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Meme Update #10

In this issue: 
    Culture Jamming



A billboard near Seattle's Pike Place Market shows the familiar Joe Camel character, his elongated face drawn and sad, sitting in a hospital bed with intravenous tubes hanging down into his arm. The logo reads: JOE CHEMO.

This billboard, also available as a T-shirt from the publishers of Adbusters magazine, is an example of "culture jamming." Culture jamming is the deliberate creation of negative associations with existing images -- throwing a monkey wrench in the works of Madison Avenue's manipulative machinery.

Adbusters ( is the pioneer of culture jamming. Evolved from an amateurish "zine," Adbusters is now a slick, full-color quarterly source for culture jamming tips sprinkled with beautifully produced fake ads. Absolut Vodka and Calvin Klein are favorite targets, and the jamming is so effective that you will likely never look upon another ad by those companies without harkening back to Adbusters satire.

Is culture jamming effective at creating social change? I don't know. But the interesting thing is the shift in approach from ineffective whining about corporate irresponsibility to actually mutating the memes that these behemoths spawn to manage public opinion. Humor has always been an effective way to reach people, and skewering the sacred cows of these multibillion-dollar ad campaigns tickles me in just the right place.


Here are the number of hits for various words on the World Wide Web as of 7/9/97, courtesy of Infoseek. The previous count, from 2/10/97, is included as a reference point. Words are sorted by percent increase over last sampling.

7/9/97 2/10/97 %increase word
429,866 339,558 26.6% sex
585,793 490,656 19.4% Microsoft
1,118,455 942,469 18.7% love
1,249,974 1,057,284 18.2% music
836,252 709,810 17.8% food
1,215,574 1,044,023 16.4% opportunity
34,845 31,010 12.3% Darwin
182,739 163,450 11.8% virus
200,383 180,174 11.2% danger
6,183 5,583 10.7% Brodie
6,409 5,827 10.0% Dawkins
2,596,611 2,436,866 6.6% science
1,419 1,376 3.1% memetics

As expected, sex in increasing faster than any other word. The Microsoft mind virus is doing very well, but science and memetics could clearly use some help. Why not put something about memes up on YOUR web page?


The Japanese rights to VIRUS OF THE MIND have been sold, making Japanese the third language the book will be published in (Polish was the second). Negotiations are currently underway for Italian and Korean rights.

Look for the Polish edition very soon, and the Japanese edition within two years.


Blueberry Jelly Bellies were created especially for Ronald Reagan.