Art Space: The art of the protest - Sign Creation 101 is in order | August 21, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - August 21, 2009

Art Space: The art of the protest - Sign Creation 101 is in order

by John A. Barry

Overlooked in the sound and fury signifying nut-think that greeted U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer at her book signing at Rakestraw Books on Aug. 14 was the literary and visual quality of the signs, placards and flags hoisted by the noisy demonstrators.

I'm sorry to report that for the most part, the quality was rather poor. Take, for example, several signs reading, "Taxed Enough Already" (TEA- get it?). These messages might more appropriately read "Trite Enough Already?" Several "Don't Tread On Me" flags snaked through the evening air.

Most posters bore screeds lacking artistic inventiveness, such as:

* "Obama Care Is Tyranny"

* The inevitable Photoshop job picturing Obama next to Hitler. Competent 'Shop skills, but I think Doktor Josef Mengele would have been a more apt postermate.

* "Patriots Protesting A Power Grab By Obama"

* "Deport All Illegals," coupled with a suggestion that such an action would save democracy.

That last one posits an action that is logistically, democratically and possibly legally impossible. Plus it came off as rather mean-spirited. It would have been more literarily effective had it turned on its head Emma Lazarus' famous welcoming inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, transforming "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ..." into "Give back your tired, your poor ..."

One guy who appeared to have a touch of the muse had a placard bearing near-column-length copy equating toilet-paper shortages in Cuba to what would happen here should Obama's health-care plan pass. He typographically underscored his non sequitur point, with mind-numbing Bloc-like block type.

One sign, with a message I don't remember, did have a fairly skillfully rendered representation of a skull and crossbones. Something about plundering the national treasury, no doubt. Avast, it's a vast conspiracy!

A couple of signs, intentionally or otherwise, evoked film titles, such as "Kill the (healthcare) Bill" (nod to Quentin Tarantino), and "U. Healthcare Is to Die For" (hats off to Gus van Sant). I would have added "Live, but Let Grandma Die" (apologies to Guy Hamilton).

Two lovers of the printed word held high printed words of their own: "Time to Write A Book, But No Time To Read The Bill!" It's a song title waiting for a lyricist.

My favorite of the night, however (overlooking the metaphorical mishmash it was), was a sign evoking the legendary gag tune "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." This sign read: "Grandma Got Run Over By Obamacare." In a brilliant touch of artistic touchstone reference, the sign's artist had added reindeer horns to Obama, using a cleverly conceived Grandma Moses primitivist style. The typography left something to be desired, but the image of the president wreathed in reindeer regalia was rather striking.

But to bring the message home in a metaphorically coherent manner and to play off the gag song's title, I would have had it read, "Grandma Got Run Over by the Reign's Dear." I would then have rendered Obama not as a North Pole ungulate but as Kim Jong Il, North Korea's diminutive dictator, aka "Dear One." Obama with a Kimfro.

What could have been better? Obama portrayed as the leader of the most repressive Stalinist state on the planet.

Hey, I'm not a writer and an artist for nothing!

So, here's my standing offer to any individual or group planning to disrupt the next senatorial book signing or town hall meeting: Guys, for the most part, your signs need help. And I'm here to assist. My fee is a good healthcare plan with no preexisting-conditions clause.

--John A. Barry is a writer and aspiring artist. To share anything art-related, call him at 314-9528 or e-mail


Like this comment
Posted by Bob K
a resident of Diablo
on Aug 21, 2009 at 4:46 pm

John Barry
John, unfortunately we didn't have the government printing professionally made signs for us. Part of the fun is being creative and making your own. Sorry you didn't approve. There's a tea party in Pleasanton on Saturday. Perhaps you could bring some of your art and display it on the corner with us. Of course we might be critical.