Anti-advertising militants scribble for justice
In the name of civil disobedience, a group of French 'anti-advertising' militants is attacking billboards and other advertising they say blight the landscape and render the population consumerist sheep. And they're recruiting…Audrey Ka
The Dismantlers at work (Photo copyright: H. Leglise-Bataille)
Written in red paint, the slogan is slashed furiously across a giant poster ad. Such scribbling has become a monthly ritual in Paris, where "anti-advertising" militants perform what they dub "acts of civil disobedience," in direct view of often benevolent police officers.
"Let the police do their job!", David Sterboul, a leader of a group that calls itself the "Dismantlers", Les Deboulonneurs, ordered his troops one evening at the Place du Trocadéro, near the Eiffel Tower. About 60 sympathizers had gathered to applaud the Dismantlers' latest doodling on three illuminated billboards.
The Dismantlers drew more cheers from the crowd when, ten minutes later, they were escorted from their post by police.
"It is a question of democracy," said Sterboul, who expressed frustration with what he believes is a failure by local authorities to take action against "the privatization of public space."
"We are breaking the law because, after 15 years, all legal recourses have been exhausted."
Fight the big, ugly power
Advertising the anti-ad manifesto (Photo copyright: H. Leglise-Bataille)
Comprised of old veterans of the anti-advertising movement, as well as young radicals, group members like Laure, Jean-Claude, Marine and Yvan have collectively engaged in a war against "harassing advertising" in the form of giant display ads that "we can't get away from."
As part of their philosophy of non-violence, the Dismantlers cooperate with authorities and flash their identification cards as soon as police arrive. The group hopes that such a conspicuous approach to their cause will result in a dialogue with officials and transform the issue of display advertising into a social debate.
The group's objective, said Sterboul, is a law limiting the number of display advertisements in proportion to the number of inhabitants of a city.
The size of a 'human-sized' ad
The law would also limit the size of ads, bringing them back to a more "human" scale of 50 cm by 70 cm (19.7 inches by 27.6 inches); the same limits imposed on political advertising (excluding election campaigns).
*sidebar1*"Advertising is only legitimate if we have the choice not to be subjected to it," Sterboul said.
During a trial of a couple of Dismantlers last June in the southern French city of Montpellier, Paul Aries, a French writer and researcher who specializes in mental manipulation, appeared as a witness in support of the group.
"Advertising is a form of manipulation for it fosters the illusion that happiness lies in consumption and that consuming brand-name products can compensate for a loss of values," he told AFP.
"The Dismantlers' movement is interesting because it involves disobedience to the justice system, in the way anti-abortion organizations or conscientious objectors reconfigure the issue on political grounds."
The two Dismantlers in question were given probation and ordered to pay a EUR 200 euro fine; a lenient sentence that certain advertisers called "scandalous." For Sterboul, however, it was "an acknowledgement of the legitimacy" of his groups' scribbling.
The Dismantlers have already spread to large cities outside Paris where they continue to gain followers.
Noted Aries: "If the movement grows in scale, the powers that be will be compelled to listen."
Subject: Living in France