertising published in the 1950s in America. Continental anxieties over consumerism and advertising culture relevant to the anti-pub movement span the Frankfurt School, the Russian Revolution, and of course the protests of May 1968 in France itself. Debord and the Atelier Populaire, with their critique of the image, are in a direct relation to the anti-pub movement’s concerns. How France is actually also home to a bourgeoisie celebrated for its consumer desires is noted, so as to indicate France has long been divided in politics over issues of consumption, especially over luxury items.
I then discuss specific groups, actions and means associated with the anti-pub movement, with recourse to material and photographs given in appendices. Reactions from state and corporate bodies are also assessed, along with an assessment of the success or not of the movement.
The anti-pub aggregate of groups basically share an anxiety over both landscape and citizens overwhelmed by aggressively projected consumer desires, driven by a corporate agenda with its singular profit motive. The movement is conducting a negative form of defence of society and non-profit social relations by attacking the prevalence of advertising. I turn finally to Foucault for a more philosophical and speculative surmise of just what this graphic and reactionary character of protest may entail.
2. Historical Background
2.1 Subliminal Advertising and Anglo-Saxon Anti-Advertising Protests
The prejudice against marketing and the market era is of ancient origin. Yet like the shark, another survivor of primordial times, it is a presence very much to be reckoned with today. (Steiner 1976: 2)
These remarks from Steiner give some indication, I believe, of a latent aggression in contemporary debates on marketing, debates which have surfaced continually in America since the 1960s. Marketeers, Steiner opines with a measure of self-pity, “get portrayed as less worthwhile persons than the honest farmer, the toiling production line worker, or the bold captain of basic industry” (Steiner 1976: 2). Such a poor reception of marketing would characterise the French anti-pub movement. Vance Packard’s book from 1957, The Hidden Persuaders, was a seminal influence in establishing a perceived problem with modern advertising. Packard’s UK publisher Penguin touted the book on its cover as, “An introduction to the techniques of mass persuasion through the unconscious” (1960). With mention of the unconscious, fundamental terms were set, of how methods of influence were being used by techniques of involuntary persuasion. Packard’s elaboration of ‘motivational research” techniques became a best seller, and spurred a consumer-rights movement alarmed by what appeared to be an Orwellian conglomerate of psychologists and corporations subliminally modifying people’s behaviour, so as to create politically docile, but economically active, consumers. Packard quoted advertising agencies discussing how consumers have “a terrific loyalty to their brand of cigarette and yet in tests cannot tell it from other brands. They are smoking an image completely.” (Packard 1960: 45) Packard’s key idea, carried forth into subsequent debates and alarms, was how the “moulding of images” and the “creation of distinctive, highly appealing ‘personalities’ for products that were essentially indistinctive”, was now a huge industry proliferating images constructed by professional experts to contain subliminal undercurrents designed to generate unconscious desire in potential consumers. Norman Cousins of The Saturday Review, in an editorial on October 5, 1957, addressed his readers with, “Welcome to 1984”, referring to the industry’s Orwellian techniques, “warning his readers of the ominous prospects of subliminal communications” (O’Barr 2005).
This awareness built up and led in North America to the formation of the Adbusters Media Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, Canada. As Kalle Lasn expresses it, it would be absurd “to ride your bicycle and do all the right things, and then, at the end of the day to sit down in front of your TV set and allow your mental space to be polluted by pro-consumption propaganda.” As well as the streets, our ‘mental space’ seems to be in the process of being taken over, and a certain element of totalitarian threat is highlighted. In the American mêlée of advertising, the average American consumer is exposed to an estimated 3600 selling messages per day in 1996, and this compared to 1500 in 1984 (Rumbo 2002: 128). In response, Adbusters is dedicated to examining the relationship between human beings and their physical and mental environment. We want a world in which the economy and ecology resonate in balance. We try to coax people from spectator to participant in this quest. We want folks to get mad about corporate disinformation, injustices in the global economy, and any industry that pollutes our physical or mental commons.
The foundation publishes Adbusters, an activist magazine devoted to numerous political and social causes, mostly anti-consumerist in outlook. As well, Adbusters has launched numerous international campaigns such as ‘Buy Nothing Day’ and ‘TV Turnoff Week’. Other noteworthy, sympathetic movements with the anti-pub movement in France would be Reclaim the Streets (R.T.S.), a London based, “direct action network” aiming “to transcend hierarchical and authoritarian society, (capitalism included)”. The group’s avowed mission is to make U.K streets reflect local life in all its creative, local potential. The R.T.S website states how, ultimately, … it is in the streets that power must be dissolved: for the streets where daily life is endured, suffered and eroded, and where power is confronted and fought, must be turned into the domain where daily life is enjoyed, created and nourished.
Other potentially sympathetic movements are those involved in the complex phenomenon labelled ‘culture jamming’, an anti-consumerist practice based on the idea of “guerrilla communication”. The French anti-pub movement certainly practices forms of ‘guerilla communication’. For instance, Figure 5d shows an assessment of one anti-pub attack on advertising (see figure 5e for an English translation). There is a military-like attention to specifying a time line, allied to a desire for excellent media communication of the attack, with media reporters deliberately meant to become involved afterwards in reporting the attack from the anti-pub perspective.
France’s anti-pub movement may thus be considered part of a more general, internationalised protest movement (in fact, arguably part of the anti-globalisation movement), spanning a number of Western democracies. These movements are designed to operate at grassroots level and contest advertising’s dominance over the citizen’s eye at street level.
2.2 Debord and May 1968 – the French Roots of Anti-pub – Identifying the Influences of Anti-pub
Earlier in the twentieth century, Adorno and Horkheimer with their framing of the ‘culture industry’ (Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944)), argued that modern mass culture with its “whole apparatus of mental production and commodity consumption, colonised and supervised leisure time so as to eliminate critical ways of thinking and the inner life itself.” (Ohmann 1996: 44). Another intellectual antecedent for the anti-pub position was Debord’s influential reading of the density of images in The Society of the Spectacle. In such a society, the spectacle “unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena” (Debord 1970: 10). The mass of images comprising the spectacle were now, Debord argued, beginning to mediate social reality itself. Debord warned when “the real world changes into simple images, simple images become real beings and effective motivations of a hypnotic behaviour” (Debord 1970:18). Debord, like Packard, described the image as part of a motivational technique for manipulating involuntary (“hypnotic”) behaviour. Debord, raising the anti-capitalist standard of resistance seen in 1968, considered the spectacle as a technique for pacification in a “permanent opium war”, a technique for ordering society in which images become the narcissistic opium of the people (Debord 1970: 44).
Debord’s critique was aligned with the anti-capitalist activity of May 1968. This had brought France to a standstill through a huge movement of students and workers conscious of, and antagonistic towards, the war-like imperium of capital and its image-making distractions. May 1968 generated an explosion of experimental street art by students, artists and workers, and particularly well-known were those students, artists and workers occupying the Sorbonne University in Paris who founded the Atelier Populaire (Popular Workshop) collective. The Atelier Populaire’s radical programme for the posters was elucidated in various statements, such as the following:
The posters are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict – that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture, or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect. (Cited Cookson and Windsor 2003)
Assessing this statement and the examples of poster art in Figure 1a and 1b, certain themes are clear. In general, the typical poster is of an image plus a political slogan exhorting confrontation in the cause of revolution, and the prime metaphor for resistance is war – posters are identified as ‘weapons’ (also note how the Sorbonne was being ‘occupied’). In May 1968, anti-bourgeois sentiments influenced by a class-based, Marxist analysis of social relations provided the intellectual and political basis for action. The image in Figure 1a is of a student carrying a book, indicating solidarity between students and workers. The dominance of ‘structural’ descriptions of society, again largely Marxist in orientation, is symbolised by the spanner in Figure 1a, whose symbolic exhortation is to dismantle the iniquitous system of capitalist exploitation. As well, Figure 1b shows students demonstrating after hanging a poster with a hammer smashing the word “Capital” over an anvil, an image anticipating the violence required to overthrow the capitalist state (the poster is shown in closer detail in Figure 1c). Figure 1d, “No to Bureaucrats”, along with Figure 1e, (showing a threatening policeman with truncheon), both indicate an antipathy to the anonymity of the state’s functionaries, and the impersonality of the power they violently uphold. Even how the bureaucrats in Figure 1d seem to fly like military aircraft in formation is important. Figure 1f, “Factory – University – Union”, calls for unity among workers and students, while Figure 1g states how the vote changes nothing, and the struggle continues. What is important to note throughout these images (and others posted on the same webpage), is how a revolutionary vanguard comprising workers and students on one side, is expected to become involved in a violent confrontation with state forces. Democracy cannot avail but only retard the revolution they seek. A violent confrontation followed by seizure of state power is the ultimate proposition contained in the posters, a move pitting the power of the people against the ‘facist rats’ drawn in Figure 1h. Police forces were involved in physically removing striking workers from factories being occupied (factories being occupied is praised in Figure 1i). Successes of the movement were also quickly commemorated, such as in Figure 1j extolling the success of strike action at the Renault plant, as well as a ‘Famous Day’ on 9th June 1968, in Figure 1k.
2.3 The Russian Revolution
Another significant historical precedent for art-based street protest was of course the Russian Revolution, and the French Communist Party was indeed a significant force in French politics at the time of May 1968. Lenin proclaimed, “Our workers have earned the right to a truly great art”, and launched a programme of public art in the name of the proletariat. Two examples of Soviet era art are provided. In Figure 2a (Sergei Gerasimov’s Master of the Earth, 1918) the revolution’s representative is a muscular, more elderly male figure bearing a flag. The painting has elements of Blakean Romanticism and Impressionism, particularly the colour scheme and muscular homoeroticism of the man’s revealed body. Later such models would, if the gestural politics remain similar, evolve into Social Realism, with monumental figures becoming symbolic of Soviet achievements. Muscular gestures of defiance were included in the work of the Atelier Populaire, such as the raised and clenched fist in Figure 1l. The fist elaborating a muscular solidarity (with people joined resembling the strength of a fist), relates to a certain Soviet influence as in Gerasimov’s painting. In Figure 2b a public space has been reconstructed with two anti-war pieces, the upper showing a German soldier as Grim Reaper, standing astride a field of poppies, attacked from above with a hammer symbolising the Soviet polity, and in the lower piece, a German war plane being destroyed by a communist storm and central figure. Comparing the public space in Figure 2b with that in Figure 1b. students are using their own bodies as elements of the protest. There is far more informality and this applies also to the art technique. The posters are modeled on Pop Art principles, a movement itself reacting against what it perceived as elitist in abstract art, and so it is, that the Paris posters are simple, cartoon affairs made with an economy fitting local, non-elitist production.
2.4 May 1968 – French Violence as Revolutionary Heritage
On Friday 3rd May 1968, a meeting called at Sorbonne University to protest against the closure of Nanterre University the day before, attended by roughly three hundred student activists, later developed into a pitched battle with the CRS (French riot police) being fought on the Boulevard St Michel. Tear gas was used and by day end, seventy-two policemen and many young people were injured, as well as six hundred arrests, mainly among students unexpectedly fighting back. The weekend saw ‘defence’ and ‘action committees’ arranged, another sign of war being the governing metaphor on both sides of the ideological divide. Students demanded the release of arrested colleagues as well as the reopening of the Sorbonne, by now closed at the behest of city and government authorities. One government minister spoke derisively of the trouble being organised by a ‘groupuscule’, but by the next day tens of thousands of protestors had assembled at the Place Denfert-Rocherau (Gunn 1998). On 18th May, students, artists and critics gathered outside the Musée National D’Art Moderne and closed the venue, criticising the museum as a ‘cemetry’ and art ‘a corpse,’ removed from ‘contemporary life’ (cited deRoo 2004: 222). The activists wished to demystify art (the disguised means of its production), so as to re-integrate its production and meaning with daily life – art they claimed was entirely beholden to a nationalist patriarchy and unrepresentative of democratic practices. The museum in particular symbolised art’s remove from felt, lived life among the citizens of the city (deRoo 2002: 222). Throughout the protests, street violence was endemic and in particular the ‘transcendental’ status of art, that is art considered as being above the political and local, was being undermined. This is the heritage of the anti-pub movement; only with the anti-pub movement the ‘transcendental’ status of advertising is being thoroughly undermined.
Considering the Atelier Populaire’s admonition that conflict is to be taken to the streets and consolidated by populist forms of political imagery, this is the most pressing precedent for the anti-pub movement. The workshop produced a poster (Figure 1m), in which a silhouette of De Gaulle demands of a young person, “Be young and shut up”. On the side of the state in May 1968, there was a will to silence the voices of young people, and young people speaking out, against the wishes of the state, and even instead of the state (for being supine before corporate interests) is certainly part of the anti-pub movement. However, the fundamental difference in the anti-pub movement from the practices used in May 1968 will be the exercise of civil disobedience tactics using non-violent means.
2.5 Further Historical Complexities
Yet there are complexities to hand, for instance how France is the birthplace of the revolutionary bourgeoisie itself, and also how, France’s advertising (publicité) and typographic (graphisme) legacies are by no means insignificant to a broad popular culture. In fact they had a huge influence on commercialism of the early twentieth century, particularly the United States’ shift from post-Victorianism to modernity during the early 1920s. (Heller 2001)
Roland Barthes, in ‘Saponides et les détergents’ and ‘Publicité de la profondeur’, drawing on the work of Bachelard’s investigation of the material imagination, analysed the use advertisers made of the poetic resonance of certain substances, earth, fire, air, water, to seduce consumers into purchasing cleaning and skin-care products (Lane 2006: 30). Barthes’ analyses made note of the pleasure involved in scanning such adverts with their use of flattery. Therefore, it could also be pointed out how French public space has gladly proliferated with advertisements welcomed by a people flattered by their message. The French, as Barthes would have it, have been strongly affected, beyond reason, by the seductive, quasi-poetic power of advertising (Lane 2006: 32). A Janus faced attitude to luxury has featured in France since revolutionary times and before. For instance, Jean-Franc Melon, author of the Essai Politique sur le Commerce (1734) argued it was the business of the state to use luxury to its advantage. Secondly, the term ”luxury” should be banished from the languages of public administration and commerce because the meaning attached to it was ”vague, confused and false” and its abuse ran the risk of stifling industry “at its very source.” (Jennings 2007: 80)
This argument from 1734 repeats exactly corporate and neo-liberal criticisms of the anti-pub movement. However, republican arguments against luxury “clearly retained their vitality and held center stage in the ferment of ideas” prevailing after the fall of the monarchy, only for luxury to find a new champion in 1866, with Feydeau publishing a book in defence of luxury, Du Luxe, des Femmes, des Moeurs, de la Littérature et de la Vertu (Jennings 2007: 103). Debates on luxury, Feydeau pointed out, had occupied minds since the Greeks with the same attached refrain: “luxury corrupts public morals and it must be stopped. But what was luxury? No two people agreed.” (Cited Jennings 2007: 103) This corruption of public morals is a charge levelled by the anti-pub movement against the expansion of advertising. So it is, the anti-pub movement may be considered to be the latest expression of a very long-standing debate in not only in French politics and political economy, but indeed, in Western society.
3. Defining the Anti-Pub Movement in France
3.1Membership and Methods
The anti-pub movement comprises a disparate collection of forces, and though there may be a perceived underlying, left-wing element (especially in its antagonising of State forces), the movement has significant support from more traditional and even reactionary forces in French society, including radical Catholic groupings inspired by Vatican II, resisting the materialism of popular culture. Then there are feminist elements, complaining of the objectification of woman in advertising. The R.A.P. (Resistance à l’Agression Publicitaire, or Resistance to Advertising Aggression) manifesto outlined in Figures 3 and 4 calls out against: “sexism, ethnocentricism, worship of appearance, competition, violence”. The anti-pub movement has collected support from the Campagne contre les jouets sexists; among others feminist groupings increasingly sensitive to violent, sexist and stereotyped advertising (see Figure 4c, which does not require translation).
Paysages de France adopts a more centrist attitude, supporting a traditional notion of local life and its virtues, increasingly degraded by large-scale commercial intrusion out of all proportion and in defiance of local desires and feelings. The tourist industry of course feels threatened by bland multi-national signposting. As well, recent French politics have seen a surge in nationalist expressions, such as Le Pen’s Front National party. The recuperation of ‘Frenchness’ is a prime, political force. In this sense, it is instructive that the anti-pub movement is a largely white phenomenon.
There are also smaller groups operating under the umbrella of anti-advertising agitation, such as ‘The Dismantlers’, shown in action in Figure 5. Group members are engaged in a war against “advertising harassment” from giant display ads that “we can’t get away from.”As I have indicated, the anti-pub movement is distinguished from previous activism by using non-violent means of expression as part of a vaunted philosophy of non-violence. ‘The Dismantlers’ cooperate with police authorities and will readily produce their identification cards for inspection as soon as police arrive, to elevate the issue of display advertising into a social debate capable of including every section of French society. Compared with the violence of May 1968, it is clear in Figure 5 that neither side, either protestors or police, are intent on instigating any sort of violent confrontation.
By now, the movement has been popular enough for many posters especially in Metro stations in central Paris to have a scribbled message such as “le pub tue”, or “le pub pue”, translated in English as: “ads kill” or “ads stink”.
The methods of organising an attack on advertising vary from the individual acting alone to large groups of protestors assembling for a co-ordinated action, either to deface or tear down advertising. At these events, leaflets will be distributed justifying the action with manifestos (see Figure 5b). Flyers may state how anti-pub is a movement of “teachers, the unemployed, researchers, freelance arts workers, health workers, archaeologists, marginals, civil servants, students and architects”, yet it is still true “opinion polls say that only one in eight French people are hostile towards advertising.” Leaflets actively solicit financial support (Figure 8), and there are online forms on anti-pub websites for help writing to deputies in the French parliament. Overall, protestors deface advertising and then use as many medium as possible (leaflets, letters, internet and television media), to maximise the impact of their actions. Always preferring in general to avoid the use of images themselves and keep the message simple.
This symbolic violence against advertising is to be effected with a non-violent, even pleasing, bourgeois face. Figure 6 shows how demonstrations are planned for the 4th Friday of every month, so as to defer any charge of the violence being random or opportunistic, a charge which would lessen the symbolic worth of the violence. See Figures 7a and 7b for the aftermaths of daytime protests, with Figure 7b clearly being staged for some later televisual impact, in an effort at courting the media.
In particular, the larger varieties of adverts are the protestors’ bête noire. Figures 5b, 5c and 6 all illustrate one key demand, that adverts be limited to 50×70 cm. hence all adverts above this size become targeted by the protestors as unacceptable, both for their intrusiveness and wanton destruction of environmental resources. Adverts, like the products they represent, are designed to be obsolescent, incurring environmental costs in their production and waste cycles. Figure 4a and 4b make this clear, pointing out that advertising must henceforth be “contained” (Figure 4a) and also advertising’s “risk to the environment” (Figure 4b) using up resources needlessly, with over “40 kilos of prospectuses per year and per letter box” being touted at French citizens (Figure 3b). The 50x70cm demand is one ‘achievable goals’ proponents of direct action care to set.
Moreover, it is advertising’s “omnipresent” quality which is truly offensive to the protestors, a presence criticised as ‘totalitarian” (Figure 4a). in fact, the anti-pub movement is not against advertising per se, only that advertising “must return to a purely informative role; it must be contained, localised and available to all.” (Figure 3b) What incenses the protestors is the asymmetrical nature of the relation of the citizen to advertising, how advertising is “not communication as the message is only sent in one direction. It monopolises expression (reduced to a ‘sell’)” (Figure 4b). Such “distorted communication” arises as marketers dominate the communication process (Orzanne and Murray cited Rumbo 2002: 128), and has no ‘democratic’ sensibility, or “symmetrical distribution of chances to select and employ speech acts” (McCarthy cited Rumbo 2002: 128). When French citizens are to “suffer 3000 advertisements a day” (Figure 4b), then this imbalance creates serious public interest issues, according to the anti-pub’s ostensible defense of citizens’ democratic participation in determining the life of the polis and its own public space.
3.2 Reactions from the State
As indicated, there has been little overt violence between protestors and police forces. as for legal proceedings, the most well-known case is the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), the major transit authority responsible for public transportation in and around Paris and its environs, taking proceedings out in 2004 against 62 anti-pub activists, seeking €922,000 (£625,000) in damages. Yvan Gradis, a person campaigning against advertising for 12 years, was called by the defense as a character witness. Gradis said the hearing should be seen as the trial of aggression by advertising, not of the protesters: “Their actions are legitimate and admirable because they are non-violent and do no damage to Metro property. We are not against good advertising, which is neither manipulative, nor violent.” The trial by media is obviously crucial, with both sides claiming legitimacy. Activists claim after all, “We are breaking the law because, after 15 years, all legal recourses have been exhausted.” For the anti-pub movement, the State has not moved against advertisers and their corporate clients nearly far enough, either through enforcing existing legislation, or being more restrictive with advertising in general.
3.3 Reactions from the Corporations
Predictably, there has been very little specific action taken by corporation against the anti-pub movement (the RATP action is on behalf of the State), for fear of creating martyrs (by a classic ploy of non-violent resistance movements, when jailed representatives tend to attract widespread publicity and sympathy). Some quotes from North American business executives, included in the film The Corporation, include the following: “We, as an industry must recognise that ad bashing is a threat to capitalism, to a free press, to our basic forms of entertainment, and to the future of our children” (Jack Myers, author of Adbashing: Surviving the Attacks on Advertising); “I do not use the word corporate, I would use the word company or business community, because I believe they are a fairer interpretation, rather than zeroing in on a negative word like corporate.” (Robert Keyes, Senior Vice President of Canadian Chamber of Commerce) Thus, business executives are willing to utterly blacken ‘adbashing’ and extol their own corporate virtues. Corporations and advertisers “are not inattentive to the criticisms of culture jammers and advertising critics”, and instead, rather than directing attacks on activists, corporations have stepped up their own advertising and public relations with Corporate Social Responsibility (C.S.R.) programmes (Binay 2005). Corporations, according to Binay in her survey of recent research into the matter, perceive corporate social responsibility and business ethics as solutions to issues of general concern… related to the categories of economic, legal, ethical and discretionary activities of a business that are adapted to the values and expectations of society… various forms of company involvement with charitable causes and the nonprofits that represent them. Research has shown that companies gain enhanced consumer perceptions by getting involved in corporate social responsibility initiatives and by advertising such projects effectively. Corporate social responsibility initiatives create benefits for companies through increasing consumers’ identification with the corporation. In other words, customer-corporate identification, which is the degree of overlap in a consumer’s self-concept and their perception of the corporation is heightened by corporate social responsibility initiatives. (Binay 2005, italics mine)
Thus, the ‘corporate monster’ the anti-pub movement is fighting is turning to a more sophisticated but familiar plan, of co-opting favourable public opinions, including conducting research before further use of advertising. If before the brand was a ‘thin’ signifier of style, now corporations wish, in a thicker signification, to add responsibility and create ‘responsible’ consumer brands. Instead of a direct attack on the anti-pub movement and its North American counterparts, the corporations are in a publicity drive for proving if not their innocence, then their sensitivity to social concerns and environmental responsibility.
4. Anti-pub – Successful Outcomes?
Success of course has been mixed, and it is too soon to judge the movement. In one regard, the movement has had setbacks when McDonalds in 2002 can boast improved French sales. The movement has been successful in identifying and publicising how one third of hoardings and signs are actually illegally installed, against national or local laws. Members of Paysages de France (another auxiliary grouping of the anti-pub movement) are now trained to identify, with the help of a small illustrated booklet, any such infractions and bring them to the attention of the local authorities who are obliged to remove them. For instance, in Montauban, a small city, the local branch has identified and removed all the publicity hoardings illegally installed (less than 100m) from historical buildings, and also three billboard ‘totems’ (Géant, Mc Donald’s and Campanile).
The greatest effects are possibly in revisions to French codes on advertising, brought about by the increasing responsiveness of authorities to pressure on the subject. From February 1, 2007, health messages are required on advertising for manufactured food products – addressing a criticism in anti-pub literature of how advertising is willing to push consumption regardless of “repercussions for physical and mental health” (Figure 4b). The B.V.P. (Bureau de Vérification de la Publicité, the French self-regulatory body in the field of advertising), publicly admonished “Rent a car” in July 2006 for a sexist advert not complying with the “Image of the Human Person” recommendation adopted by the advertising profession. The advert was forced to be removed.
The anti-pub movement is also fighting against creeping corporate influence over schools. “Advertising is progressively entering into schools” (see Figure 4b). This is being done via Sponsored Education Material (S.E.M.), whereby companies sponsor road safety, nutrition, and environmental awareness, in order to obtain legitimacy in the community (Rodhain 2003: 35). Just such intrusive measures into the life of the community are the prime reason for anti-pub sentiments, and the movement is campaigning for the repeal of legislation permitting such commercial activity.
Yet the fundamental difficulty arises in how any critique of advertising has little cultural space for manoeuvre. The middle ground, the material / symbolic nexus at the heart of any culture, has become stronger, become so much wider, and it is dominated by advertising… advertising has a stranglehold on that bridgehead between the private and the public spheres. Trying to outflank it is very difficult. (Davidson 1992: 202)
With advertising such an accepted part of life, trying to gain public support through symbolic violence when corporations are exercising their own responses through C.S.R. initiatives will prove immensely difficult. Corporation has the techniques and means to use advertising channels against the anti-pub movement, and since advertising is generally accepted, this is the bind the anti-pub movement finds itself in.
Since Western consumers have been made aware of the uses of the unconscious in advertising, marketing may well be seen by many people as a shark in the pool of democracy. Beneath the surface of the pool in the tale of Narcissus, Stein’s ‘marketing’ shark is a submerged threat, if not to Narcissus directly. Rather, the marketing shark is there to threaten and attack anything which would distract Narcissus from pondering his own image. Marketing is that activity not only supplying images, but inhibiting if not quite destroying all other cultural praxes interfering with marketing’s own sublime promise of narcissistic fulfillment. The ‘marketing shark’ would withdraw the individual from social relations except those mediated by marketing strategies. Precisely in this sense, of a hidden and submerged but aggressive threat against society, French activism has converged again in the 1990s against a capitalist, image driven economic agenda.
However, by and large advertising is still accepted, and is improvising new means of reaching consumers – Pandora’s box of adverts has been well and truly opened, and in a glow following ‘winning’ the Cold War, consumerism has found itself justified by its own logic, as providing freedom itself.
Democracy has been wonderfully described as a “tragic political system” precisely for “containing within itself the potential for both destruction and creation” of its own existence (Caloz-Tschopp 1997: 172). Caloz-Tschopp goes on to cite Cornelius Castoriadis commenting how democracy is a political system in which the question of truth “must be kept permanently open” (cited Caloz-Tschopp 1997: 172). What the anti-pub movement is doing is exactly this – keeping democracy open on the streets – and for this it must be congratulated even by critics.
Foucault, in Society Must be Defended (1997), has analysed how race has underpinned the entire colonial enterprise of war. War, Foucault argues, was used also “as a way of regenerating one’s own race. As more and more of our number die, the race to which we belong will become all the purer.” (Foucault 2003: 257) Bearing in mind how war has been a “permanent presence within society” as an organising principle, it then becomes interesting to consider advertising as part of an internal war mechanism for purifying society, with a subliminal racial quality not attested to by skin colour, but by styles of consumption a.k.a. consumer branding (Foucault 2003: 270). “By burning a distinct symbol into the hide of a baby calf, the owner could ensure that if it one day wandered off his property or was stolen by a competitor, he’d be able to point to that logo and claim the animal as his rightful property.” (Rushkoff 2003) Activists are warning of citizens as “consumerist sheep”, and how self-regulation by bodies such as the B.V.P. is proving too limited, even with changes so far. The anti-pub movement would contend that it is truly defending society against the corporate degradation of democracy, and defending the social and popular construction of public spaces against corporate domination. The R.A.P.’s manifesto-like circular in Figure 3b exhorts how “business must not have more means of expression than culture and the arts”.
Surely it is true to say the anti-pub movement is fighting the colonisation of public space by neo-liberal ideologies of the subject? The latest ‘master race’ is the consuming or branding race (in an inverted revision of man branding animals, now corporations brand a superior race of people) and this of necessity comprises an aggressive race of consumers, whose priority is to supplant others (nations, classes and grassroots organisations) from interfering in the provision of its own luxury (hence the potential for dispossession and war). The anti-pub movement is thus not associated with the anti-war movement by mere anti-capitalist shadings, but by a desire for more peaceful and lasting social cohesion.
Symbolic violence now may actually help consolidate a French society increasingly divided between the unbranded and the branded, as recent social unrest in 2005 on housing estates (les banlieue) throughout France demonstrated. If the anti-pub movement is still predominantly white, it raises and organises a grassroots voice against corporate-colonisation, in the name of all France. The grassroots nature of its local organisations may be its greatest achievement, above even successes in the field of advertising, if those too are important for demonstrating the people have a voice independent of corporate interests.
Finally, it may be put the anti-pub ‘voice’ written on defaced advertising has, along with convergent forms of resistance especially in North America, been inspired by a history of French radicalism in art and protest. This is a voice designed to ‘jam’ the cultural machinery of relentless corporate expansion in the minds of French citizens. The anti-pub movement is using vandalism as a form of graphed language, for expressing a submerged voice of dissent against corporate colonisation, or a triumphant economic racism.