Billboards Amp the Voice of Full-Throated Protest and Politics

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Cornish hen for inmates, but no pay for federal prison guards.

When circumstances require an exclamation, billboards deliver.

Around the world – from small-town Kentucky to Nanjing to London to the site of the 2019 Super Bowl (Atlanta) – billboards give voice to protest, politics, and pranksters.

In Kentucky, billboard messages plead with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to end the government shutdown.

“It’s outrageous,” says a union representing unpaid prison guards affected by the shutdown, that “inmates are cashing their checks and feasting on roast beef and Cornish hen.”

Before frustrated prison guards displayed their message on billboards, the Democratic Coalition was exclaiming on billboards in Kentucky “End the shutdown now!”

In 2016, candidate Donald Trump carried Kentucky with nearly 63 percent. His insistence on building a wall at the Mexican border, which triggered partial shutdown of the federal government, resonates with many Kentucky voters.

“I don’t want Mitch McConnell to cave on this,” says retiree Mike Bickers of Lexington.


After NLF refs missed a late-game pass-interference call in the New Orleans Saints versus Los Angeles Rams play-off game January 20, die-hard Saints fan Matt Bowers said his wife and kids cried as they left the stadium. The narrow playoff loss eliminated the Saints from the Super Bowl.

Bowers, a car dealer from New Orleans, quickly channeled his emotions into a series of protest billboard messages in metro Atlanta, host city of the Super Bowl on February 3 (Los Angeles Rams versus New England Patriots).

Fleurs-de-lis bordered billboards voice football fans’ frustrations

“I’m going to humiliate and harass and embarrass (the NLF) leading up to the Super Bowl.  Then, I’m over it, but not a minute beforehand,” Bowers said in The Washington Post.

Humor as Political Commentary

In London, a satirical group self-identified as Proud Bear put up spoof billboards to poke fun at Russia’s supposed interference in the referendum to withdraw Britain from the European Union (“Brexit”).

Photo: indy100

Opponents of Brexit suspect that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin influenced the outcome.

Employing humor to make their point, those behind the billboards claimed to be Russian military intelligence (GRU) officers seeking recognition for their role in the Brexit vote.

Channeling Frances McDormand

Frances McDormand won an Oscar for her lead role in a quirky movie released in 2017 about three billboards in rural America that spotlighted an unsolved crime (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).

The image of three billboards evolved into a global icon of expression.  The latest example:  activists in China are protesting homosexual “conversion therapy” on truck-side billboards.

Nanjing, China on January 14, 2019 (TIME)

Ad exec Rick Robinson at the Billups agency in Los Angeles said the high-contrast black-on-red billboard design – imitating three billboards in the award-winning McDormand movie – became a “visual meme.”

(Meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person via cultural symbols or imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.)

When McDormand’s co-star Sam Rockwell accepted his Oscar last year (Best Supporting Actor in “Three Billboards”), he thanked everyone who has ever looked at a billboard.

That’s a massive thank-you list, which is why billboards amplify the voice of disparate speakers around the world.

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