Signs and Stories

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a crude spray-paint job on Dino Rossi’s name
on the large campaign sign in the yard of an insurance place near where I work.
The McCain/Palin sign had a penis painted on it.

Yesterday, I noticed that our neighbor’s Obama/Biden sign had been torn up
and the pieces thrown into the gutter and the bushes.

I will probably never know what motivated the sign-destroyers. But I’m inclined
to imagine what motivated them, to construct a little narrative in my head.
I imagine that the people destroying the Republican signs were 14-year-old-boys
on a tagging mission, with no political motivations at all, and the signs simply
attracted them by being larger than most campaign signs, like little billboards,
the kind of campaign signs you see along the highway. Or maybe they think McCain is a creepy old
guy and Sarah Palin is hot, which might explain the penis. Or maybe they actually
do have nascent political leanings, albeit clumsily and stupidly expressed in
14-year-old-boy fashion.

(The part of the narrative I don’t get is why the insurance place has left
the defaced signs in place — does it please their sense of aggrieved self-righteousness
to look at the spray-painted penis and think “that, that’s exactly what
those horrible Obama supporters are like.”? Or are they, like, really old
and out of touch and they haven’t even noticed? Maybe the insurance place has
already gone out of business, and the signs were actually put there by whoever
puts them up all along the highway and nobody really takes care of those, so
now I have to go see if the insurance place is open for business because I’m
curious. And who puts those highway signs up anyway? Large vacant lots are running
90 percent for Dino Rossi!)

I’m having more trouble imagining the Obama sign-destroyer. Was it one of those
deeply angry people you see shouting “terrorist! Kill him!” at McCain/Palin
rallies? But how did that person end up in downtown Bellingham? In a college
neighborhood? Was it a college Young Republican (do they even have those anymore?)
drunk, wandering the streets in a daze, able to focus only on his visceral loathing
of the very shape of the letters that make up Obama’s name? Or maybe there were
a few of them, roaming the streets in a pack, and they dared each other?

And I’ve been kind of assuming that the sign-destroyers were male, but maybe
they weren’t. The spray-painters, almost certainly, but what if the Obama-sign-destroyer
was female? In fact, what if she was a deeply committed Hillary Clinton supporter
who was simply overcome with sudden rage because the sign didn’t say Hillary/Whoever?

In fact, it’s easier for me to imagine a drunken college student as an enraged
Hillary supporter, rather than as an enraged McCain supporter. So, now, that’s
the person I imagine doing it, and now I’m kind of amused to imagine her as
a women’s-studies major who was deliberately trying to get in touch with her
female anger power and maybe now she is deeply embarrassed to have done such
a thing, especially because now she is a litterbug as well as a vandal, and
now she will go up to their house with a new Obama sign and apologize and make
friends and vote for Obama after all, so, yay! Happy ending!

Of course, I am just making all that up.

But, making stuff up is what humans do. Our perception of reality is largely
narrative-based.We make up stories ourselves, and we turn to the people around
us for assistance in constructing narratives. We turn to the media. News outlets
are less about informing us of facts than they are about supplying a coherent
reality narrative. These narratives are, usually, sort of, based on facts. But
our brains probably don’t care. Studies on how memory works seem to reveal that
our brains don’t automatically make a distinction between fiction and
non-fiction. We don’t store it in a different place or recall it any differently.
A non-fiction narrative simply has an additional “this really happened!”

The four people in the presidential race right now are, in fact, real people*,
but in our minds they are characters. Even people we know really well are, sort
of, characters to us. People we have never met can hardly be anything else.
We cast them as this, we cast them as that — there are the roles we want them
to play, the roles they choose to play, and the roles they succeed in playing.

I think Republicans wanted McCain to play the role of elder statesman, but
he hasn’t really done that — in fact, he hasn’t picked a consistent role to
play — and so they are finding it hard to support him, because in the absence
of a positive role to play, he has sort of defaulted to playing the doddering
old fool. Instead, the role of elder statesman is being played by Joe Biden.
Sarah Palin is playing Boudicca, the Warrior Queen defending the homeland against
foreign invaders.This role is rather unnerving to people, because in this play
“foreign invaders” are not only actual foreign invaders, but also
anybody who is not a Republican.Still, she is an interesting character. She
is such an interesting character that there are many people who see her as the
hero of the piece, but only if they agree with her definition of “foreign
invaders.” Other people see her as a likely candidate for villain.

(I think maybe Hillary Clinton was playing an American Democrat version of
Margaret Thatcher. Maybe?)

Obama is playing the role of how we like to remember John F. Kennedy — after
the announcement of the space program, say, before we all knew about Marilyn
Monroe. He’s playing Kennedy only better, a dream of Kennedy, what we wanted
him to be, what we made him — a symbol of our youthful optimism, our technical
know-how, our can-do spirit. He’s not only playing Kennedy-only-better, he’s
inviting us to play along, to play 1960-Americans-only-better. Better, because
this time, post civil rights and feminism, everybody gets to play. Whether Obama
wins the election or not — whether he becomes president or not — he is playing
the hero in this story.

Unless you think Palin is actually the hero, in which case Obama becomes the
false hero, the villain with the smiling face who acts like the hero, but he’ll
betray you in the final scene.

*Except possibly Sarah Palin. I think she might be a robot.

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  1. I postulate that Sarah Palin, whether she is biologically human or an android, operates not very differently from ELIZA. But instead of being programmed to ask questions and assume the role of a therapist, she’s been programmed to answer questions and assume the role of a candidate.

    1. Author

      Ha! The ELIZA comparison is funny. I’ve been thinking specifically the Buffybot, because of Palin’s frightening level of perkiness.

  2. I wanted to pee on the exact sign that you’re talking about, the insurance agency one, mostly because their sign (and their neighbor’s) is garishly huge, and secondarily because of what the sign represents. HOWEVER, my friend John and I believe in the First Amendment, and so kept our pants closed as we passed. Maybe the fourteen year olds will calm down later…

    And this post was rad.

    1. Author

      I understand.

      I don’t have the guy urge to *literally* pee on things, but I have a big black Sharpie that gets itchy sometimes.

      But, like you, I am no longer 14, and I already know that I would regret defacing the sign. Because I don’t want people defacing my sign. Which is why the First Amendment has to work like that.

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