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The Triumph of Form Over Content When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

You Are Here: Home -> Glossary -> Adbusters


Very, very slick magazine thundering against the excesses of our consumer society. Adbusters is an excercise in contradiction. On the one hand it is a very clever vehicle for culture-jamming, but on the other hand you can buy kitschy postcards in honour of "Buy Nothing Day."

Part of the paradox stems from the question of what exactly advertising is supposed to be. Is it simply an attempt on the part of a seller to make people aware of a product, in order that they might decide to purchase it? Or is it a cynical attempt to strong-arm people into buying things they don't need and probably wouldn't even want if they really thought about it, by short-circuiting their better judgement through deep emotive claims? In either case, if you're the editor of a magazine that claims to decry advertising, how do you figure out how to make people aware of your magazine without making a mockery of your own value system?

Note the irony of a banner ad decrying the profusion of advertising
Adbusters Banner Ad

These are the sorts of questions I'm glad I don't have to face when I wake up in the morning.

I heard about Adbusters from reading Mark Kingwell's clever book Better Living (in fact, I had heard about the magazine before, but it was Kingwell's raving endorsement that convinced me to seek out a copy and read it). This set me to thinking. Does Kingwell's endorsement of Adbusters constitute advertising, paid or otherwise (especially, the cynic in me asserts, when it turns out that Kingwell was a regular contributor to the mag)? If so, is this a kind of hypocrisy? I am reminded of Neil Postman's observation:

Imagine what you would think of me, and this book, if I were to pause here...and then proceed to write a few words in behalf of United Airlines or the Chase Manhattan Bank. You would rightly think that I had no respect for you. (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death. p. 104)

Is there a key distinction between advertising and argument, in the sense that Kingwell's praise of Adbusters came in the context of a general discussion on the possibility of genuine individual acts in an otherwise media-saturated consumer culture (whereas Postman's hypothetical ad represents the decontextualization of content - the 'now...this' phenomenon of advertisement-driven communications)?

The problem is that the market is ubiquitous and pervasive. Adbusters wants to challenge the enervation of citizenhood through constant market bombardment, but if it wants to be distributed to readers, then it has no choice but to act within the parameters of the very medium - the market itself - that it is trying to challenge. Hence the 'subvertisement', which is the only legitimate space left for opposition in a cynical, media-savvy culture.

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