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Looking for Signs

Looking for Signs
During my recent trip to Cuba, I found myself fascinated by the political signs. Since this was my first trip to a communist-socialist nation, the slogans, paintings, and other forms of propaganda interested me. I have studied and taught political communication, but had not yet experienced this kind. This likely made me a bit of an unusual tourist, as I looked down the road hoping to see the next political message. Many of the signs can be found in my online album Cuba, part 5 (Political/Partisan). I never had to wait too long to see another sign.

Throughout the island similar sights greeted us. All of the billboards appeared to be government signs. By the week's end, I could sometimes make out what the billboards said as I noticed common words and themes (Gary Snowden, my friend and colleague at Churchnet, usually helped me know what the rest said since he is fluent in Spanish while I know un poco). References abounded to the Revolution, the people, socialism, history, order, discipline, and work, Pictures of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Raul Castro dominated the scenery, with other Cuban heroes sprinkled in. All together, the signs built a strong message through repetition, buzzwords, and imagery.

The landscape changed quickly upon my arrival back in the United States. As I drove away from the airport, I happened to realize I was glancing at each of the billboards. After a week of looking at the political signs in Cuba, the billboards in the U.S. seemed quite different. Cheap deals replaced revolutionary slogans. Photos of business owners and corporate mascots replaced the Castros and Che. Messages of capitalism replaced references to socialism. The patriotic symbols changed, but still featured red, white, and blue. Despite the differences in our signs, we are also taught through repetition, buzzwords, and imagery about how we are supposed to work, think, live, and prioritize. Apparently the "rulers" of both nations recognize the need to get their messages out. Perhaps our propaganda is not that different after all.

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