The two poster-boards shout at passers-by in clearly printed black marker. The signs are duplicates of one another, affixed at angles to a tree on a front lawn. The tree is set back far enough from the curb to not be mistaken for a city tree. Crucially, at the base of this tree is a neatly rounded pile of river rocks. At first glance, there are too many rocks to count. But the owners of the tree seem to keep close tabs on the total.
How I long to call on these people in a week or two and find out if they have seen an increase or a decrease in theft since they put up the signs.
For the signs to work as intended–as a deterrent against further theft–a few things have to happen:
- Potential and/or previous rock thieves need to come to the house
- Those people must be interpellated (that is, they must consider themselves addressed by the sign and identify as the intended audience of this sign’s imperative message)
- They must then feel remorse for their previous or intended actions
- They must not feel indignant, as that may lead to rebellion against the sign’s message
That you can see it from the street does not make it public; that you want it does not make it yours; that there are so many to begin with does not change the situation from the owners’ point of view.*
All of this being established, my inclination is that anyone who already feels it is their right to take something from someone else’s lawn will scoff at this feeble attempt to control their behavior and take more rocks just to spite the sign and the passive-aggressive people who wrote it.
I could be wrong. The four steps outlined above may happen. But until these rock owners get a security camera and law enforcement on their side, I do not think their rocks are going to stay put. Not with this futile sign as their only anchor.
* That I took a picture of what these people clearly consider to be their sole property is an ethical grey area, although not getting paid for this piece of writing nudges me more firmly on the “no worries” side of things.
One response to “Impotent Signage: Discouraging Garden Theft in the Modern Suburbs”
They might have achieved more had they taken the approach you see on the counters of convenience stores and gas stations–the presence of a small penny bowl with the sign “Take a penny; leave a penny.” Why not “Take a rock; leave a rock”? True, the pile might be slowly transformed from river rocks to river pebbles (or even grains of sand?), but if nothing else they would have constructed for themselves an interesting sociological experiment. Instead, another opportunity to explore the human condition–and to engage rather than stiff arm–lost.