It's everywhere, which is the point, right? The question now is not what it means, but how and why it is being delivered? And by whom?
Spooky. Ubiquitous. That word. Hmmm ....
Those damn "ubiquitous" billboards are causing people to question everything, aren't they? Is it a political movement? A warning? Is it a show? Are we all dead (debatable)? And, more importantly, who is the organization/individual behind it?
For starters, whoever designed this campaign is well-versed in the art of culture jamming.
Essentially, culture jamming is a way of communicating a message that stems from either a political movement against corporate commercialism or a reactionary way to hilariously and publicly use media platforms as a "middle finger" to corporations and mass media.
Sometimes, it's funny; other times, it can be more pointed and vicious. But it's always designed to make people question the establishment and check their skepticism.
Culture jamming and subvertising can be excellent tools at delivering a message, no matter how vague that message may be. As long as there has been a mass media, people have tried to subvert it.
The "ubiquitous" signs are a perfect example.
These campaigns build a frenzy of momentum and encourage conversation—while being vague, mysterious and intentionally confusing.
The other side of culture jamming is the wonderful prank. This is my favorite use of the art form, and although it's probably not the case with the "ubiquitous" signs, these campaigns can be hilariously clever. Culture jammers, as they've been called since the 1980s, expose "the ways in which corporate and political interests use the media as a tool of behavior modification."
For example, culture jammers might take over radio airwaves, find ways to infiltrate TV news broadcasts as outlandish characters or offer fake news stories that media outlets never see coming and report as actual news. As a member of the media, I can promise you that one of the most essential skills to learn in this business is to have a healthy skepticism of everything. If a story seems unbelievable, it probably is.
One of the masters of culture jamming is the great Joey Skaggs, a personal hero of mine. His pranking, hoaxing and general toying with the media for years have paved the way for pranksters of my generation. His method, as depicted in the clip below, is to "hook" the media with a ridiculous story, draw out the "line" (story) as much as possible and throw in the "sinker" (the big reveal that it was all a hoax) at the very end. The fact that he's been doing this for 50 years is a testament to his ability, but also a comment on the nature of the story-hungry mass media.
Skaggs is the subject of the wonderful film "Art of the Prank" (trailer below), which you should watch immediately.
In addition, publications such as Adbusters, although a tad more political, seek to "reclaim our mental and physical environments" through culture jamming. It's all about disrupting the status quo, and the results can be shocking, funny and provocative.
As far as the "ubiquitous" billboards, you should know that this has been done before. It's nothing new.
A culture jamming organization called the Billboard Liberation Front has specifically used the billboard medium as a jamming device for years. The activist culture jammers involved with the group seek to disrupt the only medium—in a world of distractive advertising pulling at us from all directions—that remains, ahem, ubiquitous.
From their "manifesto":
Of all the types of media used to disseminate the ad, there is only one which is entirely inescapable to all but the bedridden shut-in or the Thoreauian misanthrope. We speak, of course of the billboard. Along with its lesser cousins, advertising posters and "bullet" outdoor graphics, the billboard is ubiquitous and inescapable to anyone who moves through our world. Everyone knows the billboard; the billboard is in everyone's mind.
Do you get it now? In our technologically rich world of screens and product placement, flashing ads and inescapable consumption, the old billboard is still the best way to reach anybody. Advertisers know this, and so do the culture jammers.
As for Chattanooga's "ubiquitous" campaign, here's what we know thus far:
There is a website called UbiquitousChatt.com with the word "ubiquitous" flashing at intervals, along with "4.25.16," which is, presumably, a reveal date for something. We don't know what it is, but it probably has something to do with an art movement (read below).
Several people have indicated the website also contains a similar logo to the Chattanooga Lookouts' new "eyes" mark. But a minor league baseball team spending hundreds of dollars on billboards like this makes almost no sense whatsoever.
A Twitter account has been created with the description "you've seen the signs … a movement of #Love will spread like pollen from the hills!"
They're part of the underground street art scene you may have heard about. It's built as a part of the Illuminati campaign. You may have seen some of the tags around town last month ... It's also coinciding with the #Love movement we're starting. You may have seen this work in the chalk alley a few weeks ago titled "stand here and think about love" ... It's all to start a conversation about culture jamming and what advertising [versus] the well-meaning goodwill nature of messages within urban environments actually is saying and what that means to the larger part of our city's landscape as more and more billboards break up the natural urban beauty of the landscape.
Regardless of the end message, I hope that you continue to be skeptical of outlandish claims. However, at the same time, we should also appreciate and celebrate the culture jammers of our world. They are essential and add some much-needed levity to our lives.
And despite all my spidey sense tingling that the "ubiquitous" reveal is going to be far more disappointing than anything I could imagine, I still find myself waiting and watching.
You are, too. And you will again.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 8:21 a.m. on 4/18/16.