Friday, May 13, 2016

Reading the signs

I was  pondering the political messages that I am now receiving  - many of them making amazing claims - some I fear are not attainable - many of them seem to be designed to manipulate my thinking...  

It got me thinking about how ads are created to guide our behaviors, opinions, and beliefs.  Some manipulations are helpful - Signs are like ads -sign posts have messages  meant to direct our actions more effectively...  Judy and I were hiking a trail in southern Peru and we realized that there were no signs to tell us if we were on the right path or how far we had to go. Signs are important and an expected part of our lives.  But not all times in history and not all cultures recognized signs.  If you wanted to know something we had to ask a local farmer with knowledge of the area.

Sighs of another sort have long be seen and interpreted by seers who were able to read the signs in tossed dry chicken bones or signs in the sky or the occurrence of earthquakes, or from breathing too man y volcanic fumes - Many of these so called signs were based on a misguided understanding of cause and effect...  If I see an owl in the daytime, it means something... If I see a black cat crossing my path it means something...  Many traditional religions include the reading of signs in this way.

In our day and age, we live with all kinds of signs... In bilingual communities may include two or more languages or may be  signs with only pictograms - School crossing, restrooms: male, female, bigender, cattle crossing, right turn, windy road... Some depend on symbols: Red=stop, Green = go, claxon = evacuate, computer beeps and chimes...  Many of our signs assume that everyone can read English: Stop, Construction - right lane closed...  Traffic signs can be essential for safety. 

The use of messages written on a wall expanded in the late 19th century... "Bertha's cafe - breakfast all day", "Use Sloan's Liniment for pain relief", "Curb your dog.".. But it was in the early 20th century that the concept of signs became an industry - The concepts of Madison Avenue - the concepts of encouraging consumption of certain products through wide spread engineering of needs and wants...  

The famous Burma Shave adds were an early example: a series of signs along a roadway, spaced at intervals, would each have a portion of the message with the "punch line" something about the shaving cream. People loves them and often passed them on like valued jokes:  Examples:

   Hardly a driver / Is now alive / Who passed / On hills / At 75 / Burma-Shave
   Past / Schoolhouses / Take it slow / Let the little / Shavers grow / Burma-Shave
   If you dislike / Big traffic fines / Slow down / Till you / Can read these signs / Burma-Shave

But the industry expanded to include clever radio and newspaper ads... and it works!  If I have a new product and want to increase my profits - it’s all about well-designed ad campaigns to create a need or desire for the product.True is you are selling spaghetti sauce, a church, travel to Tahiti, or tooth paste ...

A kind of co-evolution began to develop among consumers - a growing resistance to be 'taken in' by the ads - Do you sometimes tune out certain annoying ads...? But never mind the ads have just gotten glitzier, cuter, sexier, louder... and they keep drawing us in with subliminal messages that we don’t even know we have received...  We just have to resolve to be even smarter and more resistant - but they will come right back at us...

A different kind of sign has shown up - mostly in the last few decades...  I saw pay first pencil written graffiti on the inside of public places when I was a kid... Modern graffiti is largely dependent on the development of the spray can of paint.  Most graffiti emphasize stylized script - some is recognizable as a single word... What is the message behind it all... The message is "I was here, I matter, whether you like it or not I am leaving my personal mark on the world.  If I don’t do this, I will remain invisible."

So this brings me back to our politician friends:  They tell us "I am running for office because I want to win.  I need to have ads directed at my audience - I want them to know that I will meet their needs - I care about them - I will get rid of things that they do not like - I will make policies good for their freedoms, their resources, their beliefs..." The sad thing is their message is often more about trying to manipulate me and not much about how much they actually will be able to deliver...  The really sad thing is that ads have come to take the place of the hard work of analyzing issues .  There is no other way to vote intelligently but by careful study of the Candidates  past achievements.  What they have said and done are  critically important - We have to discover who they associated with. Democracy is hard work...  We can either be suckered in by Madison Avenue type political ads - or we can each do the hard work of understanding issues.

Good luck!

A friendly home made sign in a farmers yard...