Fred Phelps died in March, but the group he founded, the Westboro Baptist Church, is still picketing funerals. The US group often shows up at memorial services for soldiers or gay victims of hate crimes, armed with signs bearing horrific messages including “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The poster designs are crude but effective, like a warped reading of Leviticus produced by the Colby Poster Printing Co. “We aren’t about being ‘cryptic,’” a Westboro spokesman told an interviewer from the Walker Art Center.
Dave Dodd, a student at the Liverpool School of Art and Design, is turning Westboro’s own sloganeering back on itself, tweaking its messages from hatred into nonsense. As a student project, he developed a counter-protest kit of posters that ape Westboro’s style but change one letter. The results are satisfyingly weird: “God Hats America” could be the title of a poem by Frank O’Hara. “I realized that most of these slogans are one or two letter changes away from sentiments that are vaguely surreal yet just as batshit,” Dodd says.
Dodd hasn’t yet decided whether to start selling the posters. For now, you can see the whole publication, which includes sign-making templates as well as commentary, online. The Walker’s interview with the Westboro spokesman is also well worth reading in full, especially this exchange on the group’s design strategy:
Emmet Byrne (Walker Art Center): You write/design your signs to be concise so that they transmit easily through various media streams, but many of them are also slightly cryptic. For example, “Pray For More Dead Soldiers” probably confuses many people the first time they read it. It requires a level of decryption, almost like a puzzle, to understand the logic (of course, once you understand the message, the sign reveals itself to actually be incredibly straightforward). How did you come to this strategy of provoking people with outrageous but perplexing statements and forcing them to make an effort to understand you?
Steve Drain (WBC): Our signs have short, pithy messages on them for two main reasons: 1.) so we can make the words big so that you can see them from far away, and 2.) because we live in the “sound bite” generation, so you have to get after it quickly. We aren’t about being “cryptic.” We are about being plain and clear (the pastors of this world are the ones who confuse). Every once in a while a sign needs a bit of “fleshing out,” and if someone is interested in asking us the sign’s meaning or our motive for holding it, we are always good to answer. Sometimes sparking a dialogue can be a good thing, as long as the end of it is obedience to God. :)
[Via Creative Review]