Armstrong, Helen. Graphic Design Theory: Readings From the Field, Princeton Architectural Press, 2009. Pages 64-69.
Heller, Steven. Underground Mainstream, Design Observer, 2008.

Questions / Prompts

  • Is the concept of mainstream vs. underground relevant in advertising of 1950’s / 1960’s and is it relevant today?
  • What is “culture jamming”?
  • Provide a visual example and description of early avant-garde culture jamming.
  • Provide a visual example and description of culture jamming today.

Reading Response 7

The concept of mainstream vs. underground that was prevalent in advertising during the ’50s and ’60s is still relevant today. Many of the old avant-garde design approaches like the Bauhaus movement had become established and mainstream. Such a thing can still be seen today, where a different and avant-garde approach is suddenly flipped from being underground to being mainstream. This happens often when the otherwise deviation from the norm becomes widely accepted and is turned into the new norm. As a way to oppose this sudden flip, underground designers used the method of culture jamming, which satirically appropriates aspects from the mainstream. It was a cycle of the mainstream stealing from the underground and the underground stealing from the mainstream. 

As an early form of culture jamming, designers from the Dada, Futurist, Constructivist, and other art movements used their work as advertisements for new ideas. By promoting themselves they further expanded the visual languages of advertising which eventually was appropriated by mainstream advertising. An example of this would be an Aleksandr Rodchenko poster called “Books (Please)! In All Branches of Knowledge.” This poster was created by emphasizing dynamic diagonal compositions and used to communicate Rodchenko’s message to the general masses. 

Books (Please)! In All Branches of Knowledge, 1924″ by Aleksandr Rodchenko

For an example of culture jamming today, this illustration by James Yang from the article “‘Culture Jamming’: A Decades-Old Spoof of Consumerism Makes Its Way to the 2020 Campaign.” It depicts the Tusla rally for Trump’s 2020 Campaign showing Trump himself in the center surrounded by mostly empty chairs and only a few people in the audience. 

Illustration by James Yang

Hypothesis / Annotations

  1. Definition: Dichotomous
  2. Definition: Axiomatic
  3. Idea: Today, designers for mainstream advertising companies, weaned on alternative approaches, have folded the underground into the mainstream and called it cool.