Guerilla communication and a four-letter word

Yesterday ISK:s guest researcher Hagen Schölzel gave a presentation as a part of our department’s research seminar series. His talk, which was based on his soon to be published dissertation, focused on guerilla communication or the political act of transforming dominant political expressions into new forms of meanings, often with subversive twists. Schölzel traced the meaning of the term itself – guerilla communication – starting from its use within art movements such as surrealism, Dadaism and the situationists and up to its contemporary use in PR-handbooks. Today, perhaps the most common examples used when explaining this form of communication are the acts of ad busting, the Yes Men-films or the Anonymous movement.

But perhaps such transformations of meaning are more prevalent today than we realize. The idea that we live in a remix culture was made popular, but certainly not created, within academic discourses by Lawrence Lessig and his notion of read/write-culture, as oppose to our pre-digital society where we were confined to the more passive use of media – we were stuck in reading culture, as oppose to the more creative acts of being able to (re)write media. The documentary A Remix Manifesto is a good example of this.

A few hours after Schölzel’s presentation the Swedish Royal House released a video depicting Sweden’s princess Madeleine and her fiancé announcing their engagement. What was supposed to be a simple portrayal of (heteronormative) love turned into juicy digital pieces highly suitable for distorting, molding and remixing the video’s intentional meaning. All because of that four letter word: tihi.

It was a word (?) Madeleine uttered at the very end, seeking to signal joy perhaps, or nervousness, but perhaps more so an automatic wish to please, a point made explicit by Birgitta Stenberg (website in Swedish). But regardless of her intentions, it was there. It was a bit absurd. And it created a storm. Tihi-gate was unleashed and the remixers flooded the social media.

Perhaps the most poignant distortion was created by public radio SR where they simply but so accurately enhanced the video with a little bit of Twin Peaks-surrealism. I am completely struck by how the added layer of musical spookiness subverts the intended message completely and makes the viewer realize the absurdity and inauthenticity of something so neatly staged. The viewers are divided between the staleness of Royalty and the dark forests of Twin Peaks where characters such as the Log Lady roams; a mental zigzag excercise between a fixed reality to a reality where little or anything makes sense whatsoever. In other words, a match made in heaven.

Perhaps this shows that strategic communication is not about control. It is about the realization that nothing can be taken for granted. All because of that four letter word, tihi.

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