Culture can be particularly difficult to define, even though it is present in nearly all aspects of our lives. Because it is a constantly present force, elements of culture may become “invisible” or ordinary everyday things, to the point that we are no longer aware of them and no longer question them. This may cause us, in some cases, to be completely unaware of the cultures of which we are members, and the ways in which those cultures maintain their power and dominance. I chose to use my Culture Jamming project to identify a culture that often goes unnoticed, and call attention to some of the ways in which it operates.
Through its branding, symbols, and advertising, the University of Oregon has created a distinct culture that it has then exported to the masses—current, prospective, and former students are all invited to consider themselves Ducks, and members of this culture. The culture is presented as carrying a message of inclusion and opportunity; the University of Oregon claims to offer a wide array of possibilities to anyone who wants to take part. However, I have a much more cynical interpretation of this culture, which is that the University’s culture is not as benevolent and instead is based on capitalistic greed. Every new student that buys into the University’s culture represents thousands of dollars each year of revenue for the school as well. These students are then part of the culture for the rest of their life, which helps encourage future students to join the school and become a part of the same process. However, because the culture is invisible and frequently left unquestioned, this cycle can continue unchallenged. Following Antonio Gramsci’s model of cultural hegemonies, the ruling class—the University of Oregon—presents its ideas as the ideas of the masses—the students of the University. (1971) Effectively, the members of the University of Oregon culture are also employed by it and are used to reinforce the culture and spread it further. The actual mechanisms of this industry of culture are invisible to those who are stuck within it. (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2012) My project attempts to begin to disrupt these processes by calling attention to the University of Oregon’s culture that otherwise goes unnoticed and unquestioned daily.
For my project, I used a product of the University of Oregon’s culture—the “Throw Your O” television advertisement, and modified its images to call attention to the culture it was attempting to create and strengthen. (University of Oregon, 2016) As described by one scholar, Raymond Williams, “Culture is ordinary,” meaning that the ways in which a particular culture presents itself often goes unnoticed. (2009) Thus, by using the language of the Throw Your O campaign, any changes that are made to it become more apparent and demand further scrutiny. By modifying the images of the Throw Your O ad, my project calls for closer examination of not only the ad itself, but of the University Culture as well.
In its original form, the Throw Your O ad features Gustavo Feria, a University of Oregon student, leading a tour group of prospective students and demonstrating the “throw your O” hand gesture. This is followed by a montage of students and faculty at various locations throughout the University’s campus—along the streets, in libraries, and within science laboratories. The short ad concludes with rapid inter-cut shots of students raising their hands over their heads to “throw their O,” and ends with a call to action where Feria directly addresses the viewer, “So you decide, how will you throw your O?” (University of Oregon, 2016) For my culture jam, I maintain the original form and duration of the ad and simply modified a few of the images and shots that appear within it.
I used a combination of Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects to insert my own text, images, and symbols into the original video. These edits are slightly jarring, as I intended them to quickly signal to the audience that something has been changed. They should look closely, not just for my edits, but at the original ad itself and the culture that it attempts to reinforce. For instance, I place large bright yellow dollar signs over the heads of the prospective tour group. This draws a connection between the University of Oregon culture and its monetary motivations. Additionally, because this edit occurs within the first five seconds of the ad, it immediately signals to the audience that this is not the ad in its original form, and encourages them to pay close attention for any other changes. As Fiera raises his hands, the “O” symbol is overlaid with another dollar sign, linking the primary symbol of the University culture with the primary symbol of capitalism. I also placed two references to Nike, a company that has close ties to the University. I overlaid Nike’s logo and slogan “Just Do It” on the wall in a shot of the library, and replaced a computer screen with an image of Phil Knight, Nike’s co-founder. The connection to Nike, a multi-billion dollar company, once again reinforces the relationship between the University’s culture and a desire to make more money. The last symbol of money to replace the University’s symbols is placed at the very end of the video, as the University of Oregon’s logo appears on a black screen. I replace the “O” with a dollar sign, and the text “#throwYourO” with “#oneOfUs,” which suggests that the culture is less about individuals, and more about using money to join the culture.
In the final montage of students raising their hands in the “O” symbol, I intercut a total of nine frames from historical footage of a Nazi rally in Germany. This brief appearance of black and white images within an otherwise colorful ad is jarring, and disrupts the flow and continuity of the original ad. The images appear for only three frames at a time, but is still just enough time to identify the distinct swastika symbol. Though I use its imagery, my intention is not to draw a direct relation between the University of Oregon and Nazi Germany. Instead, I chose to use these symbols because they are nearly universally recognizable and are highly charged. They evoke ideas about cult appeal and the potential “brainwashing” effects of culture. By using these images in such a jarring fashion, I hope to prompt the audience the think critically about the University culture, and not simply be complacent about accepting it. The culture itself is not necessarily evil, but allowing these types of cultures to become invisible is what allows them to grow, spread, and evolve virtually unchecked by its own members.
My project does not make significant or drastic changes to the original “Throw your O” ad. However, by making small modifications that stand out, I hope to direct the audience’s attention directly to the ad and encourage scrutiny of it and its messages. The cultures that we belong to often go unnoticed and unquestioned, and I intend for this project to be a way to begin identifying and looking at these otherwise invisible cultures. Though my project does not provide answers to these sorts of questions, I hope that it can encourage others to begin thinking about the University of Oregon’s culture, how it is developed, and perhaps if it is even necessary at all. These types of questions could not be brought up through the original ad, but are made possible through the process of culture jamming.
Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. (1944). The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. In D. Kellner & M. G. Durham (Eds.), Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks (Second Edition, pp. 53 – 74).
Gramsci, A. (1971). Three Selections - (i) History of the Subaltern Classes; (ii) The Concept of “Ideology”; (iii) Cultural Themes: Ideological Material. In M. G. Durham & D. Kellner (Eds.), Media And Cultural Studies: KeyWorks (Second Edition, pp. 34–37). Wiley-Blackwell.
University of Oregon. (2016). #ThrowYourO. Retrieved November 6, 2016, from https://around.uoregon.edu/ThrowYourO
Williams, R. (2009). Culture is Ordinary. In J. Turow & M. McAllister (Eds.), Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader (pp. 91–100). New York: Routledge.