Sniggle Theory

“A prank can be a multi-functional tool like a hammer — you can hit somebody over the head with it, or pound nails with it. Pranks are techniques to change life with; they’re based on principles that are not widely known or recognized. People can learn and apply these techniques — not to steal money from other people, but to set up situations for themselves enabling them to do more of what they want to do. The point is to discover and get familiar with the principles that apply…”

— Monte Cazazza

There have been more than a few things written about sniggling in its various guises. I’ll note a bunch of them here and trust you to search out more based on your own interests.

The late renegade William S. Burroughs laid out a case for the sniggle in his nonlinear essays The Electronic Revolution and My Mother and I Would Like to Know.

Hakim Bey is one of the more prolific and talented apologists for Art Sabotage and Poetic Terrorism. “Weird dancing in all-night computer-banking lobbies… Bolt up brass commemorative plaques in places where you have experienced a revelation or had a particularly fulfilling sexual experience… small fetishes abandoned in parks & restaurants…”

I add my own two cents on the subject in this Interview.

Stephen Downes gives a good overview of modern theories of guerrilla information warfare in his essay Hacking Memes.

Sven Woodside reminds us that every joke is a tiny revolution in his Master’s Thesis of the same name which covers the role of humor in culture jamming, subvertising and billboard liberation.

Saint Mary’s College of California even offers a class in Pranks: Culture jamming as social activism.

One manifesto to come out of the Diggers was Trip Without a Ticket (a.k.a. “Who Paid For Your Trip?”). This outlines some of the theory behind the “Free Stores” and explains that “this is theater of an underground that wants out. Its aim is to liberate ground held by consumer wardens and establish territory without walls.”

“A Soy Bomb is a spontaneous act of individuality that disrupts the flow of Corporate Cheese. Soy in Spanish means ‘I Am,’ and a ‘Soy Bomb’ is an Explosion of SELF amidst a sea of cheese.” This according to the manifesto of the Soy Bomb Nation, which erupted after Michael Portnoy’s performance at the 1998 Grammys.

American labor activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn made a fine case for sabotage in the workplace as a tactic for organized or disorganized labor. “The strike is the open battle of the class struggle, sabotage is the guerrilla warfare…”

Other creative activists might get inspiration from Ozymandias’ Sabotage Handbook or the Encyclopedia of Direct Action or The CIA Sabotage Manual.

The Surveillance Camera Players have published a guide to the Guerilla Programming of Video Surveillance Equipment. “The basic concept of guerilla programming is simple: a group of individuals create a scenario and act it out using surveillance cameras as if they were their own, as if they were producing their own program, and as if the audience consisted of security personnel, police, school principals, residents of upper-class high security neighborhoods, and the producers and salespeople of the security systems themselves.”

George Hayduke’s classic manual of revenge, Getting Even: The Complete Book of Dirty Tricks, is now available free-of-charge on-line.

Learn how to make trouble and influence people from (of all people) the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Meanwhile, the folks from The Economist do their own analysis of what makes a jape great.

David Cox has shared with us his interesting Notes on Culture Jamming. “Culture jamming takes that latent desire within a loosed media fragment, reprograms it, and sends it back into circulation.”

The Broken Terminal BBS has assembled a set of tools and information useful to snigglers (TAWSFI).

The U.S. government has done its own research into subversion of this kind, and has published its findings in such frightening tomes as Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare.

This is matched by Carlos Marighella, a Brazilian revolutionary who created The Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla.

Jihad Jerry says: “Pranks should never be thought of as menial, or light, or pejorative, even.… Because pranks are confrontational; pranks are creative; pranks are in that realm of transgressive art; a creative response to ludicrous situations that people find themselves in, in society, faced with illegitimate authority, illogical explanations, and mind-sets that are very, very unhealthy. A good prankster, basically through a creative act, breaks through all of that, and questions that and makes other people participate in that questioning.”

Mark Pilkington interviewed some of the artists responsible for creating the crop circle phenomenon. “I see our work,” one said, “as the continuation of an unseen tradition of artists working covertly in the realm of the paranormal, from the Turin Shroud to the Roswell Alien Autopsy film.”

Opportunities for a more-or-less captive audience for soul-satisfying pranksterism happen every time you’re called up by some minimum-wage telemarketer who wants to sell you something. Don’t waste your opportunity!

Mark Dery’s essay Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs is a frequently HTMLized inspirational text about “guerrilla semioticians” who are “in pursuit of new myths stitched from the material of their own lives, a fabric of experiences and aspirations where neither the depressive stories of an apolitical intelligentsia nor the repressive fictions of corporate media’s Magic Kingdom obtain.”

Mark Dery also conducted an engaging interview with Critical Art Ensemble, which ensemble brought us such manifesti as The Electronic Disturbance and Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas.

Mark Dery continued his culture jamming-themed interview series by interviewing Stuart Ewen for Adbusters, who says:

[N]ot only are mass media images intrusive into nearly every second of people’s waking lives but… increasingly, these images are penetrating into the most intimate recesses of people’s inner lives, their fantasy realms of desire and fear. We need to recognize that media images, increasingly, are sales pitches; that, rather than merely depicting or entertaining, they are instrumental in the sense that they are designed to gather audiences, designed to motivate certain kinds of behavior. So not only is our culture a pervasive media culture but… a media culture which has at its heart ideas of behavior modification and I would say, to some extent, social control….

Culture jammers draw upon the given facts of our society, this cacophony of fragmentary media images, to describe things as they are. But I think that at the heart of their reassemblings is the hope that there could be another kind of world, a world where rather than incoherence there could be coherence, rather than a devaluation of the human in favor of the commodity there could be an understanding of the commodity in the service of the human.

Luther Blissett’s manifesto Notes on the Nature of the Conspiracy starts by “affirm[ing] that the nihilistic tyranny of the spectacle could be faced and fought by ‘talking big and telling tall stories,’ i.e. by raising a whirl of fibs and lies ‘till a communication short-circuit dissipates the virtual world and the real one will settle again’ (Paul Virilio). In fact,” Blissett reminds us, “a radical criticism of the world order, and even the right to criticize, was an achievement by the ‘plagiarist’ pirates of the past centuries, i.e. by rascals, buffoons and court jesters.”

Andrew Boyd discusses the theory behind the political performance art “Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)” in his essay Truth is a Virus.

He’s started to run workshops, a sort of Culture Jamming 101, to teach people how to apply these techniques.

The call for Action, Not Art notes that “‘Art’ is approached, sought out, deliberately examined; and because people know they’re going to expose themselves to ‘Art,’ they throw up that shield of critical distance. When they encounter a subtle prank or covert action that is disguised as part of their daily routine, they’re wide open to it.”

The Yippies, American snigglers from the late 1960s and early 70s, were pioneers of modern guerilla theatre — and Abbie Hoffman’s textbook of underground living and warfare, Steal This Book is a classic textbook.

I tried handing out copies of a Yippie pamphlet by the name of The School Stoppers’ Textbook to some schoolkids in my town, hoping that it would inspire the prisoners of the public schools to acts of rebellion appropriate to the circumstance. I was met by five people with badges who informed me that the First Amendment did not apply to this particular piece of writing. I was held in prison with bail set at $40,000 and eventually convicted for (I kid you not) nothing more than handing out leaflets on a public sidewalk. So the people who publish this text on-line at places like here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here are in danger of persecution if any California student clicks their way to the page.

Helpful tips on pranking Talk Radio are available on-line, and those of you Kommunikationsguerillas with some fluency in German will definitely want to take a look at the Guerjia Culturale site.

Robert Anton Wilson, founder of the Committee for the Surrealistic Investigation of Claims of the Normal, is also a proponent of what he calls Guerrilla Ontology: “Ontology is the branch of philosophy that tries to understand what’s real and what isn’t, or what’s the difference between real reality and mere appearance… our approach is to knock down everybody else’s attempt to settle the question.”

A visit to the Adbusters Culture Jammer’s Headquarters will get you their toolbox of resources for those engaging in such naughty anti-consumerist behavior.

The magician’s art involves a professional interest in the same sort of manipulation of attention and belief that snigglers also use in their pranks. Read Vincent Gaddis’s The Art of Honest Deception for an overview.

Prankster first class Joey Skaggs was kind enough to include a manifesto on his site: “[P]ranks camouflage the sting of deeper, more critical denotations, such as their direct challenge to all verbal and behavioral routines, and their undermining of the sovereign authority of words, language, visual images, and social conventions in general… Pranks are the deadly enemy of reality. And ‘reality’ — its description and limitation — has always been the supreme control trick used by a society to subdue the lust for freedom latent in its citizens.”

“In its search for seeds of subversion,” according to the text What about Communication Guerrilla?, “guerrilla communication tries to take up contradictions which are hidden in seemingly normal, everyday situations. It attempts to distort normality by addressing those unspoken desires that are usually silenced by omnipresent rules of conduct, rules that define the socially acceptable modes of behaviour as well as the ‘normal’ ways of communication and interpretation.”

The Communiques of the Association for Ontological Anarchy note that “[w]e live in a society which advertises its costliest commodities with images of death & mutilation, beaming them direct to the reptilian back-brain of the millions thru alpha-wave-generating carcinogenic reality-warping devices — while certain images of life (such as our favorite, a child masturbating) are banned & punished with incredible ferocity… We have a black bomb for these æsthetic fascists — it explodes with sperm & firecrackers, raucous weeds & piracy, weird Shiïte heresies & bubbling paradise-fountains, complex rhythms, pulsations of life, all shapeless & exquisite.”

The manifesto of The Coalition to Raise Æsthetic Consciousness warns that the “anti-æsthetic is not confined to our prisons and hospitals… We find it in the sprawling housing projects of our urban centers, in the 1960s cement-block architecture of our college campuses, in the endless tracts of identical, vinyl-sided suburban homes, and in the windowless, aluminum pole-barns that have sprung up to provide cheap real-estate for retail stores…. [E]very minute, the anti-æsthetic infects a new portion of our world… — when we have at last completely forgotten what our earliest ancestors knew about the importance of beauty — then our whole world will be as a prison, and we will live like prisoners….”

“Culture jamming will become to our era what civil rights was to the 60s,” says writhe.

Team 7 (A Renegade Architecture) declares: “It is with great disregard for all economic, socio-political, and legal boundaries that we at Team 7 launch the first phase in the people’s reclamation of the true urban infrastructure.”

Inspiring also are Bob Black’s Theses on Groucho Marxism and the manifesto Bringing Culture Back To Resistance from The Media Collective of Toronto, Canada, which describes itself as “a band of reality hackers, merry pranksters, ontological anarchists, psychedelic warriors and intelligence agents.”

The Directive of the Disumbrationist League calls for the “parasitic infection of culture” to be “buffooned into shruggery” and notes that “a Disumbrationist vanguard is the only plausable savior in a world where the machines of order have finally lost their credibility.”

Here’s an interview with Alex Boese, the curator of The Museum of Hoaxes.

Ben Shepard tackles the absurdist and paradoxical street theater that erupted during the reign of the U.S.A.’s George II at the beginning of this century. In his essay Absurd Responses vs. Earnest Politics: Global Justice vs. Anti-War Movements; Guerrilla Theater and Aesthetic Solutions, Shepard says “[t]he aim of an absurd response would be to create a brand of protest which merged the joyous ecstatic spirit of exhilarating entertainment with a political agenda aimed toward progressive political change. Within this festive revolutionary theater, progressive elements of political change would be linked with notions of social renewal. Moving spectators to join the fun, to become part of the concrete action of social change.”

Don’t forget your Credibility Props!

Are you as skeptical as I am about the effectiveness of advertising parody? Anne Elizabeth-Moore is, and tells us why, in Live by Their Tools, Die by Their Tools: The Political Limitations of Culture Jamming.

Justice or revenge? Some of the more pointed examples of sniggling use the techniques of vengeance found at The Avenger’s Front Page.

Beware The Discordian Archives.

Some tidbits of theory and case study can be found in A Capsule History of the Dutch Provos by Teun Voeten.

If you’re one of those ambitious technological types, you might try out one of the items on the Evil Genius List of Hi-Tech Practical Joke Ideas (my favorite: “Carve computer-generated ripples in the surface of a main highway, and when vehicles pass over the surface, mysterious voices whisper, and distant music plays.”)

William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs

Michael Portnoy
Michael Portnoy

Joey Skaggs
Joey Skaggs

Mark Dery
Mark Dery

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On This Day in SniggleryJune 25, 2001: Michael Kinsley, editor of Slate, finally admits that the magazine’s report on the bizarre sport of monkey fishing was “willful inaccuracy.” (See News Trolls for more info)