Print Politics

Flyer Printing Gone Bad!

It's true, sometimes printing is used to make trouble!

Throughout this whole election, I've been writing about all the cool election campaign printing that's been created independently to support the voting process. What I didn't come across before today were random acts of subversive printing created to undermine the voting process.

In Virginia over the last week, voters have been receiving flyer printing informing them that Election Day has been changed to November 5th. The flyers were designed to look like an emergency bulletin from the Virginia State Board of Elections. And when I say 'designed,' I mean that in the loosest possible sense of the word.

It's easy to argue that the flyer printing hardly looks official. The government seals are poorly-made photocopies, and the message is replete with typos. But that being said, I don't think that it would take a stupid person to believe the message contained therein.

You only have to look at the crazy results of hoax advertising campaigns from the past to know that people are inclined to trust the printed page. Companies have been sued, in fact, for ad campaigns that they thought were clever, but were perceived by tricked readers as hurtfully false or misleading.

This happens all the time in print publications like newspapers and magazines. Sometimes even the most reputable sources turn out to have published hoax material in order to generate buzz.

P.T. Barnum famously advertised his circus using posters that were more compelling, gross, and weird than the attractions themselves. But people saw the printed page, and they believed.

For every cynic and conspiracy theorist out there, there is a person inclined to trust. This isn't mere gullibility, it's that we need to believe what signs, mail, and other forms of printing tell us just to survive. We have to trust the authority of the printed word, because otherwise, we don't have enough information to proceed on our own through this confusing and bureaucratic society.

So I don't think this hoax flyer printing campaign is as obviously false as some people are saying. I just hope nobody shows up to vote on the 5th. As PT Barnum said about his own promotions, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

I hope he's right!


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