The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 24, 2006


Political signs and civility

Yes, the political season is over, but there are concerns we must address before another election is upon us. I was glad to read in last week's Mosquito that the Selectmen are discussing the possibility of limiting the size of political signs. The huge signs put up by members of both parties were distracting for those driving on Carlisle roads. They were unattractive, they don't fit in with the rural character of the town, and may have even lost support for the touted candidates.

Unfortunately, our zoning bylaws' limits on sign sizes (9-by-24-inch at a dwelling, or 36-by-48-inch on properties with other uses) are not approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General as applied to political signs, which are considered an expression of protected free speech. Two years from now will we see 20-by-30-foot billboards? So the question is: What is the approvable size limit for political signs? The Selectmen should find out. By the way, having members of both major political parties on the Board of Selectmen should have nothing to do with regulation of political ads in Carlisle.

But the size and positioning of these signs did not warrant the vandalism that occurred. Two years ago, during the presidential election, the Democrats' "Burma Shave" signs were run over or pulled down. A sign supporting the Republican party on a Bedford Road fence was spray-painted.

As Mark Green said so well in his Forum article last week (Mosquito, November 17), "The challenge of effective public discourse is to maintain the respect for opposing views even while working to defeat them. Without respect for the opposition, advocates are prone to dismissive or even derisive descriptions of it, igniting anger in the targets of their disrespect. That anger, in turn, tempts responses in kind, and the cycle continues — or escalates."

Certainly there are property rights and a need for people to express their opinions, but when people go overboard with putting up oversized signs and tearing down or destroying signs, it is time for the community to take a serious look at itself.

Remembrance of things past

Now that the tumult of electioneering has died down in Carlisle, it seems time to reflect on certain aspects of campaigning. Those readers who happen to know where I live will have noticed that in the run-up to voting there were two huge signs in front of my house announcing that Healey and Hillman were in the race for governor. Similar signs were on display at the polling place, and, of course, the Democratic adversaries had their signs, too. But it is hard to believe that anyone's vote is swayed by these signs. Do they really make a difference? The theory, I am told, is simply name recognition. People vote for people they have heard of, regardless of what those people stand for or say they will do. Perhaps better put, people don't vote for people they haven't heard of.

Maybe that's all it takes to succeed in politics or in business. It's a depressing thought, but it is reinforced by my recollections of other advertising campaigns designed only for brand recognition. One of the most memorable for me is an ad for Gillette razors that used to appear regularly in the Sunday comics section. In it, a youngish man who has been lost overnight in the woods is rescued by an older man who just happens to have a small lodge nearby, where his youngish daughter, wearing a rather tight sweater, just happens to be. Naturally, the younger man needs a shave, which was indicated by coloring the bearded portion of his face purple.

After they have returned to the lodge, the older man suggests that the younger man may want to clean up before dinner and offers to lend him some clothes and his razor, while his daughter looks on indifferently. We then see the young man shaving himself (changing from purple to pink) while bubbles come out of his head, saying, something like "Boy, this really is a smooth shave." Finally — this is the clincher and the whole point of the strip — the young man, shaven and in clean clothes, enters the sitting room where bubbles come out of the young woman's head, saying "My, he really is handsome!" Even as a youngster, I could see that she was a nitwit. I mean, if you can't see a guy is buff just because he didn't shave, you have a serious hang-up.

Another comic-strip ad in the same era involved a guy meeting a woman to whom he is obviously attracted — until he takes a gander at her hands, which are reddened from doing dishes. Bubbles come out of his head, saying "Hands like LOBSTER CLAWS!" This, apparently, is a terrific turn-off for him, and they part. Fortunately, an older woman intervenes and tells the girl about Ivory Soap, which allegedly does not redden hands, and soon the guy returns and a beautiful friendship blossoms. Well, really. If this guy has such a hang-up about red hands, he is a nitwit, too, and in my opinion the girl would be better off without him. Or perhaps he should have sought out the nitwit girl in the Gillette ad.

I can't see that modern advertising is any more edifying; if anything, it is less so. And yet there is no denying that it works, for I still remember the products that were the subject of all that inanity. That's why I voted for whosit.


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2006 The Carlisle Mosquito