D.C. voting rights signs: Pros and cons
You've seen them: "Congress: Don't Tread on DC!"
The orange-and-white lawn signs are making their way around town as quickly as reports of the congressional meddling that inspired them. Herewith, a binary assessment.
The signs are clear about their intended audience. This message needs to be in front of the country's lawmakers, the people who might be inclined to defy it. With that in mind, says Ramsay, DC Vote has tried to "have them focused on the Capitol Hill area."
Good move, though they've started to sprawl onto non-Capitol Hill corridors, including 16th Street NW, Connecticut Avenue, and other spots. Thus positioned, the signs presumably do more to rally the espirit de corps of city voters than to shame lawmakers. And think about it: The reps and senators who most often ply D.C. corridors are those that serve the jurisdictions adjacent to the city. People like Jim Moran (D-Va.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Yeah, those folks are always treading on the District.
A common punctuation mark usually doesn't stir up a lot of feelings. Yet when Ramsay was asked why DC Vote had decided to include an exclamation point in its new signs, she went all corporate PR.
"I can't really discuss the internal conversations here," said Ramsay.
When pressed on whether anyone at DC Vote may have objected, she replied, "I wouldn't say there was a debate — no."
That's too bad. Happy Birthday and Oklahoma are things that benefit from the addition of an exclamation point. A stern, finger-wagging rebuke of the country's most powerful deliberative body, however, does not.
In the entire history of the republic, there's never been a worse time to deploy the exclamation mark. Though blogs aren't to blame for the decline of journalism or for a downgrade in the public dialogue, they sure are culprits in the trivialization of "!" Sentences, phrases, clauses, and words that decades ago would have been punctuated with a period or semicolon get caboosed with the exclamation point.
The result is that no one fears an exhortation or vocative outburst that ends with an exclamation point. It's too joyous, too playful, a piece of punctuation to carry any serious meaning.
Take a look at the 18th Century design that gave birth to all this threatening language.
Now imagine that with an exclamation point. What a joke.
Compared to some other campaign signs we've seen in the District, DC Vote’s are pretty solid. They’re easy to read. It’s a fairly clean, eye-catching design. We’re not experts, though, so we had to track down one.
Bill Hillsman, founder of North Woods Advertising, knows his stuff. His former client list includes former Minn. Gov. Jesse Ventura, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), and former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty. When asked what he thought about the signs, Hillsman said he was less than impressed.
“The newest design is positively dreadful from a design standpoint,” Hillsman wrote in an e-mail. “In mass marketing and advertising, we've know for a long time that good design sells and communicates (for instance, an emphasis on good design is what's made Target into the retail success story they are). But political communications seem to always have the worst graphic design you can find outside of a used car lot.”
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