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Subverting Slogans

by on July 24, 2013

A particularly interesting and creative subversion of chanted slogans was being enacted in Brazil during the recent protests in the country. In chanting during protests, Brazilian protestors subverted advertising ‘jingles’ and taglines from television advertisements (Pearson, The Globe and Mail, 2013). One particular favourite, taken from a 2011 ‘Johnnie Walker’ commercial is a tagline containing the words “O gigante acordou” (“The giant has awoken”). The advertisement’s original intent was to show and encourage the new spirit of optimism which had apparently settled over Brazil, and featured the landscape of Rio morphing into a giant and walking away. This advert was a play on a theme in the Brazilian national anthem which characterises Brazil as a sleeping giant and was intended as a national promotion (Pearson, The Globe and Mail, 2013). The subversion of the advertisement’s jingle and wording, however, implies that the protestors are the giant which is awakening and completely changes the meaning of the original.

I think that this can be seen as a particularly resonant example of de Certeau’s (1984) notions of “strategy” and “tactics”. De Certeau (1984) argues that consumers can use “tactics” in order to modify what they consume in and from the “strategic” constructions of businesses and authorities. If we take the strategic to be the businesses and their adverts and the tactical to be the enactments by the protestors, we can see that the protestors have certainly modified and transformed the original intent of the advertisements for their own purpose.

Many commentators have identified this as a representation of the political alienation experienced by modern protestors, as they aren’t espousing overtly political slogans (Pearson, The Globe and Mail, 2013). It could also be seen, however, as a representation of the keen awareness which protestors have over the issues they are protesting about. The protestors realise that the businesses and authorities they face are huge and perhaps insurmountable, and yet, on a very creative and subversive level, they are still able to draw attention to the omniscience of these organisations and highlight this to others.

I think that the sometimes disparaging remarks about this gesture from other commentators highlights a notion which concerned Paulo Freire:

“The oppressors are the ones who act upon the people to indoctrinate them and adjust them to a reality which must remain untouched. Unfortunately, however, in their desire to obtain the support of the people for revolutionary action, revolutionary leaders often fall for the banking line of planning programs content from the top down. They approach the peasant or urban masses with projects which may correspond to their own view of the world, but not to that of the people … The revolutionary’s role is to liberate, and be liberated with the people – not to win them over” (Freire, 1970: 75 – 76)

In this quote, Freire is drawing attention to the way that some protestors/activists use slogans and ‘planned programs’ of events to win people over (like advertisers) rather than working with people to change things communally. It is an easily made mistake to assume that others in a protest movement think about things in the same way and want the same things, and so if leaders make this mistake, it can alienate others from the message or cause. This is particularly appropriate when leaders use dense and impenetrable political language or methodologies. The subversion of advertising slogans has seemingly been done from the bottom up in Brazil and, despite not necessarily changing the state of politics as a sole gesture, it shows that there is a need and a desire for change. This is a crucial step and it has been initiated and progressed by the protestors themselves, not by an over-arching ‘authority’.

References and Links:

Certeau, Michel de (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press

Costa, Camila. (23rd June 2013). BBC [online]. Brazil Unrest: Protestors ‘Subvert’ Advertising Slogans. Available at: Accessed on: 20th July 2013

Freire, Paulo (1968) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (1970). Penguin Education. London

Pearson, Samantha. (26th June 2013). The Globe and Mail [online]. In Brazil, TV Jingles Morph into Protest Slogans. Available at: Accessed on: 20th July 2013

Pike, Rebecca. P. (2013). Georgetown Journal of International Affairs [online]. ‘O Gigante Acordou’: Brazilian National Protests for Policy Reforms and Why They Matter. Available at: Accessed on: 24th July 2013

From → Sloganize, Subvert

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