Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Announcing the 2012 Guam Political Sign Awards

A familiar creature has returned to the roadsides of Guam. For some, as they see the beasts lurking beside the road they may feel as if it is too soon. It was not too long ago that these beasts came to blight the land, and it cannot already be time for their return! But for others these creatures are things of beauty; who stand like quiet sentinels and brighten the days of those who pass by. These creatures come in many forms, their plumes multicolored, and their shrieks filled with familiar refrains and friendly sound bytes. The creatures I am of course referring to as the political signs for this year’s election season.

In times past, for most of the island, the next few months would be the highlight of everyone’s year. Families and friends would band together for months under the banner of Popular or Territorial, Democrat or Republican and waste the weeks away at pocket meetings and fundraisers. Naturally there was always a lot of bitterness and animosity during this period, but it gave everyone for a few months exciting things to do and exciting things to talk about. The point of politics is the same as ideology in general, it gives you meaning to life, and not just any meaning, but positive and negative meaning. Through politics you get a system for blaming a certain segment of the population for all the bad things, as well as a system for crediting another part with all the good things.

Nowadays the family and social networks that made politics fun and such an essential part of life have been diminished severely. Electoral participation was very high in the past, but has declined quite a bit. Part of the Americanization of Guam has been the development voter apathy and so now people look to a future election in the same way they look to paying taxes or having root canals.

I enjoy election seasons for many reasons, but political signs are the deliciously decadent icing on an already gof mangge na cake. I enjoy them so much that since 2008 I’ve given out awards to candidates for the political signs that are the most interesting, most ridiculous and sometimes the most inspiring/creative. After seeing the first crop of signs being erected, I’m certain that this is going to be a fun year. I’m really looking forward to spending a day sometime in October wandering around the island with my camera and a notebook. I’ll publicize the results sometime in November through both my Marianas Variety column and my blog No Rest for the Awake.

The award categories are ones that I create myself and I change them every election based on what sorts of signs are created. There is an art to the creating of political signs that most people don’t realize. First there is the crafting of the message. How do you say something that is memorable, inoffensive, not stupid, inspiring, simple and deep all at the same time? Few candidates can ever create a slogan that even comes close to all of these characteristics, but it is fun to watch everyone try.

What images do you use in combination with your message? Your picture? Your family picture? Pictures of your pet dog? Everyone feels compelled to force mate the American flag and the Guam flag into what becomes a gruesome hybrid, but what other sorts of images and colors can you use? How much are you willing to risk in designing your sign? Depending on these combination of elements you may create a work of political art that defines the election; or you may create something that people send to each other on Facebook with captions about how silly you are. You also have to deal with the “nickname” or “fina’na’an” factor. If you are Chamorro with lots of relatives, do you want to remind them about your connection?  In times past this was the best way to try to transform yourself from a lesser known to a well-known candidate. But nowadays it is less and less common as a more “corporate” and sleeker approaches to campaigning and messaging are dominant.

Once you have the sign itself it then becomes an issue of where you put it. Where will most people drive by it? Where will they see it when they are in the best frame of mind and so they won’t associate any negative feelings they are having about life or traffic with your smiling face? Where is it least likely to be spray painted or knocked down?

If you have any suggestions for signs that I should consider giving an award please feel free to email me ( Be sure to mention the candidate, where the sign is, and why you think it deserves an award. 

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