iDon’t! iCan’t! iWon’t!

The posters on the street instantly caught my eye with their bright colors and arresting visuals of zombies, sheep and robots. As I drove by the corner where the broadsides were posted, I could just make out the stabbing headline on the red poster portraying a forlorn looking simian… “Are You A Chimp?” The stomach-turning green poster depicting zombies had a headline that shouted, “the walking iDead.” My immediate thought was that some seditious artists had mounted yet another guerrilla art attack on the walls of Los Angeles, and wanting more information on the rebel offensive, I looked up the “iDon’t.com” web address emblazoned on the posters once I had access to a computer.

Corporate posters on the streets of Los Angeles. “Calling all free thinkers, contrarians, and malcontents,” check your b.s. detectors!

Corporate posters on the streets of Los Angeles. “Calling all free thinkers, contrarians, and malcontents,” check your b.s. detectors!

What I found was not the work of dissident artists at all, but a corporate advertising campaign launched to deride Apple’s iPod and to promote SanDisk, the No. 2 seller of digital music players in the U.S.

The marketing for SanDisk is being handled by Grey Direct, “one of the largest direct marketing/interactive companies on earth,” and so far their business promotion consists of the website combined with the wheat-pasting of street posters onto city walls by teams of paid employees.

With clients like Liberty Mutual, Chase, and Procter & Gamble, Grey Direct is the very antithesis of subversive, yet their “iDon’t” marketing campaign embraces the aesthetics of protest and rebellion. The “iDon’t.com” website sports pages titled “The Alternative”, “Propaganda”, and “Manifesto”, where you can read pseudo-revolutionary jargon like:

“Calling all free thinkers, contrarians, and malcontents. The time has come to rise up against the iTatorship, to resist the monotony of white earbuds and reject the oppressive forces of cultural conformity. Now is the time to break free from restrictive formats and asingle source for music. It’s time for choice, for freedom, for self expression - and for independent spirits to stand up and say ‘iDon’t’. You don’t need to follow. There is now an alternative.”

“There is an inherent contradiction in advocating resistance to mindless consumerism by promoting the same.”

“There is an inherent contradiction in advocating resistance to mindless consumerism by promoting the same.”

That there is an inherent contradiction in advocating resistance to mindless consumerism by promoting the same should go without saying, but there is a much deeper negation at work here. Obviously the marketing ploy is an attempt to cash in on the natural rebelliousness of youth, and of the public’s antipathy towards Big Brother authoritarianism, but the corporate campaign seeks to do more than just co-opt the language of dissent - it wants to nullify it.

The quest for liberation can only be satiated with an endless supply of useless consumer goods, as the real message is that there is no longer anything to rebel against - save for long lines and high prices. The impulse to revolt is redirected and reduced to a demand for more merchandise - the underlying principle behind capitalist propaganda.

“The quest for liberation can only be satiated with an endless supply of useless consumer goods, as the real message is that there is no longer anything to rebel against - save for long lines and high prices.”

“The quest for liberation can only be satiated with an endless supply of useless consumer goods, as the real message is that there is no longer anything to rebel against - save for long lines and high prices.”

That the aesthetics of dissent are being used by corporate media is a testament to the strength and influence of activist street artists; that the billionaire class has successfully incorporated that visual language into its arsenal of control mechanisms gives evidence to the weaknesses and failures of street art.

But all is not lost, it will always be possible to punch a hole through the false realities constructed by Madison Avenue hacks and their willing legions of toady “commercial artists.”

A case in point; unidentified artists with a small budget produced the “iRaq” poster - a brilliant detournment of Apple Computer’s portable MP3 player ad campaign.

“It will always be possible to punch a hole through the false realities constructed by Madison Avenue hacks.” iRaq poster by the Copper Greene collective of New York.

iRaq poster by Copper Greene collective, New York.

The subversive poster features the infamous image of an Iraqi prisoner tortured by American jailers at Abu Ghraib prison, with a subhead that reads, “10,000 volts in your pocket, guilty or innocent.” The poster was designed by a New York artist’s collective whose members prefer anonymity. Calling themselves Copper Greene, after the code name used by the Pentagon to describe its program of prisoner abuse in Iraq, these nameless artists succeeded in turning a multi-million dollar ad campaign on its head.

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UPDATE 4-8-2016: Grey Direct has apparently gone out of business; one can only hope that other nefarious marketing agencies will follow suit.

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