Ugly truths

It’s not easy writing about global conspiracy on a poster. You have to capture the essence of a worldwide system of corruption in text a passer-by can digest swiftly. This piece – attached to a traffic light by Trafalgar Square in London – makes an ambitious effort to cover the necessary ground while the paused pedestrian is waiting for the green man to appear.

The piece reminded me that writing is visual before it is literal. We first start to evaluate text according to how it looks, which is one more reason why writers should get involved in the design process. Unattractive writing loses the reader, and the hopes of the writer are lost with them. We should think of design as the first event in the interaction between writer and reader. Bad design kills good writing.

Our paranoid prose example will put off almost all of its potential audience. It takes a curious mind to look past the typogeddon. The poster certainly fails the ‘say one big thing quickly’ test for billboards. And the reader that perseveres may yet be repelled by the writer’s instruction to download 210+ website pages. But at least he hasn’t hidden the calls to action right at the end (I’m pretty sure it’s a he, but I might be wrong).

After setting out his key assertions in points a and b, the writer then moves into a more lyrical tone. It’s pretty miserable, sing-song stuff, like a neutered Cat Stevens reciting Vogon poetry. But the worst thing about conspiracy theories is that they distract us from the ugly truths much closer to the end of our nose. A striking accusation here is that the written word is a mechanism through which children are being brainwashed, whereas low levels of literacy are what we should be concerned about. I’m not sure how he squares this logophobia with his suggestion that we should go away and use the web to read further about his opinions. If you’re going to be a conspiracist you should at least be consistent.

Eccentric though these paranoid points are (yes, I’m being kind), they’re not a million miles from some of the thoughts put forward by professional miserabilists in their books and columns about how we’re all going to hell in a technological handcart. The idea that digital devices and the web are dumbing us down has a touch of the global conspiracy theory about it, for example. I have to say, I feel rather more warmth towards the writer of this amateur effort than hack doomsayers. He wants to drag us back to a time before shoes, and he’s visually illiterate, but at least he remains aware that he has a reader and needs to take care of them. I like: ‘If you have a heart problem, have a doctor near you while reading’.

He’s utterly confused, and guilty of presenting visually unappetising text, but at least our writer remembers that he is in the business of creating a connection between two people. That’s something people who write for a living sometimes seem to forget.


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