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An interview with Mark Hosler of Negativland

Samples & Found Material

Since 1980, Negativland have been at the forefront of underground audio collage, helping to establish it as a unique and legitimate genre. Their cultural critique landed them in hot water in 1991, when their single U2 – a savage parody of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" intercut with Casey Kasem spewing obscenities about the band during outtakes from his radio show – got them nearly sued into oblivion by Kasem and Island Records. Undeterred, one of their follow-up projects, an album called Dispepsi, takes dozens of Pepsi commercials as source material for a witty, sharp skewering of the world of advertising, and in 1999 they released an EP with Chumbawumba called The ABCs of Anarchism. Along the way, they became known as experts on the topic of intellectual property and copyright laws, giving lectures around the world on the topic, and coined the phrase "culture jamming," which found its way into the pop culture headspace.

Their new project, however, is a step in a unique direction for the group. Deathsentences for the Polished and Structurally Weak is a full color book with an accompanying CD. The book juxtaposes photos of junkyard wrecks with letters found in each wreck, while the CD provides a surreal noisescape to help set the scene in the reader's mind. Surprising and compelling, Deathsentences demonstrates that Negativland continue to be aesthetic innovators. We sat down with one of the band's founders, Mark Hosler, to chat about advertising, corporate media, intellectual property issues, and reading other people's mail.

TRIP: What inspired the Deathsentences project?

MH: A member of the group, Richard Lyons, who sometimes used to make extra money by buying used cars, fixing them up, and selling them, was in a wrecking yard looking for a part. He found a car that he had once owned in the yard, and since he had sold it, it had clearly been in a terrible accident and been cut open with the jaws of life to get people out, and he was poking around in the car and he found stuff that had been left in the car. He was very intrigued by the whole thing, and started poking around in more cars, and finding all sorts of stuff that people had left behind. He had a disposable camera and he started taking pictures of the cars and saving the things he found. He eventually ended up with enough interesting things that he decided to make a little color Xerox book and make copies and pass it around to all of us in Negativland and a few friends. And we all really liked it. We thought it was really interesting. Everyone had a really kind of intense, strong reaction to it, and everyone's reaction was very different. It was just very open, very blank in a way, very open to interpretation. People thought it was funny, sad, poignant, voyeuristic, disturbing, all kinds of stuff.

And then what really kicked it into being a full-on project for us was that a collage art friend of ours, Sean Tejeratchi, who does Craphound, was in touch with Ira Glass of This American Life, the radio show on NPR, and they were doing a show called "Other People's Mail." They were just talking to people who had found other people's letters. And Sean said to Ira, "Oh, Negativland has this thing they're doing…" And they came to us thinking it was more of a full on project than it actually was. We were just fooling around with this stuff. But they wanted to see it, they really really liked it, and they ended up working with Richard – Richard has a beautiful radio voice – who wrote text and did a whole segment on This American Life. And that got an even greater reaction from people who didn't know anything about our group at all. Listeners to that show were really interested, and again had a wide range of reactions, and that was when we all said, well, this is great, it's taken on some kind of weird life of its own, we're not even sure what this project's about on some level, let's make it into our next release!

So as we worked on creating the whole package, we decided to make a soundtrack to go with the book. What was really, really difficult was that all the usual Negativland approaches that we were throwing at it didn't work, because we always tend to want to do stuff that's funny, that has a lot of goofiness in it, that has layers of meaning and lots of intentionally confusing fingers pointing in all different directions about what our work might mean or might not mean. We kept trying all the usual Negativland tactics because that's how we work, and we kept saying, nope, that doesn't work, that doesn't work, that doesn't work. The project went through a whole lot of different iterations of how we thought to design it and how do we put it together. And also, our original packaging ideas were way too expensive. How do you make something that conceptually fits the project, is super cool in design, and doesn't cost a bazillion dollars to make? So very gradually we came around to the finished package, which is that the book now looks somewhat like it's some kind of an automotive manual, but it's not quite clear what, and it's inside of a jacket sleeve that looks sort of like something you might put your automotive records in, your car manual, your receipts from your brake job, something like that, but it's not exactly clear what that is either, and the CD doesn't look like it's any kind of music CD at all, it's just some kind of audio demonstration disc for your car stereo. And, funnily enough for us, none of it is funny! So at every level of the project, we kept deciding to make it more blank and open to whatever people might think it is.

TRIP: Many of the letters had a lot of poignancy to them, and were really kind of sad.

MH: Some of these folks are barely literate, in and out of jail and drug rehab programs, fighting alcoholism, getting abortions, boyfriends who are crack addicts...

TRIP: It was kind of stark to see that language so plainly. I don't get exposed to that… mailing lists are the way that I get much of my interaction with my friends and my subculture, and everyone there is relatively literate…

MH: Same with me. Same with all of us in Negativland. Finding that stuff was very much a glimpse into a whole world that I'm not a part of. My friends are not in and out of jail, my friends are not in rehab, my friends can spell and communicate pretty well, and so we found that to be really interesting to bring that stuff out in a creative project. But doing that could be really touchy, almost like, for example, being a white middle class male person trying to deal with issues of race or gender in an art project. So that was another reason why the project really needed to present this stuff in an interesting, non-patronizing and evocative way, but leave the ultimate meaning up to you. And we did try writing an afterword that explained everything, we wrote an intro, we tried all those approaches of laying it all out and giving an explanation, and we decided we just didn't like it. Having no explanation does mean there'll be this small percentage of people that are just totally mystified and put off by it, but mostly it seemed to us like it was a stronger work that way. If you want to check it out and spend time with it, then by not explaining it, it draws you in and gets you to do the work, and that gets you more engaged.

TRIP: The CD was the piece that kept me from my reflexive desire to try to find the overall, linear story, which of course doesn't exist… you could put the CD on shuffle, and page randomly through the book, and what you get is this very bizarre slice of life, where you're walking through this graveyard of vehicles, imagining the worst possible fates that could have befallen the passengers, and the letters provide eerie snapshots into these unknown lives.

MH: Right. Was this a letter they wrote and never sent? Was this a letter they got from somebody else? My mind makes up stories to explain the world, and I guess we all do this. I know as I go through my life, every time I go someplace new, or meet a new person, or have a new experience, I'm always trying to make sense of it with a story. So I find myself making up all these stories when I read the thing. The other thing that we struggled with a lot, a seemingly minor thing but a huge thing to figure out, was that the letters we found are all presented the same size, they're all quite small. We could have made them big enough to read, but we liked focusing more on the text by presenting the text of the letters separately in big block letters. The book is not so much about the actual found thing, but the found thing's just sort of there as supporting evidence. I kind of thought of it as an archeological presentation.

TRIP: It's a jarring effect actually to see text that was really professionally typeset, yet thoroughly illiterate in places. It was hard for me to accept that there wasn't a proofreader taking care of all of that.

MH: Oh boy, we went through it so carefully to make sure we got it all… We had to make sure the printer knew about that. "You're going to get this project, and don't be confused by all the typos."

TRIP: So how has it been received? I saw a little blurb about the project in Newsweek. Are you getting good press on this in general? The pop culture part of me is curious.

MH: Well, just so you know, you can get a nice review in Newsweek, which goes out to a million and a half people, and it'll only help you sell a few thousand copies of your project! We've gotten some great press and some bad press. It's been mixed, and we expected that. I've heard reactions from fans of our work who are almost angry at us for doing this, really disappointed. This is not what they expected from us. "I want that funny cut up stuff that you do so I can quote little bits of your funny tapes to my friends as we drive around town."

TRIP: That's a shame, because I thought this was a great addition to the Negativland body of work. It still had the Negativland voice to me.

MH: It's still the found aesthetic.

TRIP: But it was a unique mood for me from what I'm familiar with of your work. Unlike something like Dispepsi or the U2 stuff, I could envision listening to this CD under a wider array of circumstances. I could imagine taking that CD and divorcing it from the book and listening to it while writing, for instance, and having it be the soundtrack to a range of dark or absurd or surreal moods.

MH: We're also getting really wonderful reactions from people who really like it and who appreciate the fact that we did something that risked alienating people, and are saying, yes, great, good for you, that's great you took a risk and made this thing. I think for us, it helps to remind us that the whole idea of Negativland was that it was just an umbrella under which this loose knit group of people could do whatever the heck they wanted: sound, movies, books, radio, performances, whatever we wanted to do as long as we all thought it was good stuff. Unfortunately… we had to borrow quite a lot of money to put the project out. It was really expensive to do it the way we wanted to do it, and we did it as cheap as we could figure out how to do it and keep it really, really cool. But I think we will basically break even, that's it. Back when I wasn't living off of Negativland, breaking even would be just great. But now that I'm trying to survive off it, if you work on a project for three years and thousands of hours, and you just break even…

TRIP: Well, you seem savvy enough about pop culture to know certain ways you could take projects that would be more commercial. Do you just inherently reject that approach? How much does that enter into what you're doing?

MH: No, I don't think we have a grasp of how to do that, to steer a project in a certain way so that it will sell better. We've done these projects that have gotten a lot of attention, like the U2 project, or Helter Stupid, or Dispepsi, but they were just intuitive responses to the material we found and the world we live in, because of course we're always inspired by what we find. We don't search out targets; we get inspired by the stuff we find, and build projects around that, and that's completely what that is. Richard found those letters and that's where he got the inspiration that led to this project. So I do think that part of the strength of the work we've done over the years, particularly the work that we're more well known for, is that they were very intuitive, kind of organic reactions to the bombarding world of pop culture and media that we're living in. We weren't calculatedly sitting down and saying, "Hey, we need to get in trouble. How can we do that? Let's come up with a list of ideas on how to get in trouble." I think if that's how we operated, our work would seem really contrived and stiff.

TRIP: You had the experience at one point of actually being approached by an ad agency.

MH: Yeah, Weiden & Kennedy, an ad agency based in Portland. They're gigantic. They do the ad campaigns for Microsoft and Nike. They're considered to be a "cutting edge" advertising firm. When we were working on the Dispepsi project, both [Negativland founder] Don Joyce and myself pretty much simultaneously got phone calls from them. They wanted to hire Negativland to create these radio ads for Miller Genuine Draft Beer. We were right in the middle of doing a project on advertising, so it was a depressing, sort of shocking, but very healthy kind of wake-up call. The degree to which these people try to appropriate and absorb the people that are appropriating and critiquing them… it knows no bounds. These ad people thought it would be really cool to hire Negativland. They wanted to give us ads to cut up and do things with and mock them and manipulate and do our Negativland "thing" to. Since they were offering a lot of money - $25,000 or so – both myself and Don thought, "Wow, we'd like that money, that sounds great. Is this an opportunity we could do something with?" Because over the years when things have happened to us, like when we've gotten in trouble, we've looked at that as opportunities, not problems. In this case, my brain was doing the same thing: "Can we somehow subvert these guys and do something interesting with this, and turn the tables on them?" And what I then realized was, "Wait a minute, they called us because they want me to be thinking exactly what I'm thinking right now! That's what they want the ad to be." So then I realized that we'd been had, we were fucked. There wasn't any way you could out-think them.

And I've heard people say, "Well, you could have just taken the money and used it for your own projects." I think that's the rationale a lot of people would use. But I think for us, given some of the content of our work and how we're perceived, if we had taken that money, I feel like it would make our work seem like a farce, and I don't see how we'd be seen as having any integrity. Another thing is, I just feel like somebody has to say "no" to these kind of guys, you know? The whole notion of "selling out" has now become almost passé. It's become "quaint," which I think is really sad. And I think that's partly because our lives are now so circumscribed by corporate interests, by corporate ways of thinking, by the corporate cultural and economic model, that we internalize it. It doesn't matter how lefty you are or how right wing you are. We do internalize those things and they come out in how we think and how we act. And so the notion now that there's even any alternative… it's like, "integrity is stupid, just give up." And I worry about this. I worry about kids growing up who don't even know what an independent bookstore is like. You don't know what the experience is of even being in one. You'll never know it, because there's only Barnes & Noble. I think that's what's happening, and it seems tragic.

Allen Ginsburgh got asked to do a Gap ad. He did it, he took all the money and he put it into his Naropa Institute and used it for scholarships for students. Yoko Ono took money from Nike for use of the Beatles song "Revolution" and donated that money to charity, she didn't keep it. But I still think it's terrible that they did those things, because I still think the cumulative effect of seeing all of these bits of our culture, particularly iconic parts of oppositional culture and fringe counterculture, it just feels like this pathetic diminishment of these wonderful, beautiful, amazing things that humans have created. It's as if the only value that these things ultimately have is how they can be hooked up to a product to get you to buy them. It just makes me feel like shit when I see it.

TRIP: Did Pepsi ever have a reaction to your Dispepsi album?

MH: Oh yeah, they sure did. We got a very nice little segment on NPR because of that, actually. We were preparing to be sued. We had a team of five lawyers, all of whom were volunteering their time. We were preparing legal briefs to respond to a judge, in case they came after us with some sort of injunction. We were being told, "If they come after you, it'll be really fast, and really hard, and you need to strategize now for how to respond." Those lawyers also advised us, "If you don't want to get sued, don't put it out, but if you're going to put it out, choose your battles wisely. Don't put the word 'Pepsi' anywhere on the cover, because they can sue you for trademark infringement. If they're going to sue you, force them to sue you for copyright infringement, where you have a very defensible case." That's why we took the name off the cover. But then we came up with a fun solution to that problem, which was to put a nice sticker on the front that said, "Due to the limitations of US trademark law, we cannot put the name of this record on the cover. Call the Negativland Word-Of-Mouth Hot Line to find out." So we actually thought that the solution to the problem was far more interesting than if we'd put the name on the cover.

Pepsi listened to it, their lawyers checked it out, they definitely wondered what we were up to, and they decided to do nothing. This resulted in a very funny quote from a Pepsi spokesperson, who said, "It's no Abbey Road, but it's a pretty good listen." And I think they were just saying, "We can take a joke, ha ha ha, we'll let it go." So when Pepsi declined to sue us, it took some of the drama out of it, but we were also very relieved. I did not want to go through another lawsuit. None of us did. They're really, really horrible. We didn't want to go through it, yet at the same time, we felt strongly enough about these issues that we did put the record out and we did want to take that risk. We thought it was still worth doing. I think what was interesting about Pepsi's response was, here is a gigantic, multi-national corporation, and they're publicly allowing this thing to exist that actually does sample from their copyrighted commercials, quite heavily at times, mutilates them and cuts them up, and they just let it go. That was the right response. It doesn't set a legal precedent, but it does set a real world precedent.

TRIP: What's the Negativland take on filesharing and downloading?

MH: The next project we're going to do, called No Business, will come out in April or May, and is probably more the kind of thing people expect us to do. It's all about downloading and stealing music and the supposed demise of the mainstream music industry. The central track on No Business is called "Downloading," and it uses a speech by Michael Greene, now the former president of the Grammy Awards. He spoke at the Grammy Awards last year and he took that occasion to admonish the youth of America about the evils of filesharing: "You are destroying the music industry." He resigned as president of the Grammies two weeks later amidst accusations of sexually harassing his staff. (laughs)

TRIP: Instant karma.

MH: Yeah, he's a good man. Anyway, so we took his speech and we built the track around it. Actually what we've done is made a track that kind of sounds like Negativland is actually against downloading, that we think it's terrible, because that's what the speech is about. But the way we've supported his speech is we have interrupted him and collaged around him and layered around him all kinds of stolen music and lifted bits from all over. That just struck us as being much funnier and more interesting than making a piece saying downloading is good. Obviously Deathsentences is a big flop on college radio, but a lot of our other work has done really well on college radio, so I also like the idea of giving all these people at college radio stations who are pissed off at the music industry something they can put on the radio that maybe gives a little bit of voice to some of those feelings.

TRIP: I noticed I can go to your web site and download the U2 tracks or buy the CD. I was surprised that after all the hubbub about that project, it's so easily available. How is that possible?

MH: We just did it.

TRIP: So no one's paying attention to you anymore and the publicity's died down…

MH: Or they are paying attention to it but they are just letting it go. In the case of the U2 single, all the people involved emerged looking pretty bad. Island Records has been bought out twice since then. All the people who worked there when they sued us are gone, even the president. And U2's not even on Island Records any more. That's just all in the past. You know, we put out the Plunderphonics project on our Seeland label, a double CD that's totally illegal, and it got reviewed very favorably in big time music industry magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin, and they mention the fact that it's 100% made of other people's music. They even named who some of those artists were: Michael Jackson, Metallica, the Beatles, the Doors, Dolly Parton. And nothing happened. And our calculated risk strategy there – which we always have, we're not as reckless as we seem to be, we're always balancing risk versus artistic coolness – but we were thinking, you know what, the music industry attorneys out there are all completely occupied with suing Napster and worrying about Kazaa and Morpheus and Limewire. They aren't going to care anymore about a bunch of people that sell 2,000-10,000 copies of a record which cuts up the Beatles.

TRIP: Didn't you even have a back and forth exchange with the RIAA where they admitted there was a gray area around collage?

MH: Well, these days that's the problem. The problem is it's the manufacturers now where you might get really hung up. We get emails all the time from people who are doing audio collage stuff, and they're saying, "We're trying to get our CD pressed, and the RIAA is now so thoroughly intimidating the CD plants that they're now routinely turning down stuff where they hear snippets of things they think are found sound." We have a pressing plant we work with that doesn't pay attention to what we do. Ssshhh, don't tell anybody! I'm not going to tell who they are, but if someone wants to know, if you're doing any kind of audio collage and you're having problems getting your CD pressed, drop me a line. It's easy to reach me through our web site, so send me an email and I will let you know who we deal with, because every time we send somebody their way, there's no problem.

And of course none of the stuff that we send them is actually pirating anybody's work at all, anyway. As far as we are concerned , it's all fair use. We're not putting out a pirated copy of the new Britney Spears record or something. It's all audio collage. In the music world, I've been hearing a lot less about threats over collage work. That's where we had the go around with the RIAA, about their guidelines with pressing plants, and we did get them to at least acknowledge or pay lip service to the idea that there is a gray area, and not all reuse of someone's copyrighted material is automatically an infringement. However, CD plants are still going to err on the side of being too conservative because they're a business. They're not interested in free speech issues. I was talking to one plant that turned us down, and the woman there said, "We'd like to help you, but we just can't take the risk. You don't know what it's like. These people come in from the RIAA and it's like the Gestapo." She used that term. She said, "They scare the hell out of us. They tell us we could be liable for contributory infringement. For every CD that we make for you, we could be fined $100,000." On a bigger front, too big to go into here, the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has been really bad for consumers. It's eroding fair use in terms of the consumer end of what they can do, making copies of CDs they have purchased to use in their car or at work or to share with friends… on that end it's very fucked up, and it's very much an issue to be aware of and try to resist. What's happened to Internet radio because of CARP is a horror show.

What I think the whole entertainment industry is doing right now is grossly overstating the damage that filesharing and Internet radio might do, because what they want is the playing field all to themselves. So they think if they can get the people in Congress to believe this is the death blow to the music industry, they can get Congress to agree to whatever they want. Frank Creighton, who's the head of criminal investigations at the RIAA, has likened their efforts to stop filesharing to the war on drugs. Which I thought was a great analogy to pick, because the war on drugs is a total failure and drugs are cheaper and more pure than ever before, and now we've got the largest percentage of our population in jail of anyone on the planet. Of course in this case, I guess, if they go after everybody, it won't be a bunch of black inner city kids, it'll be a bunch of white suburban kids. But that's where most of the drug abuse in our country really occurs, so maybe that all nicely balances out….(laughs).

What's been so amazing about what happened with Napster is that it took these issues about who owns information and ideas, intellectual property ideas and arcane copyright issues, and propelled them onto the cover of Time magazine and The New York Times. Suddenly you had all these explanations of fair use in mainstream media. We called our book that came out in 1995 Fair Use: The Story Of The Letter U and the Numeral 2 because we wanted to call attention to that phrase, which didn't seem to be well known at the time. But now a lot more people are aware of the notion, and what's happened lately with so-called "mash ups" and "bootlegs" really blows my mind. Just when you thought appropriation couldn't get more mainstream, it got more mainstream by leaps and bounds! Mash ups are something that's become a particularly big trend in England. It's people taking two or three tracks by different bands and playing them at the same time, and layering them to make a new track. Quite often it's taking an acappella version of something and layering it on top of something else. Quite often it's black culture overlaid on top of leaden electronic white culture. Someone actually pointed out to me something that I had not quite caught culturally, which is that in England you don't really have black urban radio. It does not exist. There might be stations that play reggae, but you don't have any of the stuff you have here, so part of the novelty of hearing Missy Elliott singing on top of Gary Numan is that there's a certain black culture thing they're not hearing in the mainstream over there. So this mash up I just mentioned, I think it's called "Freak Like Me," it's a #1 hit single. I heard it literally everywhere I went in England, and met the guy who made it at an event I was speaking at. Richard X, he's a very nice guy. He'd just come back from two weeks on a yacht off the coast of Greece with P. Diddy, who wants to work with him on his next project!

TRIP: So are those legal releases?

MH: Well, no, the interesting thing about mash ups… well, with the #1 hit single, first it was just an illegal 7" that Richard put out. It was a huge hit in clubs, and it was a big enough hit that it came to the attention of a record label who then licensed the sampled tracks as well as paid money to go into the studio to recreate the parts they couldn't get the rights to sample. Weird, huh? But what's really fun about the genre is it's almost completely illegal. It all exists as MP3 files and white label 7" singles. And actually, one of the tracks on No Business is being given to Richard X to remix it for release in England as an illegal white label 7". So what's interesting to me about all this is that it's enormously mainstream and popular. There's thousands of 13-year-olds all over England who are taking their PCs and iMacs and they're just dragging little sound files one on top of another to make new songs. It's very punk rock. You don't have to know how to play anything at all. Also what's interesting is that it has no political, cultural critique in it whatsoever; it's just about making some funny thing you can dance to. A couple years ago on the True/False Tour, I used a ZZ Top song played at the same time as Julie Andrews singing the theme from The Sound of Music, and made it work, and it was really funny.

The reason all of these arcane intellectual property issues are important is because these are all examples of ways corporations want to divvy up, own and control absolutely every square inch of not only the physical world, but also the inside of your head, which is ideas, art, and culture. I think that's the reason why I'm interested in it. It's not that I particularly care about copyright law. It's just one way Negativland got impacted by the hammers of the corporate world. But it's literally a matter of life and death when you're dealing with things like patent laws that might allow a drug company to sell an AIDS drug that costs them 50 cents to make for $15 a pill. That's where it's really serious.

TRIP: Many people may not realize that Negativland is the source for the term "culture jamming." How did that wind up happening and getting propagated?

MH: It goes back to a release we did in 1984 called Jam Con 84 which was edited from our radio show, Over The Edge. We'd done a show that was all about jamming, ham radio jamming, an international jammers convention, with sound effects, music, callers… it was trying to sound like we had roving live reporters interviewing people, and we actually did get a real ham radio jammer to come up for the show. Our interest came from all our listening to ham radio jamming….we got some great recordings to use! They were always jamming each other with test tones and being obnoxious and silly, so we naturally used this stuff on our own live-mix radio show. Whenever we were doing our radio show, and you're at home or in your car and tuning your dial, and you end up stumbling across this thing we are doing that is not like anything else on the radio, well, our show, to us, is kind of a jamming sort of a thing. Just the whole notion of jamming fit with how we saw some of our work. Jamming even goes back earlier… it appears on our album A Big 10-8 Place, all over it actually. There's even a little hand embossed thing on the plastic sleeve that says "A Jammer Can," and I remember sitting around with Ian, who was part of the group back then, and saying, "Wouldn't it be neat if someday people thought this whole idea of jamming and being a jammer was really cool, and that's what they wanted to do themselves? And it wouldn't be about just jamming the radio – but about jamming the media in a bigger, cultural, political sense?" And our wish eventually came true!

Anyway, somewhere in 1990 or 1991, a writer named Mark Dery was noticing some of the things that were going on in our music and he wrote a trend piece about people who were doing media that dealt with media, media that took the media and responded to it, and he ended up using our phrase. He then went on to do a nice little pamphlet called "Culture Jamming." And then Adbusters printed a portion of it or of some article he wrote, and that's how Adbusters ran across the phrase. And at some point, they decided that they really liked this "culture jamming" phrase and they wanted to brand their movement, label it, give it an identity, and market it… which is actually a lot of what they're attacking in their magazine, which I think they think is a clever thing to do. I don't agree, actually, I think that's fraught with peril. They have commodified the idea of attacking the commodification of everything. So anyway, it took on a life of its own through Adbusters.

Interestingly enough, and I don't really understand why, they've never written about what we do, ever. You'd think Dispepsi would be right up their alley, you'd think they'd be all over it. We took a huge risk doing that record, and they never wrote about it. Of course they mean well, and they have a circulation of 80,000, so clearly it resonates with a certain kind of person. That kind of person isn't me, though, or anyone in Negativland. I kind of have the feeling that the phrase "culture jamming" has become a sort of proprietary thing for them. They really feel like it's theirs. And Buy Nothing Day is the same: they didn't invent Buy Nothing Day either, but you'd never know it from the way they promote it.

One thing they say about their work is that they're beyond left and right. From what I know of Adbusters, you get the impression that what they're saying is if you just alter enough billboards, if you just jam enough media, if you just make enough counter-ad ads, somehow this will change the world and make everything okay. And I just think that leaves a huge part of the equation out, which is the political process. I think it's great fun to cut up media and make stuff out of it. I think it's very empowering for the individual, it changes your relationship to mass media and mass culture when you look at it as a two way thing, when you look at it as something you can respond to and do things with. But I don't know how effective it is as an agent of change. It's definitely an element of it… but I think the single biggest thing that needs to happen in this country that would change everything in a kind of trickle down effect is true, real, honest to God, campaign finance reform. If you actually made our so-called democratic process truly democratic and politicians really represented the people, everything would change, including things like the quality of our media, and you wouldn't have all these mergers with fewer and fewer companies owning more and more of our music, newspapers, TV… there's so many things that would come out of it if you had people looking out for the public good, which would happen if you took out special interest money.
There's a city in Pennsylvania that just declared, "We do not recognize corporations as being persons. They are not persons, and they are not entitled to any of the rights of persons." It's amazing… I don't know what's going to happen, but it's really incredible. It came about because a corporation actually sued the city and said they had the rights of a person because the city was preventing them from doing something in the town, and I think it pissed enough people off that they passed this thing. It's a small but incredibly significant step.

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Things That Cannot Save You

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