Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs
Blockin’ up the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign
Over the years I’ve noticed certain “cultural jokes” or memes appear across the country along our roads and highways. Awhile back it was common to see old shoes, their laces tied from one shoe to the other, slung over telephone wires to hang in suspension. What this was supposed to signify no one is sure, but it was oftentimes ominously assumed to be a gang sign.
One “joke” that has always made me curious has been spotted all over the United States for decades: the alteration of the DOT road sign warning of deer near the road. The classic yellow diamond warning sign with the black silhouette of a jumping deer is altered to sport the red nose of that beloved cultural icon, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I’ve only seen the sign with a spot of red spray paint strategically placed on the end of the nose, but in other places it appears as a small red reflector, which flashes red when a light (such as a car’s headlight) strikes it.
We have a tendency to parody anything that becomes over-saturated in pop culture; Weird Al Yankovic and the SNL comedians are delightfully funny because they take overexposed and worn out songs and stories and reinvent them in a way that conveys just how bored we have become with it all.
I think an element of “culture-jamming” also comes into play: people are so frustrated by the juggernauts of culture shouting us down on how we should act, dress, talk, and think, that there develops a need to sabotage or reframe the onslaughts.
I suppose that whoever makes the Rudolph-altered sign has those sorts of motivations, since it is an apparently random act of vandalism, not specific to any individual, organization, or region. Nearly everyone drives some sort of vehicle on public roads frequently, and the constant reminder of the Big Brother authority of the DOT with its standardized signs telling us how we must behave and what we should be predicting as we drive is probably goading this sort of behavior. Somehow converting the authority sign into an icon of a childhood fantasy about being different and unique and forging one’s own path is overwhelmingly compelling to some people.