Paraphrasing Lev Manovich paraphrasing Michel de Certeau, there are strategies and there are tactics; strategies are the tools of institutions to regulate our lives, and our tactics are the tricks and techniques we develop to deal with these big, impersonal structures and turn them to our own ends, like using the highway (strategy) but taking shortcuts (tactic) to get home faster; “In other words, an individual can’t physically reorganize the city but she can adopt itself to her needs by choosing how she moves through it. A tactic “expects to have to work on things in order to make them its own, or to make them ‘habitable’” (Manovich).
When we talk about strategies and tactics in the media, strategies tend to be the medium that product is delivered through (radio, television, the major label system) and tactics are ways that artists and fans try to communicate through that system. Manovich’s point is that, in recent years, the institutions have absorbed the tactics of self-definition (style choices like: punk, goth, metalhead, indie) and turned them into marketing strategies. People choose an identity and then express it by buying products that fit that narrow niche. I feel like what this means is that institutions have been very successful in their grand strategy, which is to make it so people’s concept of self-expression is inextricable from the logic of capitalism.
What is interesting about this is that there is now a conflict between corporate institutions over the source material of these (formerly?) grassroots self-definition tactics: art. The providers of popular art, like music (major labels, RIAA), want to make sure they can continue making money off of the product they produce, and they fight hard to protect their copyrights; other media channels, such as Google’s YouTube site, have flourished because of people violating copyright and sharing music and video content, often with their own twist on it (again, remixing as a form of tactic). In-roads are being made to mending these fences through pre-video ads and corporate synergy (think of how Bauuer’s Harlem Shake was monetized, or Gagnam Style), but there are still thousands of videos pulled down every day for violating copyright, even when the copyright being violated is incidental to why people are actually watching the video.
In my opinion, the key to making a free “cultural commons” is to rely on networks that corporations do not control, like The Pirate Bay, to gain access to the pop culture materials that produsers need in order to make remixes. The results can be uploaded to public networks like YouTube where a case can be made to protect them on the basis of their artistic merit/lack of having a profit motive. As Jenkins says, “we lose the ability to have any real inﬂuence over the directions that our culture takes if we do not ﬁnd ways to engage in active dialogue with media industries.” It is not healthy for the culture as a whole if we receive the messages created by these corporations uncritically, and without a response tactic that changes the original object so that is suits our purposes as individuals and not just as consumers. As Banksy’s speech (in image form above) says about advertisements, “Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”
Jenkins, H. (2004) The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence International Journal of Cultural Studies March 2004 7: 33-43
Manovich, l. (2008) The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: From Mass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?