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Social Justice with a Twist: Ctrl.Alt.Shift

Blurring the boundaries between activism, advertisement, and art, or how you can get hand grenades to hang on your Christmas tree.

More often than not, you can tell the age of a social institution by its name. The NAACP’s etymology clearly has its origin in the early-20th century. Friends of the Earth? Obviously a late 1960s lovechild. So you might guess that Ctrl.Alt.Shift, an organization whose name refers to computer keyboard commands, almost certainly harks from recent years—and you’d be correct.

A UK-based social initiative, Ctrl.Alt.Shift is a formally incorporated social movement for global justice. In an interesting departure from traditional anti-establishment associations, Ctrl.Alt.Shift locates its arena of action as much within prevailing systems as outside them. This approach has come to define millennial movements, in fact; these days the phrase “by any means necessary” could refer equally to change initiated within the boardroom or protests led by bullhorn from the street below.

Whether you’re into music, fashion, politics or direct action, photography, design, dance, art or journalism, there’s a place for you within our movement to fight social and global injustice.

(Okay, maybe business is missing from that career list—but you get the point.)

The movement’s most recent incarnation took the form of a comic book called Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption. Launched this month, the limited-edition anthology collected original political work from artists and satirists including Dave McKean and Peter Kuper. The cleverly subversive comics, currently on view in the Lazarides Gallery in London, take on subjects such as imperialism (in “Reagan’s Raiders,” featuring the former President’s face superimposed on Captain America) and race (in “I Am Curious, Black!” with Lois Lane transforming into a Blaxploitation-style character).

Ctrl.Alt.Shift’s efforts so far have focused on governments’ HIV travel bans (with a campaign cleverly entitled “Nothing to Declare”), Latin American conflict, and broader issues of social justice such as gender inequality. Taking notes from the provocation playbook of TEDsters (and Brain Pickings favorite) The Yes Men, Ctrl.Alt.Shift has staged media-savvy public interventions like demonstrations outside foreign embassies, and a planned march through London to raise awareness of female infanticide in India. And like another urbane media brand, VICE (with whom it has co-sponsored exhibitions), Ctrl.Alt.Shift publishes an eponymous magazine, which it makes available in clubs and shops throughout the UK.

Other strategies seek to engage participation through competition, like a short-film contest held earlier this year (the winning entry was HIV: The Musical) as well as other targeted actions and social networking features on its website. And with a roster of hip collaborators like musician Estelle, photographer Nan Goldin, and the environmental group Plane Stupid, Ctrl.Alt.Shift seems well situated to bring its high-profile brand of activism to greater global attention. We say if a slick sell will get people talking about rape as a weapon of war, or greater buy-in around climate talks, then sell, sell away.

Have a look at Ctrl.Alt.Shift’s videos and blog to see if you’d literally like to buy into their program.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

Published November 18, 2009




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