Friday, October 10, 2014

A Political Storm is Coming

Driving around the past few days was surreal. It wasn’t because of the change in the air due to the storm. It wasn’t because of the eerie clouds that have been hanging around lately. It was because of something that for a day or two largely disappeared from the island’s landscape, political signs. Si Yu’us Ma’ase to all the candidates who pulled their signs down during the most recent storm warning. It is one thing to have people use your signs as plywood after an election is over, it is another entirely to have your signs appear on Facebook or Instagram after one of them was thrown into someone’s windshield by wannabe-typhoon-force-winds.

After months of watching these signs multiple faster than rhino beetles and brown tree snakes put together. After months of watching these signs, like gladiators bravely clash at street corners, in neighborhoods and in empty fields, using cut up American flags, partially hidden Guam seals and plenty of platitudes as their weapons, they all seemed to fall, vanquished. Some were whisked away, others dropped and tied to the ground. At the command of Emperor Vongfong, the election year seemed to disappear from the average driver’s eyeline. 

I’m in the mood for writing about political signs because each election year on island I give out my “Guam Political Sign Awards.” Prior to the election I travel around the island taking pictures of every single sign my eyes can find, taking note of the different types of signs that candidates have and the ways they use words and images and colors to appeal to voters. There is an art to sign-making and sign-placing. Some signs exemplify this political astuteness very well. They are the end result of ideological alchemy, taking a series of symbols and statements, which on their own which don’t amount to much, and transform them into visual-vote-getting-gold. Most signs however don’t show much of this. In fact most signs simply combine two flags in the background with a candidate smiling in front of them.

There is no rigorous scientific method to how candidates win my political sign awards. There is no panel of judges, no real criteria, in truth I make most of them up, and sometimes others will submit recommendations. There is no real set list of awards, they are created to match the signs that are offered each election year. The awards can comment on anything related to the signs. They can comment on where they are placed. They can comment on the imagery that is used, the visage of the candidate. The slogans used or other information that is sometimes ingeniously or randomly plastered on signs.

I often like to comment on the use of Chamorro in signs, especially since Chamorro elements are becoming less and less a part of general political campaigning on island. Traditionally, as part of each election there is at least one candidate who utilizes the Chamorro network of family names or clan nicknames in their signage. It is still common for many candidates to use this on the ballets, reminding you at the last possible second that you could be related to them. But in by-the-road-signs they are becoming less and less common. In 2010 I gave Joe Shimizu San Agustin the “Family Reunion Award” for being the candidate who most visibly invoked his clan lineage. In his larger signs he made sure to mention his membership in the Candido, Queto, Lencho and Kacha clans.

In 2012 I gave Adolpho Palacios the “Best Family Award” for his use of family photos in his ads. Many candidates will have pictures of them with their spouses, with their children, in settings that range from glossy glamor photo shoots to casual beachcombing. In my column two years ago I explained my rationale for giving him the award as follows: “His family of five is dressed in beautiful red, white and blue Hawaiian print shirts. They are smiling and warm and appear to not just be a Senator’s family, but also perhaps a musical family from the 70’s that drive around Guam in a red, white and blue van and perform at village fiestas! In their spare time I imagine them solving mysteries as well.”

Over the years I’ve also given awards for the following, to the following: The Mirror, Mirror Award (Bill Taitague and Dennis Rodriguez), The When I Grow Up I Wanna Be an American Flag Award (Doug Moylan), The Two Wrongs and One Right Don’t Make a Right Award (Javier Atalig), The Senator in a Box Award (Frank Blas Jr.), The Sedfrey Linsangan Award (Jose Santos Servino), The Guam ID/Heavy Equipment Operator License Award (Don Weakley) and The Mafnas Award (Tom Ada).

The Bromance Award I give to all male Gubernatorial teams that uses images of both candidates in their signs and creates the best sense of synergy between them. So far this year most of the signs for Gutierrez/Gumataotao don’t feature the candidates themselves and those that do aren’t very visually interesting. For their signs, Calvo/Tenorio has the two candidates looking in two different directions in a way that makes them look more like a poster for a 80’s kids movie about Guam being visited by friendly aliens, than a political team. We shall see if anyone can create a true bromantic visual statement in last month of campaigning.

I’ll post my awards for this year after the election. In the meantime there are plenty of candidate forums to attend this month. I’d like to plug a Female Candidate Forum that is being organized by the Women and Gender Studies Program at UOG and co-sponsored by the Chamorro Studies Program. This forum will take place on Tuesday, October 21 from 5:30 – 6:30 at the CLASS Lecture Hall at UOG. You can learn more about it on the UOG Women and Gender Studies Program page on Facebook.

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