On Sunday, May 18, an act of revenge against the domination of advertising in public space was carried out in the transfer tube between two central stations in the Petersburg metro, Gostiny Dvor and Nevsky Prospect.
The entire passageway had been pasted over with a monotonous advertisement for electronic gadgets. The ad shows a young man and woman equipped with these gadgets and locked in an insincere embrace. Unable to countenance such a subtle rape of their imaginations, a group of young people performed a genuine “decomposition” of the ad.
Over the course of several minutes, they tore down the panels of the ad, covered it with protest slogans, and leafleted the passengers who were lucky enough to witness this “breakdown.” The activists’ main task was, apparently, to spread the message that if an advertisement has been hung up, that doesn’t mean at all that this should be the case. Public transportation had always been a part of public space, but with the imposition of capitalist relations of production in Russia, public space has steadily continued to erode. It is gradually being captured by advertising images. And there is a certain limit past which the invididuals most sensitive to this species of violence climb the walls-in this case, literally.
The leaflet, however, has this to say: “Symbolic violence is terrifying in the first place because there are very few people who would agree that is directed towards them. Violence disguises itself in subtle forms, destroying all that is personal and unadapted by the state’s primary welfare structures, and now there are few who would say that they feel they are oppressed or precisely oppresses them. People believe that the shine of advertisments (which depict a life that, for some, has only recently become reality, or rather has taken on the traits of a mythical verisimilitude) doesn’t in any impinge on their subjectivity. For if the ad stands or hangs right before us, we nevertheless have the chance to turn away from it, pretend not to notice it, invisibly cock it a snock-“No way, you won’t persuade me.” In fact we don’t notice that we have begun to think in cliches, and quote advertising slogans in conversations. Our dreams hearken more steadily to advertising images, and more often we prefer to contemplate these images and reread advertising slogans over and over rather than pay attention to the people who languish along with us in the subway during rush hour.”
Thus, the young people have begun to respond to symbolic violence with a violence immediately directed at the media (or the message bearers) of advertising images. Not yet totally integrated into the social consensus and having no desire to retreat into the hallucinations of the subcultures, these young people are not ready to reconcile themselves to a daily symbolic oppression whose inevitable flip side is material oppression. As Debord (whose legacy the kids obviously want to inherit) writes, “The first stage of the economy’s domination of social life brought about an evident degradation of being into having. […] At the same time all individual reality has become social, in the sense that it is shaped by social forces and is directly dependent on them. Individual reality is allowed to appear only if it is not actually real.”
Today, the line between human values and images of commodities really is rapidly eroding. The more the individual contemplates these images, the less he lives.
As their action has shown, however, the young people are not only unwilling to barter the ideals of youth for advertising myths (which supply a surrogate of freedom in the form of a Walkman that plugs your ears); they are also capable of mounting a genuine resistance to such false substitutions.
If you see a young person taking her vengeance on an advertisement, then you’ll know that one more person has decided to spit on this spectacle-the spectacle of the ubiquitous choice that has already been made by capital.