Marble Falls Driving across huge parts of the US South and West I could say gives me time to think, but that’s hardly half of it. Eyes plastered to the road; a driver is overwhelmed by visual overload. As you drive west, your vision expands for miles in all directions. One day I counted 150 antelopes. Another day, crossing from Colorado to Wyoming on the interstate a deer ran right across the highway in front of me. I marveled at the near miss and the many times I had heard and read about drivers hitting deer and how dangerous it was to both of them. Then out of my left eye, I saw a second deer trailing the first, running behind me in a another near miss. Between Wyoming and Nebraska on another highway, I watched six mule deer watching the road, trying to time their crossing.
What I also saw a lot of was the signs and billboards throughout the South and West that struck out at abortion, pictured babies, touted life, and scolded women. Others touted the value of religion, pictured Jesus, praised God, quoted Bible versions, and church. Guns advertisements were prominent. Sure, there were a couple of Trump signs along the way and one huge Let’s Go Brandon, but they were dwarfed by the others.
It got me thinking. Does anyone anywhere really believe a billboard is going to be the deciding factor in a young woman deciding whether to have a child or not? I really doubt it. For all the signs and exhortations about faith and religion, does anyone anywhere really believe that seeing a billboard or a giant cross on a vacant stretch of highway is going to send the sinners streaming in on Sunday? I really doubt it. These are all cultural communications signifying that you are now in the land of a specific tribe. These are all exhortations to neighbors and strangers that this is the publicly approved way to act and think, the local folks’ warnings of bad dogs and no trespassing signs, except writ large to silence others.
I get it, but I wonder about how other modern tribes communicate? Reading the papers daily, I get the feeling that some think art, music, movies, and other avenues are the cultural communications adequate as signposts to offset these billboards.
What bridges the gaps? Why aren’t we working harder to break down the cultural barriers and communicate directly? Where are our billboards about peace and safety, choice, community, and good will? Is some kind of fear stopping us, or are we uninterested in closing the divides? Talking to people across the West and South, I’m met with warmth, courtesy, and uncommon friendliness. Does this mask our differences, or are we unwilling to test direct communications without the various cultural signifiers?
I wonder and worry about this on the road. In planting radio stations in these communities, as “voice of the people” stations, we’re opening up channels to other cultural communications that may not align with all of these billboards. Those voices will be heard, but so will other voices, equally loud. People can turn us on or off, but we will be heard. We will be a constant presence in all communities.
Radio isn’t enough though. It’s also more silent than these billboards. I wonder if there’s a billboard anywhere that thanks Biden for putting money in peoples’ pockets and protecting us against pandemic? Seriously, billboards aren’t my business, but communication is, and it won’t be social media that organizes and convinces people to hear other voices, walk in other shoes, and build a more united country. We need to find the missing pieces to this puzzle.