Why I Cover Up Corporate Logos

A reflection on capitalism, activism and small ways to build a better world

On nearly every piece of equipment I own, the logo is covered with either black electrical tape or vibrant stickers. Most people either don’t notice or don’t say anything. Some people ask why, most recently a ten-year-old kid.

“Because,” I usually say casually, “I don’t agree with capitalism.”

It’s a flippant answer to explain what’s meant to look like a flippant behaviour. On the surface, covering up logos is fun. It’s like a tiny take-that to multinational corporations, a punch back to individuals and companies that are often more powerful than governments. Beneath that, however, is a thought process that I’ve increasingly felt is worth sharing.

First of all, my decision to cover up logos is similar to my decision to wear nail polish. Sure, I like how it looks, but I’m much more motivated by the idea of something subtle and unexpected causing other people to pause and think. Nail polish, for me, demonstrates that unquestioned tenets of traditional masculinity — like boys and men not wearing make-up — are inadequate. If they’re wrong about my nails, maybe they’re wrong about emotional stoicism and patriarchal violence, too. So nail polish is a small tool to bring us — boys and all genders — closer to liberation.

To quote a representative from the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth whom I spoke to years ago, we’re not talking about small steps. We’re talking about revolution.

Same deal with covering logos. Corporate advertising, like gendered violence, is a given in our society. It permeates everything, from the media we consume to the clothes we wear to the way we speak. So just like wearing nail polish means putting a chip in the wall of patriarchy, erasing advertising means making the armour of capitalism just a tiny bit less invulnerable. These actions are meant as small-scale activism.

As an educator, I face the question of whether or not my own anti-capitalist actions present a bias in educating children. In response to that, yes, of course it is. But not candidly taking on world issues and critically discussing the status quo is also biased — biased towards supporting the systems that currently shape our society. And if you look at any news headlines here or around the world, I think it’s clear that those systems need to be challenged. Now more than ever.

Covering up logos is also a reflection of my personal feelings towards my equipment and the giant corporations that made it. That part of the thought process is really simple: I paid for it. Therefore I don’t owe them anything.

“Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity. Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe then any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.” — Banksy/Sean Tejaratchi
Poster by Karina Nurdinova

I don’t value my gear because it’s valuable. I value it because of what I can do with it. Essentially everything that I own in this context is a tool, and what matters to me is how it can be used creatively, not any sort of status associated with it. I am an artist, not an advertiser — therefore these spaces are my own, and companies have no right to invade them with corporate marketing. To be frank, the audacity with which these companies attempt to place their advertising at the centre of my creative process is offensive.

I arrived at this feeling after being influenced by various artists and publications (including Barbara Kruger, Adbusters and Casey Neistat) in my first couple years of university. To anyone who might read this thinking it’s a juvenile anti-establishment attitude, maybe it is — but I can tell you it’s only grown stronger since then.

As I’ve previously said, capitalism is all-encompassing in our society. So yes, of course I’m hypocritical (see the GoPro sticker on my laptop), and of course I’ll take corporate sponsorship when it comes my way (see said sticker, fingers crossed). But not without critique and freedom of expression and not without careful thought about who I represent and how.

From various conversations I’ve had lately, I think in some ways it’s easier to be angry and anti-capitalist and reject a flawed system than it is to attempt to use that system’s tools to build a new reality. If I get too careless I start thinking deeply about this kind of thing, and sometimes deep thinking can lead to hopelessness. So most often, I keep it simple. I know that the system that has led to the Apple logo on my laptop is the same system that tells young girls their bodies are unacceptable, that boys that they are not manly enough. It’s a dangerous, provocative, too-often unchecked system, and so I do what I can to control its presence in my life and my presentation.

I’m not hopeless. Because, for example, the first logo I ever covered was with a sticker from Awesome Kingston, a grassroots microfunding organization that recently gave me and my creative partner a $1,000 grant to host an interaction-based community project designed to foster cross-cultural communication in our city. That’s the kind of world I am building.

Sometimes with black electrical tape.

This article was originally posted on my personal blog.

Notes is the digital journal of Chairs and Tables as expressed by the two-person staff, Asad and Jonathon, or the company itself. We’ve got a newsletter and do somewhat enjoy socializing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This was later removed from CHAT-notes by my previous partner.