Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008 Guam Political Sign Awards

I watched Shiro's Head: The Legend last week and one of the stupid jokes that I made with people, is that you can't really be sure it was filmed on Guam. As a film which is billed as the first Guam/local major motion picture this might seem stupid, but the joke is that for all the landscape they showed of Guam, there were no political signs!

For those of you who don't know why this is an issue, every two or four years (for some races) the roadsides of Guam become crowded with signs for Guam's legislative, mayoral, congressional and gubernatorial races. For most people on Guam, unless they have had the opportunity to meet a candidate at a funeral, party or other public event, these signs are the main way of "getting to know" the candidates. For some the candidate's face is most prominent, making what they are wearing, how their hair looks, or what kind of facial expression they are making crucial in determining whether people feel that they can trust/like this candidate or not trust them/dislike them. For others the candidates slogan is the main focus of the sign, because a well crafted or poorly selected slogan can quickly infect the population becoming something which defines your candidacy and public persona in either a positive or negative way. A good slogan will give your political career miles upon miles, and often times people will greet you or wave at you from their cars cheering you on with said slogan. A poor one will haunt you, become something that people jeer at you from their cars, or snicker when they whisper to each other after seeing you at a matai.

Political signs may be things which people complain about and pretend to not take seriously, but they are very much part of Guam's landscape, part of how people, "real" "ordinary" people make sense of the island, and either take seriously or not so seriously their role in Guam's democracy. But in another way, its a big part of the island's economy because the entire economy that goes into the designing, making and placing of signs and other campaign materials is huge. Like anywhere volunteers, family members, friends or other types of supporters are the ones who usually do your distributing, but sign, sticker, t-shirt companies on island all see huge spikes in their sales in the months preceding a November election. These political signs, may be things to dismiss, as I often hear people do, but they are very much a part of Guam's identity and so should be taken seriously.

That being said, I'd like to now do something hardly serious, since we are just a few weeks away from the election on Guam. I've been on Guam for more than a month now and been able to soak in from all around the island, all the different signs that are up, and I'd like to give out some awards for the best, the worse, funniest and ti na'chalek signs out there this year.

First some warnings. These awards are all meant to be jokes, and not meant to favor any particular candidate or party. I have no problem making fun of signs for people whom I support. Second, I've already noted that I think that these signs are important parts of the fabric of life on Guam and so don't take my teasing to imply that I think they are useless and a waste of money. Sure, it would be much better if everyone in a community or everyone on Guam were more involved and didn't vote based on shallow things, but until that changes, the signs should be out there. Third, these may not be funny to you so sorry, I've been told I have a stupid and silly sense of humor.

Without any more prep, No Rest for the Awake - Minagahet Chamorro is proud to present, the 2008 Guam Political Sign Awards.


1. Most Informative Award - Ernest Torres Chargualaf for Merizo Mayor

Campaign signs on Guam are known for being very short on information or particulars, but Ernest Chargualaf in his sign works very hard to insure that that criticism cannot be levelled against him. This sign is much simpler then an earlier version of the over-informative sign that Sedfrey Linsangan tried out the last few election cycles, which featured his picture and clip art images of his promises. For the people of Merizo who want to know what their candidate is planning, Chargualaf has put himself and his six proposals out there for all the see and remember. (For those of you who can't read them, his promises are: "Open the Youth Center." "Fix the Basketball Court Lights." "Maintain the Baseball Field." "Improve the Merizo Pier Park." "Address the Flooding Problem." "Open the Marine Preserve."

2. I'm Talking to You Award - Eddie Baza Calvo Re-election for Guam Senator

The point of these signs is to try and "talk" to the voters. To communicate the link to the voters driving by your signs, you usually have a friendly image and a catchy message. The friendly image is usually punctuated by a chinalek or smile. In this sign however, Eddie Calvo is taking the idea of talking to voters very seriously and literally, as it almost seems like he is listening to you as you drive by, with his eyebrows raised signifying that he understanding your concerns and pain, and his lips poised ready to respond. It is interesting how much emphasis in political ad and consulting is put on "connecting" with voters, connecting with low information, average people. Sarah Palin was chosen as VP primarily because she was thought to appeal to "regular" people the way Bush did, as someone they would want to hang out with. Bush was infamous for being one of those jerky guys that would be great to be around when you're plastered, because he was the guy you could dare to do anything. With Calvo's sign, he is communicating to you that he wants to hang out, but it is a much more intimate, personal and therapeutic message. He will as Bill Clinton made famous, "feel your pain," and listen to your problems.

3. The American Flag Sign Award - Doug Moylan for Guam Senator

When making any campaign materials, you've always got a few options dictated by region and national imagination in terms of what sorts of shapes, colors, words and images you can use to create catchy and memorable signs or logos. When in an American state or colony and running for public office, the obvious colors, shapes and images that you can draw from are your state, territorial and national flags. Which means that "American" political candidates tend to use alot of aga'ga', apa'ka yan asut (red, white and blue) in their signs and Doug Moylan's signs might as well be American flags with his picture on it. When I first saw his signs that don't have his picture on them, I thought for a moment that Stephen Colbert was running for the Legislature on Guam.

4. The Local Award - B.J. Cruz Re-Election for Guam Senator

For candidates on Guam, they can make use of the national American collection of icons in designing their signs, or they can use more local imagery when trying to capture people's imaginations and votes (karabao, latte, canoes, the Guam flag). The slingstone part from the Guam flag is one of the key images that several candidates are using this election and have used in past elections. While most try to duplicate the colors scheme and look of the slingstone, B.J. Cruz stands out for making a more "local" tattoo inspired version of the slingstone, even making the "J" in his name appear like a haguet or fish hook.

5. The REAL Local Award - Vicente Taitague for Talo'fo'fo' Mayor

I gave Senator B.J. Cruz the local award for his less formal, more indigenous-looking take on the slingstone icon which is huge on Guam. But the "real" local award has to go to Vicente Taitague for his campaign signs, which not only indicates that he is the "real" mayor that Talo'fo'fo' needs, but also uses an even more grassroots, local image, coming direct from i gualo' or i lancho, watermelons or chandiha. Let me make myself clear, these signs are a whole different level of awesome. I would like to see more signs like this in the future, with less pandering sorts of images, but signs which are probably more directly linked to the person running for office. For instance, if my grandfather were running for Senator today, he might have advisers (like me or grandma) who might tell him what sort of things he should put there to connect to people. He might listen to us, but if it were up to grandpa, he would have two big machetes on his sign and probably a fosinos too.

6. Guam ID/Heavy Equipment Operator License Award - Don Weakley for the Consolidated Commission on Utilities.

There are plenty of different ways to design the layout of your campaign sign, but one of least appealing ways of doing it is this version from Don Weakley, which when I first saw it, swore that it was just a blown up picture of his license to operate heavy equipment or his Guam ID. And although this sort of design might indicate a laziness or a simplicity of mind, it could in reality be a mark of poise and grace. After all, if this sign was his Guam ID or his drivers license and he was in Tiyan or at DMV and he was able to sit for that picture on it, which looks like a Josten's glamor shot, then he is someone we should take a look at. In case any of you ever get to see my ID photos, I look like terrorists in all of them. If I were to make a campaign sign featuring my UCSD ID, my California driver's license or even my US Passport, Homeland Security would receive a huge spike in calls from Guam reporting sightings of Osama Bin Laden. (I look nothing like Osama Bin Laden)

7. The Mafnas Award - Tom Ada for Guam Senator

For people who have been in politics on Guam for years, decades, you don't have to design or make new signs every single election cycle, you can usually keep using the same ones over and over again, and voters might actually find it comforting to see those signs as a sign of your consistency and reliability. But if your signs have been out there for a while and have begun to obviously mafnas (fade), then it might be time to invest in some new signs. Tom Ada's stick out amongst all other repeat signs this year as the most faded. If he puts up the same signs two years from now, they'll either become sepia or black and white. (update: Tom Ada has some new signs out, I just saw them when I was driving around today)

8. The Delay of Guam Award - Jesse Anderson Lujan Re-Election for Guam Senator

I'm surprised how many people I've spoken to about this sign didn't realize it, and so for a while I felt a little crazy, as if I was the only one who could perceive this slight crack in reality. Jesse Anderson Lujan has some huge signs up around the island which feature either him looking very leaderly or feature his kids looking very sporty (in soccer clothes, a basketball jersey, bats and balls) and hanging out with him. One of his signs shows him and his kids, tossing around a baseball and a soccer ball, and is brought together with the slogan "He Won't Drop the Ball." Every once in a while Lujan impresses me, with his words and deeds, but I sincerely hope that he does drop that soccer ball, because the metaphor doesn't quiet work unless he does. As a soccer ball is meant to be dropped and then kicked around.

9. To Boldly Go Where No One Else Will Go Award - Ray Tenorio for Re-Election for Guam Senator

Ray Tenorio has shown in recent years a clear commitment to running a very consistent and very wide-spread campaign for his re-election, blanketing not just the roadsides of Guam but also radio and television. Its possible that he isn't the most pervasive voice out there campaigning, but he regularly feels like he is. In a bold move, Ray Tenorio even has signs in a place where most politicians don't bother to set up and that's in Tumon. Senator Tenorio also deserves a special mention for winning the Taifinakpo' yan Taihinekhok Award for finding a way to beat the human limits of sleep and work in reaching the average driver/voter on Guam. The ITC Intersection in Tamuning, a common place for politicians to gather and wave, by themselves or with supporters at those driving by. Although every once in a while you can see Ray Tenorio there waving, he has discovered a way so that he can literally wave at that corner 24/7. On one of the big electric billboards there, you can see a video of Ray Tenorio actually waving at you at any hour of the day. Pues i hiniyong este na, on some days of the week, leading up to the election, Guam becomes like a Twilight Zone episode at the ITC intersection, because you'll see two Ray Tenorios waving at you and staring at you with their hard-working eyes.

10. The Cutest Sign Award - Vicente Gumataotao for Re-Election Piti Mayor

Mayoral candidates get alot more freedom and can be much more cute, down to earth and less polished in their signs than senatorial, congressional or gubernatorial candidates. Such is the case with Vicente Gumataotao's re-election signs which feature a large-headed, very kinute caricature of him driving in a car. I don't know much about the village of Piti or its Mayor, but if I was an incredibly low information and taitiningo' yan ti tomtom na voter, I would consider moving to Piti just because of the cuteness of this ad. As you can see from the ads on this list, there is a sort of professional format for how you make these ads, and its always very interesting when people decide to make bold, silly, stupid or just plain cute choices otherwise. Incidentally, the style of drawing really reminds me of editorial cartoons from the PDN in the 70's. So I wonder who actually drew the mayor and his car.

11. The Bubulao Award - Frank Blas Jr. Re-election for Guam Senator

When I say bubulao, I don't mean the area in Talo'fo'fo' but rather the Chamorro word meaning "scary." I know that taking good pictures for ads can be an insane process, and sometimes no matter how many you take none of them seem inos or just right. For all ads you try to convey a particular message/emotion or particular group of positive, comforting, trustworthy emotions. I don't know what they were shooting for with this very tight, very close image of the candidate, but it looks a little scary too me. There are a lot of metaphors or cultural icons or forms that I could connect this image to in order to convey the sort of discomfort that this image causes in me. But I'll leave it up to you to perceive its weirdness. In sum, not only is it not a very good picture, but its also a creepy one.

12. The ONE Award - David Shimizu for Re-Election for Guam Senator

If you look at all of David Shimizu's signs and ads this year, you'll find a distinctive "glow" surrounding his head and his smile. In the ads he has showing at King's Restaurant, he has the same mystical glow with a swirling galaxy behind him. In this ad, the glow is almost angelic, almost as if Shimizu belongs to the langhet and is a gift from the heavens. I know that politics and ideology intersect at the point where you either identify solutions for society's current problems or point out who they are caused by, and implicitly offer up yourself as the ideal person, the subtle savior who can either implement the solutions or punish those evildoers! Shimizu seems to be taking this point a bit too far with his Messiah-like-glow. I don't know whether or not this was intentional, perhaps Shimizu's artists were inspired by the debate that went on in the states a few months ago between Obama and McCain's campaigns over who was a real celebrity and who was the "one" the Messiah that the American people were waiting for.

13 - The Taya' Salape Award or the Real Grassroots Award - Dan Sanchez for Umatac Mayor.

If I was running for office and making my own signs, with my meager financial resources and my minahmalao in asking for donations or money, I would probably end up doing what Dan Sanchez is doing, literally making his own signs. Throughout Umatac village you can see several of his signs, each of which features letters or images which are placed on planks of wood by nails or thumb tacks. I am not giving this award to tease or draw attention to the poor quality of these signs, far from it. They are an important reminder that while we may dismiss these signs as being slick, polished, lies by rich people, there are still plenty of people out there who are struggling with less resources but are still trying to push their way into the political process. I eagerly await voting for someone who is running for governor of Guam and makes their own signs in this way.

14. Most Creative Award - Jonathan Diaz for Non-Voting Delegate

I apologize for not writing more about Jonathan Diaz's candidacy earlier this fall. He rose plenty of issues that needed to be raised and ended up with far more support than anyone thought possible. I have some personal problems with Jonathan that I shouldn't say too much about, that kept me from publicly and forcefully supporting his campaign, even though much of his platform would be my own if I were to run. But that won't stop me from giving him the award for having the most creative sign. As you've seen from most of the award so far, most of the signs are simple text with a photo of the candidate. Any artwork is usually very low-key, clip-art like, not very expressive or interesting. Diaz's signs with their call for "Revolution" feature a very apt and very expressive image of arms, fists and flags raised in response.


Josie said...

This is such a great post!

Michael Lujan Bevacqua said...

Si Yu'us Ma'ase Josie. I'm glad you liked it. I think its important to celebrate the noble silliness of our island.


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