Sowing the seeds of distrust into the mind shares of the corporatocracy is always a good thing. As state created unions for the rich (who cheated their way to wealth by privatizing gains while socializing losses), corporations are little more than proxies for the government. Although corporatism does possess free market characteristics, it is nothing more than the logical application of statism.
There is a difference between culture jamming and practical jokes. Most of this book describes versions on a theme of subvertising, not on the use of exploding cigars, stink bombs, or whoopee cushions. So, as you can imagine, what I was expecting in terms of content from a book entitled Pranks! was not accurate at all (or perhaps that was the intention all along?).
Groups such as the Yes Men, Suicide Club, Cacophany Society, Dark Passage, Ars Subterranea, and the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) are terrific examples of how culture jammers can use the principle of force multiplication to their advantage. By staging phony press conferences, engaging in urban exploration, and altering corporatist messages, these groups of culture jammers expose the hidden meanings in corporate advertisements. But, with the possible exception of the annual Santa Claus dress-ups, is it really accurate to describe these activities as “pranks?”
Not to be outdone, individual jammers have proven themselves to be effective at manipulating mind share. Marc Powell, Frank Discussion, Ron English, Joey Skaggs, Reverend Al, and his wife Margaret Cho have all sought to undermine the oligopolies that maintain a stranglehold on the actual free market. Interestingly enough, actual pranksters tend to be one-man operators (such as Skaggs). Perhaps the increased probability of violating mala prohibita tends to discourage small collectives?
In terms of having any sort of cohesive philosophy (or even lockstep ideology), Mr. English was the only one to explicitly discuss it. Here’s an excerpt from the interview he did with the author:
RE [Ron English]: We’re mostly ruled by corporations. Did you know that in their charter it’s actually illegal for them to not pursue profit by any means necessary? Like, if they decide to take it upon themselves to quit dumping PCBs into the river, they could get sued by their shareholders! It’s not their mandate to be socially and morally responsible – only to make money for their shareholders. Which makes it this weird circle jerk where nobody’s guilty.
Of course, nobody wants to be the only person doing the right thing while everybody else is getting rich. What we need is a very strong government to regulate the corporations so you don’t have to fuck people over, or fuck over the environment, to make money… where everybody has to play fair, and a company “wins” because they have the best product –
V [V. Vale]: – and also offers the lowest price.
RE: But if you offer the lowest price ‘cuz you’re Wal-Mart and teach your employees to go on welfare, and have the state supplement their health care because you make everybody a thirty-hour-a-week part-time employee, then it just makes it worse for everybody.
V: The corporations have figured out how to “break” the law in every possible way.
RE: But that’s why you have a government so that people don’t pull shit like that.
V: Yeah. In San Francisco a law was passed saying that one out of every ten units in an apartment building has to be low income housing. Guess what happened? Every developer makes only nine-unit buildings!
RE: Corruption hurts everybody, you know. Probably all the people working for corporations would rather [prefer] life [to] be different, so they don’t have to be guilty.
V: Well, the “corporation” can be simplified to one DNA principle: “Do whatever it takes to make maximum profit as fast as possible.” That’s the DNA of a “corporation” –
RE: And our Supreme Court granted “personhood” to corporations so they have all the rights of a human and none of the liabilities –
V: That’s what the Adbusters publisher is railing against –
RE: But if somebody had the personality type of a typical corporation, we would consider them psychotic and probably have them locked up. They would be considered a sociopath. The interesting thing is: most people wanna know what the rules are, and then they accept them. You try to say, “Things don’t have to be this way; this is not the only way it can be.” Like, there’s no goddamn Coca-Cola banner hanging off the Vatican, y’know. Yet people don’t quite understand that – most of them go, “Well, that’s just the way it is. That’s their property.”
This country voted to eliminate the estate tax. What the fuck did they do that for? They were all deceived into thinking that the estate tax takes money away from them. But what it really means is that, when Bill Gates dies, all his money goes straight to his kids and the country doesn’t get a bite of it. None of it’s ever gonna be put back into society again. Consequently, these rich people are gonna get more and more powerful. And if ten families and ten corporations have all the money, they’re certainly not going to look after our interests. It’s not in their interests to do anything like that.
That’s interesting, especially when compared with this segment from earlier on:
RE: Recently, I was in Canada where gay marriage was the big topic. I wanted to make a billboard that just said: “Support Divorce: The Great Heterosexual Institution.” And the company refused. They said, “The only compromise we can make is if you say, ‘Support marriage.’ Then we’ll let you do that billboard. But your billboard implies you’re supporting gay marriage.” And I said, “Well, yeah, that’s sort of the idea.” We went back and forth for awhile and then I said, “Well, I have other billboards I’d like to put up.” Then they said, “Look, we don’t want anything you have to say on any of our billboards. We’d love to take your money, but No Thank You.”
So apparently, Vale was wrong. It’s not just about “money,” but according to him, it’s supposedly “capitalism” that is the culprit here, right? Wrong again:
V: Well, we are in this schizo-culture caused to some extent by capitalism. You can have several identities, and it’s not illegal to have more than one identity.
RE: Right! And you can argue that maybe art is better because you have to involve it in commerce – at some point you have to sell it. Does that make it better? Maybe… I don’t know.
The first time I went to Amsterdam, I went to the museum of all the art collected by the state. The state just buys a certain amount of works every year from these state-subsidized “artists,” and they don’t even really look at these works, they just warehouse them. And the work is mostly crap because there’s really no competition – the piece doesn’t have to be anything special, it just has to be a piece. This situation apparently takes away all the incentive to do something great. But on the other end of the scale is: being a complete commercial whore, where you make sucky shit, too! So I guess the balance has to be somewhere in the middle.
Let’s get this straight: Mr. English wants us to seriously believe that Americans need “a very strong government to regulate the corporations” yet also admits that “the [artistic] work is mostly crap because there’s really no competition – the piece doesn’t have to be anything special, it just has to be a piece” that is paid for by the government, which in turn causes a “situation [that] takes away all the incentive to do something great” (and since the government cannot create wealth on its own, they have to first steal it from the productive free market, besides the fact that the government created corporate personhood via the Fourteenth Amendment in the first place)? Is this just simply another “prank” by Ron English where he wants to bamboozle readers into believing that he is just another liberal statist, or he is actually demonstrating how double-think works?
V. Vale’s Pranks! 2 is a demonstration of how guerrilla communications can work. While having a documented history is certainly valuable in terms of previous dissident activity, its utility lies only in its ability to inspire future culture jammers and pranksters alike to challenge the Establishment. Other than that, I get the feeling that I was reading one interview after another with a bunch of has-beens (with the exception of Jack Napier who co-founded the BLF alongside Irving Glikk). Somehow, I doubt that the original Pranks! book would be even worth my time to read and review.