Dontcha just love it when monochromatic ideas are subsumed by kaleidescopic shades of grey? Accepted counter-cultural wisdom would apparently have it that advertising is intrinsically corrupt, corporate, illegitimate and a searing indictment of our attitudes to social responsibility. And yet the Billboard Liberation Front, original hoarding pirates, scourge of the corporate ‘message’ since 1977 and one of the most influential forces on the understanding of modern street art, would argue a very different case. Advertising is not inherently wrong - in fact it’s intrinsic to human conceptions of identity and an ingrained social matrix since man began grunting seductively at a buxom cavewoman...
On a chicken and egg note – do you think that overproduction drove advertising or vice versa?
Depending on how you define it, I would argue that advertising is as old as human interaction itself. People have put up fronts when dealing with other people, socially, politically and economically, in order to achieve certain goals, since we were Neanderthals; I consider that to be advertising. A woman putting on makeup is advertising... the manner in which we carry ourselves, the way we dress, are all forms of advertising. I don’t see advertising as merely the bastard child of the industrial revolution. I think it existed long before that.
In light of what happened in Egypt, do you think we’re seeing a post ideological generational shift in attitudes to power and freedom, and the means to circumvent the tired, heavy handed control structures of the 20th century
It seems so, although I’m in my 6th decade and having seen a lot of things go very differently from original assumptions about how they might go, I’m withholding judgement for 3 or 4 years to see how the Egyptian situation pans out, although it looks sorta positive so far. What’s happening there seems driven in large part both by technology and by an emerging class of young, educated people who see through the baloney and the sales pitch that claims their only options are a strongarm dictator or a rabid Islamic republic. So I hope the rebellious youth of Egypt can bring something new to the equation: it doesn’t seem like the ruling cabals have total control. Things have become more restrictive now than in the 70’s and 80’s but still not completely rigid. The game’s not over and the “evil capitalist cabal” or whatever you want to call them certainly don’t control everything yet. But I’m no political scientist, I’m an outside observer.
I believe in small business capitalism which seems to work on a local level where you have individual owners, small companies and people who deal with one another on that level. The big stumbling block is gigantism when too much economic power is controlled by too few hands and I’m not sure how to keep that from happening other than education. That’s what happened in Egypt which is why the authorities weren’t able to squash the revolt immediately as they would have at any time in the last 30 years. More people are more educated and have a means to communicate provided, but not entirely controlled by the corporate plutocracy.
Keeping people in fear is what the governments need to do in order to divide the populous and keep as much power as they can. The idea of the public having real democratic power is a terrifying concept to those with disproportionate ownership stakes in the economy. Mob rule can be catastrophic, looking back at history. It’s gone both ways in the past. The majority of people in Britain decided that slave trading on the high seas was morally unacceptable. It took them 100 years to force the issue, but finally the British navy started interdicting slave ships in international waters and were the main instrument that strangled the trade. That was a morally driven populist movement right there. It came from an extremely religious core, but you never know who your allies are going to be when trying to change things for the better.
I feel that our role politically, socially – whatever label you put on it, is to use the tools of communication as they exist and hopefully inspire others to realise that they can do the same. If there is anything that the BLF has ever done that’s worth a shit it would be encouraging a 16 year old kid to say ‘Wow, that ad is talking to me way beyond the surface communication, there’s something behind that. What are they really trying to say to me’.
A good example of that would be ghetto kids back in the 80’s in America for whom owning a particular type of shoe was a major status symbol to the point at which they were killing one another for a pair of fucking shoes. However, if one of those kids were to understand where those shoes came from, how they were made, who was profiting from his desire to have those stupid things, if he really understood that whole chain of economic and political and social interchanges that put those shoes on the feet of his neighbour, the kid he’s going to knife to get them......if he understood that, then he and his buddies would get together, go to Westchester County and kill Nike’s corporate president. That’s knowledge, that’s understanding and that’s what people need. And that’s why the dynamic in Egypt is so interesting because you’ve got a preponderance of people who actually have an idea of what’s going on and they’re able to communicate despite the fear that those communication networks may be monitored or shut down.
The rise of digital technology such as social networking sites and information sites like Wikileaks is a levelling mechanism where individuals acquire an enormous amount of power over a short period of time, although I’m sure it won’t take the powers that be long to figure out how to shut this shit down. How to re-control it: that’s what they do. I don’t even know if it’s always out of malfeasance - maybe sometimes it’s born of the idea that they are doing the best thing for the poor stupid people that can’t be trusted with decisions. And sadly, there is some validation to that point of view because so many populist uprisings have resulted in fresh waves of brutality. The job of the BLF is to make fun of these corporations. I figure that’s all we can do. If the BLF was doing anything that they felt really threatened their bottom line they would squish us like a bug and that’s a fact.
READ FULL INTERVIEW FREE - LSD MAGAZINE ISSUE 7