I imagine that “signs from God” are pretty hot right now. How could they not be? God has been known to show up in times of crisis to provide guidance, soothe anxiety and motivate people to congregate despite an airborne virus that’s killed more people than Vietnam.
I’m not a religious person, but I do like it when people can deconstruct benign events and imbue them with divine meaning. In fact, that’s pretty much all it takes to be an English major! If you think God is talking to you through a tortilla, then who am I to say that you’re wrong? (Honestly, I’m more willing to believe that scenario over others because most of my near-religious experiences have occurred while chowing down on a burrito).
However, ever since the pandemic started, literal signs from God have started popping up in my neighborhood. Billboards that used to advertise reptile shows and monster truck rallies have been replaced by religious messages that I assume are supposed to be comforting but in fact they are quite the opposite. The signs are—how should we say—creepy af.
Let’s take a look into what we’re dealing with right now.
“It will get brighter”
The message: I originally thought PassItOn.com was affiliated with the LDS Church, because this sort of unadulterated optimism is something that the Mormons love (I can generalize because I used to be Mormon and some of my best friends are Mormon!). I was mistaken, though. PassItOn is not related to the LDS church. Turns out, PassItOn is just an organization that spreads positive messages via billboards. Still, this kind of unbridled optimism is too close to religious messaging for comfort, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole campaign is just a front for Big Non-Denominational to push their agendas down our throats. People doing things just for goodness sake?? What’s the angle here? I don’t like it!!
The design: The design of the billboard feels a little like an anti-tobacco ad, and I’m not a fan. Not that I’m pro-tobacco or—in this case—anti-hope, but I don’t like when signs are all bossy with things that I already believe. I’m also wary of images that translate the message as literally as this. It’s one step away from being a thumb on a dimmer switch, poised to make things brighter. Also, tunnels are cool. Stay in that tunnel, guy. You’re just going to get sweaty outside.
Message score: 3.4
Design score: 6.4
“Concerned? Jesus can be trusted”
The message: Ah, now here’s that old-fashioned fear-mongering and supplication I crave. This is the exact phrase I want all my barbers, dentists, surgeons to say before working on me.
I’m not exactly certain how the two statements on this billboard go together—it’s one round of edits away from being a cohesive statement. Should Jesus be trusted to take away our concern, or is it the kind of trust where he won’t do any shady shit with our credit card numbers (which he omnisciently knows)? Like, is the sign telling us that Jesus is just one less thing we should be concerned about right now, and if so, then phew, because being smote was high up on my concerns list.
Perhaps in an effort to understand better, I called the number on the billboard. The organization is called GospelBillboards.org and they claim that “millions of people read our billboards every day.”
In the list of options, the automatic voice of GospelBillboards dot com said 'If you're feeling lonely or discouraged, press 3.
Who isn’t? I thought, and smashed that 3.
“Perhaps you are lonely because you feel alone,” said the soothing, gospel-y voice and then cut to me, furiously writing in my notes: lonely = alone.
The voice went on: “Or perhaps—perhaps—you feel lonely in spite of everyone around you. Strange, isn’t it?” Try being a non-sports fan in San Diego, I thought. Then you’ll know the true feeling of being alone amongst a group of people.
“People have been compared to onions,” the voice said. “We have layers. Only if we trust people, do we allow them into our inner layers.”
I hung up and felt more concerned than I had before. How am I going to trust Jesus when he likes to dabble in trite onion layer metaphors?
The design: There’s nothing flashy about this billboard, which might be why I respect it. It looks like the work of a graphic designer at the end of their rope after enduring endless comments and suggestions from the committee. Can the word “Jesus” be bigger? No... BIGGER? How about a gradient on that word, too. The boss loves gradients. In the end, the designer came up with something a third grader with MS Paint could do. The stock photo of the devastated man is just icing on the cake.
Message score 1.2
Design score: 7.0
“Worried? Jesus offers security”
The message: Obviously just a variation of the other billboard, but hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? And I appreciate that this one has a little more of a cohesive message. This is what I’m going to start saying to the people around me on a rollercoaster just before the ride’s about to start.
The design: Suffers from unoriginality, but I’m glad that Gospelbillboards.org are getting the most out of that stock photo.
Message score: 1.8
Design score: 7.0
“Come to My Divine Mercy”
The message: God, I love it when Christians portray Jesus as a benevolent superhero. What are those shooting out of his hands, divine lasers? This is basically how I imagined Jesus when I was six years old—just a bro who could do anything. I also love the subtle dick-measuring vibe going on here. Oh you think your sins are big? Check out my mercy! That guy just can’t let us win, can he?
The design: Gotta admit, I’m kinda charmed by the cut and paste quality of this layout. It seems like a slide that was made in 2000-era PowerPoint. The 3 million point size font of “Divine Mercy” is also a really good touch.
Message score: 6.7
The design: 8.7
“Freaked out? God isn’t.”
(Best New Billboard)
The message: Is there a way to nominate billboards for Pulitzers? They don’t get much better or creepier than this. I want to whisper this in the ear of someone watching a horror movie with me. I want to become a drug dealer just to use this line. If I was still in high school, I would slip a picture of me in my crush’s locker with this written on the back. What a phrase to put on a religious billboard. This is pretty much the only message that deserves to be displayed three storeys high.
Message score: 10.0
Design score: 10.0
Kelly Davis is taking the week off, so I’m going to share with you one of my favorite trash cocktails.
It’s called the Christpuncher.
I don’t know the origins of Christpuncher, but my friend Peter Holslin wrote about them years ago when he was the music editor at CityBeat, and I’ve been low-key obsessed with them ever since.
Basically, the ingredients are
Wine (eyeball amount)
Whiskey (eyeball amount)
Cola (eyeball amount)
Sounds gross, right? WRONG. It’s delicious. Don’t let any of your discerning friends tell you otherwise.
THE WEEKLY GOODS
Listen to this
San Diego musician Shelbi Bennett is a national treasure. From her soulful work in The Midnight Pine to the brash punk-stylings in The Havnauts, Bennett’s talent runs the gamut. Recently, Bennett posted a cover of Tegan and Sara’s “Call It Off” (from their impeccable album, The Con), and I think it’s just great. Bennett uses an app to turn herself into a full-fledged band (whoa technology/the future is now!), and the result is stunning. Check it out.
I’ve been watching a lot of mediocre horror movies during quarantine. Granted, I’ve also been knee-deep in some masterful TV series that I had yet to watch (The Sopranos, The Americans), but when it comes to movies, it’s been stuff like The Relic, IT 2 and even some Troma films. However, last weekend I watched the Japanese film One Cut of the Dead, which is the best film I’ve seen in months. It’s hard to talk about the film without giving too much away—the less you know about it, the better—but the basic plot revolves around a small film crew shooting a low-budget zombie film when a real zombie apocalypse breaks out. The first 40 minutes are incredible and funny and charming, but the real joy comes afterwards. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a potent love letter to the artistic spirit.
I’m sure you’ve probably eaten a few regrettable things over the last few months, but if you haven’t yet succumbed to the terrible allure of Hot Pockets, then you’re fine. For this week’s activity, I thought it’d be fun if we came up with our own flavors of Hot Pockets. If you’re looking to take the gross-out route, it’s going to be hard to come up with something more monstrous than anything under the Hot Pockets brand, but I believe in you.
Use this template:
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.