Career Changers

Election Sign Madness

June 14th, 2012

Funny, but I was jogging back from the beach today and shaking my head because of the proliferation of campaign signs all over Kailua... which got me to thinking about that movie, ELECTION, starring Matthew Broderick and a young Reese Witherspoon as the the plucky -- but ruthless -- Tracy Flick, high school candidate for student government president. If you recall, the big scandal was who tore down the campaign signs the night before the big election. A week or two ago, signs were vandalized in Kailua, which prompted a candidate to go on TV news and complain about the cost of replacing those eyesores... er, I mean "campaign" signs. Mostly it was the juvenile marker mustache/eyeglasses on candidate photo variety of vandalism. But it reminded me how much state and national politics are still like high school when you get right down to it.

Seriously, do people actually decide who to vote for based on who has the most signs? Are they swayed by the design layouts, or which combination of red, white and blue the graphic artist decides to use? Is it who has the nicest font or best photoshopped picture? Some of those candidate photos are so doctored, they barely resemble the actual person -- that is, if you happen to see them in person around town. Whatever happened to candidates knocking on doors and talking to people?

And what exactly is the point of signs that don't say anything besides the person's name? Most don't have any slogan or message that ties into any substantive theme... oh, that's right, we're supposed to go to their website for that kind of stuff. Unless they have enough bucks to literally launch their own television channel that can play their campaign propaganda... um, I mean message... 24/7 or on demand. Never mind where the money for those ads and commercials came from, even if it's primarily Mainland sources that shouldn't be meddling in Hawaii's affairs. But local TV stations don't care where the bucks comes from, nor do sign companies or direct mail services that all profit from the extra business during political seasons.

Anyhow, getting back to the sign shenanigans in ELECTION and Kailua, I was thinking about that movie for another reason: I actually met the writers and director when I was a finalist in the Austin Film Festival screenwriting competition back in 1999. Some of you will recognize the name of Alexander Payne, who co-wrote the movie adaptation of the book with Jim Taylor. Payne also directed THE DESCENDANTS, which was adapted from the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Her stepfather, former State Sen. Fred Hemmings, used to park in front of my house while visiting his son who lived two doors down from us. I was not friendly with the son or Fred. Now his signs are popping up all over Kailua again as he tries to make a political comeback. He's another one that doesn't put any complicated slogan or message on his signs. Apparently, he believes his name is enough.

That's how it used to be in high school too, wasn't it? So maybe we shouldn't  be surprised when the people we elect, don't turn out to be what we expected or hoped for... because most of us don't bother to take the time to learn about what they really stand for, or what kind of person they truly are. At least that's the message I'm getting from all the signs I see.

BTW, I think ELECTION is one of the funniest, sharpest movies I've ever seen and highly recommend adding it to your Netflix queue. However, it is NOT a family-friendly film. I forgot how dark and adult the humor was -- kind of shocking, actually, in that it dealt openly with consensual sex between a high school student (Tracy Flick, future politician) and a male teacher with a mid-life crisis, and also features a smart high school girl who happens to be a lesbian and is maybe the sanest character in the movie.  The movie came out in 1999, which may explain why it didn't do better at the box office. I don't think people were quite ready for it back then. Check it out if you appreciate dark grown-up satire. It sure beats watching another Adam Sandler movie. Ugh.


While I was ruminating about ELECTION, signs and politics, I flashed back to my college days and election shenanigans that occurred my senior year at Montclair State College in New Jersey. It involved future lawyers and politicians, who years later would be caught up in scandals that made the New York Times and national news -- and it didn't surprise me because those former associates of mine were trying to rig outcomes for personal gain before they even graduated. They were sort of like Tracy Flick too. On the plus side though, my journalism adviser at the college paper was a long-time political reporter for the NY Times who taught me a lot about news reporting and writing.

That was in the late 1970s after Watergate and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN made journalism sexy... reporters were played by stars like Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman! So yeah, I was kind of inspired by the idea that journalists could change the world by digging for the truth. I even got to interview Bob Woodward (that's another story) and hang out with big time reporters who covered the City Hall beat in NYC thanks to my mentor. When I see what passes for "news" these days on CNN and Fox, I feel saddened by how the network heads now seem content to appeal to the lowest common denominator instead of pushing for harder investigative reporting, free from political bias or agendas.

Here's a link to the Washington Post on the 40th Anniversary of Watergate. And here's a good piece that I first saw linked on Ian Lind's blog. Hard to believe it was that long ago, huh?


You don't have to vote for me, but please watch my Career Changers TV show on OC16! For daily viewing times, visit our website. You can also watch video segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Have a nice weekend, and try to resist the temptation to draw mustaches on those ugly campaign signs that are a blight on our towns and streets.

6 Responses to “Election Sign Madness”

  1. kamaaina808:

    For what it's worth, CD II spans more than one island & I know personally that at least one candidate whose signs you've probably seen is making the rounds on all islands, holding 'coffee talks' in people's homes, going door-to-door, attending functions, fundraisers, etc. It's unreasonable to expect them to be in all these places at once. That's why you have a website & signs. Lots of them.

    Signs act as a surrogate for the candidate - placed on private land (in 99% of the cases) by permission of the landowner. How else do you expect non-incumbent candidates to get their name out in such a vast 'public' as CDII unless they're rich enough to buy cable TV time and radio spots every hour? If people, for some reason or another, haven't had a chance to meet the candidate, but don't call or write or email the potential candidate to find out what they stand for, what fault is that of the candidate? Being informed is a two-way street.

    You're right - some people DO look at how many signs are up & vote accordingly, sadly enough. But that's not the candidate's fault, either. As far as information on signs, how much can you fit on a sign that will be read in a few seconds? Not much more than a name/office & perhaps a photo. If it's cluttered, people can't make out what is says, anyway, so that's why layout is important. If the person has name recognition, people know who they are & most likely what they stand for, so no need to add slogans that would be virtually unreadable anyway. Better to save money for TV ads.

    You may not like political signs (or the people who are running for office), but thankfully someone else is in charge that believes in free speech and has allowed the signs to be posted legally. The vast majority of political signs are on private land and I'm happy to see the landowner's right to be heard is preserved.

  2. Kimo:

    I know one candidate who wasn't planning to use a mug shot on her political signs until someone said: "You better use a picture . . . so people know you're a female."

  3. Rich Figel:

    From a purely advertising standpoint, what good is a board with just a name on it, when it's placed on a fence with one hundred other signs that just have names on it? What part of "free speech" does that represent? There is no message -- not one thing it tells me about the candidate, other than they can afford to print signs and get someone to put them on a fence alongside all the other signs.

    Are you telling me these candidates can't think of a more creative way of getting out their message in a succinct line or two that would fit on a huge banner? If that's the case, I don't think that person is showing much in the way of innovative problem solving skills. I have yet to see a local campaign poster or commercial that was actually different, interesting or inspiring.

    BTW, where does the Outdoor Circle stand on all this political sign advertising stuff? Anyone out there know their position?

  4. Rich Figel:

    Another issue I have with signs is it seems many don't even include what office they are running for! I wonder if that's because perennial candidates figure they can save money if they decide to run for a different office in the future... just break out the old Name Only signs and plant them in different neighborhoods/districts after their last losing bid.

  5. zzzzzz:

    Rich, I think you're seriously underestimating the value of name recognition.

  6. Rich Figel:

    No, I absolutely understand that elections are ALL about name recognition nowadays -- and nothing more, really. Nothing substantive, that is. It's all about labeling and whose name people remember or not, and very little about what that person did/did not accomplish in the past or present.

    Eg., national politics is all about who is wearing the GOP or Dem label. If Obama proposes something, Republicans immediately attack it and brand it "liberal" or socialism -- even if the core of that very idea was proposed before by Republicans!

    So zzzz, what you're saying is people really DO vote for signs instead of actual people. It's like sports fans who root for teams or against teams, regardless of the players themselves... like Seinfeld used to joke, we're really just rooting for the uniforms!