issue 5: introduction
It’s that time of year when the symbols begin to pile up on top of one another. In October, skeletons and scarecrows joined BLM signs and American flags. Soon after, turkeys and pilgrim hats appeared. Some skeletons still remained. Now Christmas decorations coexist with totems of their pagan origins. Signs proclaim IN THIS HOUSE WE BELIEVE: SCIENCE IS REAL, as helium Santas loom.
Lawn statements rarely provoke deep consideration of, or reverence for, the subject. They’re decorative. Like bumper stickers, or those rubber-eraser-looking charms used to decorate Crocs — something I see often but just learned are called Jibbitz —these projections fight for power and attention in our cluttered visual landscape.
Our projections and proclamations are at their best when in close proximity to, even conflict with, one another. The ceramic virgin Mary and the half-deflated cartoon turkey expose one another’s’ vulnerabilities and illuminate one another’s’ relative strengths.
The juxtaposition of competing signs exposes the impotence of symbolic language in general. In the same way, the displays’ seasonal nature appears to expose a weakness of linear time itself.
Take, for instance, the anthropomorphized cartoon turkey above, styled in a football uniform, dwarfing a nearby Virgin Mary statue. Mary’s depiction wouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Catholicism. Though mysteriously white for her region of origin, she is rendered somewhat faithfully to her depiction in the Bible. The inflated turkey has much more distance from its own mythological origins. It is ten times its usual size, clothed, cross-eyed, and smiling. And it has subsumed another story’s context into its presentation: the association of Thanksgiving with college football. An alien or unacquainted visitor might interpret this presentation as mocking or sacrilegious. But each symbol doesn’t, and shouldn’t, contain the whole of its history. To smile at the image is not to suggest that its contents are totally incompatible. The pile-up of symbols exceeds the sum of its parts, not as a coherent whole, but as a beautifully incoherent one.