You might remember the Barbie Liberation Organization, or BLO, who in the early ’90s purchased Teen Talk Barbie and talking G.I. Joe dolls, switched their voices and reshelved them. This produced hilarious and poignant results, with Barbie growling “vengeance is mine,” and G.I. Joe's bubbly “math is hard.” Sexism was not eradicated, but made fun of. Children were confused. It was funny. And as one BLO member put it, “The storekeeper makes money twice, we stimulate the economy, the consumer gets a better product and our message gets heard.”
By now most of you have probably caught wind that celebrity half-wit Paris Hilton released an album, a simple joke to you and me. Maybe you’ve also heard that 500 albums in Britain were purchased, reworked (the album art was altered into nudity, framed with somewhat trite statements, the music replaced with simple beats and sound bites), and then reshelved by coconspirators British graffiti artist Banksy and Grey Album-famed DJ and producer Danger Mouse. It’s not as funny as the BLO, and sure, it was probably too easy a target—and, undoubtedly, it didn't do a thing to deter major record label executives from releasing generic albums, nor to shrink Hilton’s prodigious ego--but the stunt is still bitchin' impressive. The world could use more high-profile pranks and acts of nonviolent sabotage. Hopefully, the actions of these two prominent, mainstream counterculture figures can help to set examples for future saboteurs.
Symbolically, Banksy, DM and the BLO are letting us know we don’t have to tolerate what is insincere, unjust or boring in our one-sided popular culture. Despite our inability to stop supposed recording artists from making soulless music, or to convince powerful record companies not to back their product, through civil disobedience we can revolt against it.
For information, ideas and inspiration to get started demarginalizing (and entertaining) yourselves, you might begin by taking a virtual stroll over to www.futureofmusic.org, www.downhillbattle.org, www.adbusters.org and www.nmmlp.org. For more on Banksy, visit www.banksy.co.uk. And for more on the BLO and culture jamming, rent yourself a copy of Craig Baldwin’s Sonic Outlaws (available at Alphaville, the last time I checked). Whether you plan to take action or not, good luck!