Profaning the spectacle: Advertising subversives and vandals

If it is said today that power is everywhere, it is not to empty the concept of all meaning, but to point to the fact that capitalism shapes and permeates all social relations, that the latter are increasingly commodified and measurable exclusively by money, and that these together not only structure all social bonds, but are equally constitutive of human subjectivity. Capitalism is thus in this sense both extensive and intensive, leaving very little of nature beyond its reach.

For the great many of us on the “inside” of the Empire, grounding oneself, or grounding an anti-capitalist political movement, in a truth “outside”, is difficult, if not impossible. Every gesture of rebellion, when not compromised or crushed, risks appropriation and commercialisation. Every dissonant thought or action can be rendered a spectacle for passive consumption. Everyday reality is sacralised by the Midas touch of money. What remains to be done then is either to walk away (which does not address the question of how this is to be done) or to profane what is.

Both gestures may be described as constitutive of an apocalyptic politics; a politics that allows us to see the our world as the expanding desert that it is.

To share: a Situationist reflection on détournement and the work of two collectives, the older Brandalism and the more recent Subvertisers, who engage in profanation.

Détournement as Negation and Prelude

by SI 1959 (

Détournement, the reuse of preexisting artistic elements in a new ensemble, has been a constantly present tendency of the contemporary avant-garde, both before and since the formation of the SI. The two fundamental laws of détournement are the loss of importance of each detourned autonomous element — which may go so far as to completely lose its original sense — and at the same time the organization of another meaningful ensemble that confers on each element its new scope and effect.

Détournement has a peculiar power which obviously stems from the double meaning, from the enrichment of most of the terms by the coexistence within them of their old and new senses. Détournement is practical because it is so easy to use and because of its inexhaustible potential for reuse. Concerning the negligible effort required for détournement, we have already noted that “the cheapness of its products is the heavy artillery that breaks through all the Chinese walls of understanding” (A User’s Guide to Détournement, May 1956). But these points would not by themselves justify recourse to this method, which the same text describes as “clashing head-on against all social and legal conventions.” Détournement has a historical significance. What is it?

“Détournement is a game made possible by the capacity of devaluation,” writes Jorn in his study Detourned Painting (May 1959), and he goes on to say that all the elements of the cultural past must be “reinvested” or disappear. Détournement is thus first of all a negation of the value of the previous organization of expression. It arises and grows increasingly stronger in the historical period of the decomposition of artistic expression. But at the same time, the attempts to reuse the “detournable bloc” as material for other ensembles express the search for a vaster construction, a new genre of creation at a higher level.

The SI is a very special kind of movement, different in nature from preceding artistic avant-gardes. Within culture, the SI can be likened to a research laboratory, for example, or to a party in which we are situationists but nothing that we do can yet be situationist. This is not a disavowal for anyone. We are partisans of a certain future of culture and of life. Situationist activity is a particular craft that we are not yet practicing.

Thus the signature of the situationist movement, the sign of its presence and contestation in contemporary cultural reality (since we cannot represent any common style whatsoever), is first of all the use of détournement. Examples of our use of detourned expression include Jorn’s altered paintings; Debord and Jorn’s book Mémoires, “composed entirely of prefabricated elements,” in which the writing on each page runs in all directions and the reciprocal relations of the phrases are invariably uncompleted; Constant’s projects for detourned sculptures; and Debord’s detourned documentary film, On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Period of Time. At the stage of what the “User’s Guide to Détournement” calls “ultradétournement, that is, the tendencies for détournement to operate in everyday social life” (e.g. passwords or the wearing of disguises, belonging to the sphere of play), we might mention, at different levels, Gallizio’s industrial painting; Wyckaert’s “orchestral” project for assembly-line painting with a division of labor based on color; and numerous détournements of buildings that were at the origin of unitary urbanism. But we should also mention in this context the SI’s very forms of “organization” and propaganda.

At this point in the world’s development, all forms of expression are losing their grip on reality and being reduced to self-parody. As the readers of this journal can frequently verify, present-day writing invariably has an element of parody. As the “User’s Guide” notes: “It is necessary to conceive of a parodic-serious stage where the accumulation of detourned elements, far from aiming to arouse indignation or laughter by alluding to some original work, will express our indifference toward a meaningless and forgotten original, and concern itself with rendering a certain sublimity.”

This combination of parody and seriousness reflects the contradictions of an era in which we find ourselves confronted with both the urgent necessity and the near impossibility of initiating and carrying out a totally innovative collective action — an era in which the most serious ventures are masked in the ambiguous interplay between art and its necessary negation, and in which the essential voyages of discovery have been undertaken by such astonishingly incapable people.



This fight, waged in all places,
on all networks and circuits of communication
is the responsibility of all who believe another world is possible.

This is our battle-cry, our semiotic war,
our rage against consumer mis-philosophy,
and the machines of predatory corporatism,
that block out the sun
burn our atmosphere

We steal this space (from capitalism)
and we give it back to you for free
for the communication of possible futures

So imagine, if you will, another world
Emptied of mad empires,
Manufactured fears,
Paranoid dreams
and marauded lands.

Now imagine the sounds of those memories
crushing in your hands.

Instead of the facile dreams of consumer products and
the shadow festival
of fake-estate lifestyle choice,
pacifying with wealth those who remember,
smart-drugging the next generation of revolutionary minds.

We are people, not targets.

It might be time to listen to the rage inside,
the rage against more of the same
the rage because another world must be possible,
a rage against the atrophy of hope.
A rage against the changing climate, bullshit jobs,
division, fear.

So we subvertise here for hope,
hope that is never too late to start.

Take this space.
Silent rebels, and loud dreamers,
take this space,
young pacifiers and old lovers.

Don’t hide in the shadows, steal their space,
their damaging words and aesthetics.

We take this space back to speak truth to power,
to oppression, to injustice,
against those that would have us give our lives,
our brightest years,
of all that we are and could be
to the serpent of consumption
perpetuating a world we don’t believe in
distracting us from each other in favour of ourselves,
destroying our ability to think and fantasise wildly.

We, who are you, have come to realise that
to dream is the beginning,
all that remains is action,
to reclaim the space to express.




by Dog Section Films

20th century advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it. As it achieves this it will be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of non-western peoples and will prevent the peoples of the world from achieving true happiness. Simply stated, our survival as a species is dependent upon minimizing the threat from advertising and the commercial culture that has spawned it.

— Sut Jahally

Subvertising is a portmanteau of subversion and advertising. It is a relatively modern term, but can be defined as any type of action that is taken to subvert advertising. This may range from improvised graffiti-style interventions, to the more co-ordinated campaigns of the modern era. Generally speaking, subvertising either targets the original adverts or the sites of outdoor advertising (or both).

Subvertisers for London is a short film about subvertising in London.Featuring: Jonathan Barnbrook, Darren Cullen, Dr. D, Hogre, Double Why, Lydia Dagostino, Protest Stencil, Sila Yucel and Special Patrol Group.Music: Algiers, Biege Thickness, Jonny Drop.Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License. (

Our Vision

Members of Subvertisers International are united in their belief that commercial advertising is negatively affecting the world that we live in. World-wide, commercial advertising is invading our public spaces and co-opting our media in an effort to promote the endless consumption of goods, services and brands.

In doing so, these advertising messages are changing our cultural values and influencing our collective behaviour. They help to create a false image of multinational companies, which prevents them from being held truly accountable. The role of advertisers in financing the media industry raises issues of democracy, while the promotion of unsustainable economic growth endangers our planet. The result is a consumer society at odds with our vision of justice, peace and equality.

Our resistance intersects with other struggles for social, economic and climate justice, human rights, and environmental protection. Together, we can retake control of our collective narrative in order to offer a systemic critique, and envision new opportunities for democratic conversations in our media and shared public spaces. We want to place the people’s will and our everyday social needs over corporate profits and the commercial messages that are now so prominently displayed, both in our streets and beyond. We are ready to imagine the post-advertising society that is needed for this.

Our fight against advertising happens on four fronts:

1 – Advertising is omnipresent in our societies. We know that the repetition and framing of advertising messages is fundamentally altering how we treat each other and the world we live in. It is now proven that by appealing to certain values over others, advertising cultivates behaviours that are focused on the self while suppressing those that bond us to one another. We demand democratic control of all advertising activities, so that people have a say in the messages that we allow to affect our cultural values and behaviors.

2 – By funding our media institutions – including the tv news, radio, press and internet – advertising is fundamentally influencing the stories and ideas expressed through those institutions. In order for our democracies to function properly and without bias from commercial interests, we must support democratic media institutions that serve the interests of everyone equally.

3 – We understand that advertising and public relations are a form of corporate propaganda that is often used to hide the social, economic, and environmental injustices perpetrated by business interests. Whether through slight of hand or outright lies, the advertising industry enables multinational companies to distract us from the social problems they create. We need truth and transparency to hold them to account.

4 – Advertising ideology invites us to believe that natural resources are infinite, but the economic growth based on overproduction of goods and overconsumption of energy is impossible on a finite planet. We would rather need a sustainable vision that protects the ecosystem of our planet.

(Site: Subvertisers International)

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