Now that the national conventions have concluded and the
confetti has been swept away, a few thoughts linger about their
imagery. Although much has been written about the campaign graphics
used by both parties, a particular focus has been placed on a new
demographic: hockey moms. With the GOP convention labeled a “hit”
by some and a “disaster” by others, those handwritten “Hockey Moms
for Palin” signs, standing out among the hordes of commercially
printed McCain/Palin fliers held high by their beaming delegates,
fall into the latter category.
A “hockey mom” at the Republican National Convention (photo:
Joe Raedle/Getty Images).
When I first noticed those arts-and-craftsy creations, I didn't
give them much thought. But now, it strikes me how, well, juvenile
they are: large, rectangular pieces of white paperboard with
letters painted on in red and blue, in a scrawl seemingly done by a
preschooler who has barely learned how to write the letters “S” and
What does that say about the hockey moms? Should we assume they
made the signs, or that Junior was asked to create them, to proudly
display his artistic (dis)abilities? The truth is that no one—at
either convention—is allowed to bring their own signs. Instead
“handmade” signs are made by the hands of others, and then are
handed out to the people you see at the convention. For the hockey
someone made their signs to resemble either the handiwork of an
innocent child or an overworked, exhausted parent.
A misspelled sign captured by NBC News.
Those who create these signs are unlikely to be professional
artists. But why do they lack even the basic ability to determine
how large or small a few words must be written to fill up a page
and seem to have used their non-dominant hand (or foot) to paint
these very important words—leaving the signs looking so utterly
careless? Despite the patriotic colors of the words—nearly always
red and blue—the beautiful hues of the flag do little to mask the
shoddiness of those signs. In fact, words are occasionally
misspelled, such as “Mavrick.”
The term “hockey mom” (see also “soccer mom”) implies a woman
with several children, each one involved in several extracurricular
activities. She exhausts herself making sandwiches and chauffeuring
each child from game to lesson, smiling all the while. She has
little time for herself or for something as unimportant as a lil'
ol' sign for a lil' ol' convention. Or at least, that is the image
that's being portrayed.
Perhaps if those multitalented, multitasking hockey moms made
their own signs, they would look a lot better. I can only imagine
that a parent who helps a child with homework, art and science
projects and the like, would know how to write big letters on a big
sheet of paper and make it look halfway decent.
Holding up a sign that looks messy, to some, seems to convey a
feeling of home-sweet-home simplicity. But as a woman, I find it
insulting that proud hockey moms would be expected to display bad
design to represent themselves. It's an image that I don't care to
see in 2008—a year in which one mom ran for president and another
is running for vice president. The “Gee, I'm just a mom, so this
here finger-painted sign is all I really know how to do. Now,
won'tcha vote for my guy?” story feels tired and outdated. In this
era, women should elevate themselves and represent themselves with
pride, not unprofessionalism. With elections today being so
visually appealing and slick, these signs seem like a throwback
(and a setback).
An array of “handmade” signs at the RNC (photos:
I'm not saying these signs have to be designed by an artist,
embossed in metallic ink and framed. Just make it look good for
national, and international, television. This is how an entire
demographic is being represented to the country and beyond. I would
think the organizers of the convention, as well as the moms, hold
their candidate in higher regard. Although audiences may be charmed
by their uncontrived appearance (being unaware, of course, that the
signs were created for them, rather than by them), I
think we can do better.
Design matters on all levels, especially to women. Hockey moms
thoughtfully design their homes and yards to portray a positive
image. They dress their children well and maintain their own
appearance. So, when they appear in front of many millions of
viewers, that same positive image should be portrayed. (Could you
imagine if, say, the “for sale” sign on their homes had the same
elementary-school approach?) Convention organizers should realize
Michigan hockey moms (photo: Marina Castillo).
Maybe I'm jumping way too deep into the psyche of viewers. But
on the other hand, that's just what psychology in advertising
attempts to do: make a subconscious impact. It's like product
placement, hoping viewers unwittingly choose to drink a Pepsi after
seeing Brad Pitt with a cool one on a movie screen. In fact, what
is a political convention but a four-day advertisement for each
party and each brand of American?
That said, if we continue to act as though hockey moms are
really hokey and unsophisticated, then we're dumbing down the image
of everyday women everywhere. As a woman, a voter and a viewer, I'd
like to see better—for myself, this country and for the sake of
The political season, as in sports, is a marathon, not a sprint, loaded with replays, commentaries, cheers and cries of foul. Barringer referees from home.
Section: Inspiration -
Richard Grefé outlines what AIGA is doing to advocate on behalf of designers and how “change” can be more than just a campaign slogan.
Section: About AIGA -
AIGA Insight, election design, governance
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