Throwing a pie in the face of an authority or high profile figure to protest against their political or public standpoint, known also as ‘pieing’ has long been a staple strategy of Tactical Media’s political activism-meets-humor style. Tactical Media, as defined by David Garcia and Geert Lovink, is the inexpensive, do-it-yourself media activities and approaches, often used by groups and individuals who feel wronged by governing powers or excluded from the wider society, as a way of speaking out. As a form of popular protest, it couldn’t be more different from mainstream media. Tactical Media is never neutral nor does it merely report events. Using the pent up angst and frustrations as fuel, tactical media is born out of crisis and as an offshoot of the Culture Jamming genre, it often relies on art, pranks and parody as tools of criticism and opposition. The aim of Tactical Media activities is to present the view of the world as seen from the disenfranchised masses.
A good example of an organization that blends art, social activism and humor is the aptly named art collective from Barcelona called Enmedio, meaning ‘In the midst of’ in Spanish. This collective of artists came together back in 2001 to protest against the World Bank meeting in Barcelona, in which they pulled off a (simple phone and media exposure) prank at the expense of the Barcelona Stock Exchange that escalated into riot police being brought in (in an overreaction on the part of the authorities) and ultimately causing the Exchange to be closed for 2 days. Enmedio soldiered on with various pranks, parody and art projects on issues like housing, public evictions and unemployment, garnering public support and participation along the way as the financial crisis of 2008 began rolling out its devastating effects in the Spanish society.
As unemployment figures in Spain hit a record high recently, one of Enmedio’s latest exploits from last summer involved flying a huge yellow balloon with the words ‘Spain – World Champion of Unemployment’ next to the Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Barcelona, which like other public monuments and venues in urban cities across Spain, it has been sold out as a commercial billboard to the highest bidder. At the time of the prank, Senor Columbus can be seen wearing a giant football jersey of the Barcelona FC with Qatar Airways sponsorship. The balloon may not have survived any stretch of longevity, but what was important was having created the space, however temporary, for reflection and dialogue about the current contradictions surrounding the social existence in Spain. Online activism may be alive and well, and having contributed to community empowerment and social change, but artistic stunts like this offer participants a moment of solidarity and an opportunity to come together to take public action against instances of what many Spaniards perceive as the State’s social devaluing of their quality of life. Like pieing, Enmedio’s brand of art activism works at striking at the core of the problem or a social issue precisely because it’s built on the premise of simplicity and bold in-your-face parody acts (pun intended). By ‘transforming anger into fun’, it seeks to reclaim the power back to the people, not through force, but through offline participatory tongue-in-cheek satire and creative humor.