Another culture jamming subgenre is detournement, a notion owing its provenance to the 1957 French movement known as Situationist International, a group of international political and artistic activists with roots in the early twentieth-century European schools of Marxism, lettrism, Dada, and surrealism. Similar to subvertising, the purist definition of detournement dictates that the artist reuse components of well-known iconic media artifacts to create a new or transformative offering with a different message—usually, a message that is directly opposed to the original. But, unlike subvertising, detournement is not commenting on advertising sources, but rather on any and all genres other than advertising. Additionally, it is the notion of a specific and stated message that separates detournement from other forms of culture jamming, which might provide only general commentary or insight.
In a macro definition, detournement and culture jamming are very similar in style and purpose, but what separates detournement and culture jamming most importantly, is that a work meeting the definition of detournement must be conceived, executed, and distributed as an outsider effort to any mainstream-media embodiment and not be a party to any sanctioned insider channels. For example, the popular cultural movement of punk rock would be considered a mainstream offering, not a detournement form of creative expression, because of its wide acceptance and adoption by mass-media culture.
It’s difficult to show examples that are—by the definition of detournement—distributed as an outsider effort to any mainstream-media embodiment, but I can point you to one very important and influential source.
Negativland is an experimental art collective combining music, sound collage, video art, and performance that emerged from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1980. Members of Negativland include Mark Hosler, Richard Lyons, Don Joyce, David Wills, and Peter Conheim.
The official Negativland website bio states, "Since 1980, the 4 or 5 or 6 Floptops known as Negativland have been creating records, CDs, video, fine art, books, radio and live performance using appropriated sound, image and text. Mixing original materials and original music with things taken from corporately owned mass culture and the world around them, Negativland rearranges these found bits and pieces to make them say and suggest things that they never intended to. In doing this kind of cultural archaeology and ‘culture jamming’ (a term they coined way back in 1984), Negativland have been sued twice for copyright infringement."
Per the official website, Negativland’s “illegal” collage and appropriation based audio and visual works have touched on many things—pranks, media hoaxes, advertising, media literacy, the evolving art of collage, the bizarre banality of suburban existence, creative anti-corporate activism in a media saturated multinational world, file sharing, intellectual property issues, wacky surrealism, evolving notions of art and ownership and law in a digital age, and artistic and humorous observations of mass media and mass culture.
When asked about the origin of its name, Negativland says, "The band has tried many different combinations of the letters N, E, G, A, T, I, V, L, A, N and D to find the one that works best for them. In the early 80’s the group went through a number of different permutations of those letters such as, I’VE TAN GLAND, VANDAL TINGE, and the group was once known as VAGINAL DENT. But that seemed to get them the wrong audience entirely."
One of the more important miximal works by Negitivland is titled Gimme the Mermaid directed by Tim Maloney and staring a very angry Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid screaming horrific threats lifted from a recorded phone call of a supposed music business attorney yelling, “I own it! I control it! Don’t fuck with me or I’m gonna sue your ass!” Most likely, Gimme the Mermaid is a therapeutic or cathartic work that expresses Negativland’s experiences as both artists and legal defendants. The clip was first popularized on the website illegal-art.net and released as part of a 270 page book and ten track CD titled Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2 in 1995 by Negativland detailing their lawsuits with U2's record label Island Records for their EP U2, including many legal documents and correspondences.
Negativland’s production of No Business (“like stealing”), which brilliantly employs cutup editorial techniques on lyrics extracted and recombined from multiple song versions of No Business Like Show Business (by Irving Berlin and probably best known as performed by Ethel Merman) is a send-up of the music business’ position on illegal downloads. Through fussily cutup lyric fragments, Merman sings that “you get that happy feeling . . . stealing everything the music business people don’t allow.” The visuals include little animated musical notes with frightened faces running away from a set of pinching fingers as well as showing rhetorical illustrations employing allegorical animations of a "download in process" graphic with labels such as "Candy Bar" superimposed over a film clip of a boy stealing a candy bar.
According to a Wired magazine interview, Mark Hosler shared that the 2005 release No Business included a 64-page propaganda pamphlet "summing up of the state of cultural ownership for now, and since there were no lawsuits or cease and desist orders concerning any of the 100% stolen audio on No Business, one of the points in the pamphlet may be true - that this creative method (recomposing found sound) is now so common and generally accepted as esthetically valid in all media (everyone who owns a computer knows what "cut & paste" means) that it's becoming like common law, increasingly "legitimized" through mass practice." Let us hope he is right, and that the Genie is out of the bottle, or at least coming out very soon.
The background visuals from No Business are numerous clips of people shoplifting various items from video footage downloaded from the Prelinger Archives, founded by Rick Prelinger. The archives, founded in 1983, are a collection of more than 60,000 ephemeral (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films. In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress’ Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound division. One amazing thing about this Negativland production is the legal status of the visuals. The Prelinger Archives state, “Any derivative works that you produce using these films are yours to perform, publish, reproduce, sell, or distribute in any way you wish without any limitations,” so—the No Business audio track aside—Negativland has at least dodged one legal bullet in distributing this particular video, but that has not always been the case.
In 1991, Negativland released a single titled “U2,” with the title displayed in large type on the front cover of the packaging and “Negativland” in a much smaller typeface. The package featured an image of the Lockheed U-2 spy plane as the visual.
The songs on the Negativland release included parodies of the original U2 group’s well-known 1987 song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, including a kazoo melody that wrapped around broad sampling of the original song. An additional song was titled The Letter U and the Numeral 2 and featured a musical backing to an unmitigated and profane tirade from the then-popular disc jockey Casey Kasem. Kasem had accidently stumbled into the “open-mike” crisis of other unsuspecting celebrities, thinking he was safe in his rant; the expletives flew during a frustrating rehearsal that was unknowingly being transmitted to numerous radio stations as a raw feed. Radio insiders had recorded the tirade and had been passing it around to each other for a number of years. One of Kasem’s comments was about U2: “These guys are from England and who gives a shit?” (U2’s members are actually from Ireland).
Island Records (U2’s label) sued Negativland, along with the group’s label, SST, claiming they violated both trademark law and copyright law. SST agreed to the terms of the suit and dropped the record.
In June 1992, R. U. Sirius, publisher of the magazine Mondo 2000, got an opportunity to interview David Howell Evans (“the Edge,” as he is called), the guitarist, keyboardist, and main backing vocalist of U2 about their upcoming multimillion dollar Zoo TV Tour. The tour was promoting their new songs, some of which featured sounds and live sampling from mass-media outlets (practices for which Negativland had just been sued).
Additionally U2 had approached the Emergency Broadcast Network (E.B.N.) media art collective to include its visual remix work We Will Rock You to open its Zoo TV tour, so, clearly, U2 saw entertainment potential in the concept of remixing.
Meanwhile, fresh from the lawsuit and without telling the Edge, R. U. Sirius invited Negativland’s Mark Hosler and Don Joyce to conduct the interview.
Midway through the interview, Joyce and Hosler revealed their identities as members of Negativland. A shocked and humiliated Edge assured the listeners that U2 was unhappy with the heavy-handed legal approach Island Records had taken and that the legal squabbling had taken place without U2’s consent or knowledge: “by the time we [U2] realized what was going on it was kinda too late and we actually did approach the record company on your [Negativland’s] behalf and said, ‘Look, c’mon, this is just, this is very heavy. . . .” Evans also shared that “there’s at least six records out there that are direct samples from our stuff.”
The Negativland “U2” single (along with other related material) was rereleased in 2001 on Negativland’s own label, Seeland, as a “bootleg” album titled These Guys Are from England and Who Gives a Shit without any further lawsuits from Island.
In 2003, members of Negativland contributed their library of works to Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization providing an alternative to copyright licenses. Efforts to find a defensible alternative to the “all-or-nothing” shock-and-awe laws are referred to as the “copyleft” movement, by which an author, filmmaker, musician, or other copyright holder can blindly allow some but not all rights to his or her work.