Billboards vs. Beautification transcript
TITLE: Billboards vs Beautification
SUBTITLE: We drove Chehalis, WA and all we got was a 14 second video of this sign
[ID: NED, a mysterious demon, drawn entirely in black, with unnaturally long limbs and big eyes, crouches over a large billboard with the title on the left and a drawing of Uncle Sam on the right. Uncle Sam is an older white man with huge very close set blue eyes. He is wearing a top hat with stars and stripes on it and an old fashioned suit with a giant bowtie. He has a very narrow but long goatee. The billboard is on the side of a freeway. Behind part of the billboard is a map of the west coast with a route drawn between Portland, Centralia and Seattle.]
A. Service and A. McNamee
[ID: a comic with five panels, The first three panels show the steering wheel and dashboard of a car from the driver’s perspective. Through the dashboard the freeway is visible. A billboard with the words “FREEDOM IS DANGEROUS! SLAVERY IS PEACEFUL” written on one side and a drawing of uncle sam on the right slowly comes into view (actual sign, circa 2017). NED the education demon crouches over the sign and wraps its long arms over the words.]
You know when you’re on I-5 between Portland and Seattle.
You’re right near Chehalis, WA, and you see in the distance–
The two foot tall baby-blue eyes of Uncle Sam boring into you. Next to a far-right cold take on a 13x41 foot readerboard.
NED: “That’s pretty weird, right? What’s up with that?”
The sign’s creator is this guy, Alfred Hamilton. [ID: a drawing of a middle aged white man staring into the distance.]
He was a successful turkey rancher who got rich off his investments  [ID: a drawing of a turkey]
And he was a member of the proto-far-right John Birch Society .* [ID: a roast turkey on a platter in a spotlight]*
Hamilton’s first recorded political billboard was erected in 1967. It protested new state and federal laws banning most billboards to preserve the beauty of American freeways .
[ID: Alfred Hamilton stands with his arms crossed behind a large flock of turkeys. There is one emu in the back of the flock and a large barn behind them. A billboard next to Hamilton reads: “THERE ARE NO BILLBOARDS IN RUSSIA!”.]
NED: there definitely are billboards in Russia
You can thank lady bird johnson for provoking Hamilton. [ID: a portrait of a middle aged woman with a short and puffy 1960s style hair style and a pearl necklace.]
Lady Bird’s advocacy ensured the Highway Beautification Act’s passage; LBJ signed it on her birthday . [ID a smiling Lyndon B Johnson hands Lady bird a pen, both are wearing formal clothes and are middle aged. A tiny NED is sitting on Lady Bird’s shoulder.]
NED: “happy birthday”
[ID: there are four different versions of the uncle sam sign, each has text on one side and a slightly different drawing of uncle sam on the other, there are four NED’s all are small, the same size as the signs, their arms and legs are wiggly, two NED’s are solid black and two completely white.]
NED: “Hamilton changed the slogan regularly, but they were uniformly conservative, often bizarre, and occasionally inscrutable.”
Sign 1: LET’S KEEP THE CANAL AND GIVE THEM KISSINGER
NED: “There were so many signs about the US finally giving Panama its canal back”
Sign 2: PUBLIC LIBRARY: A GREAT PLACE FOR YOUR KIDS TO MEET SEXUAL DEVIANTS
Sign 3: BOOTH GARDNER– A MAN WHO THINKS TWICE BEFORE HE SAYS NOTHING NED: “Like every Democratic governor of Washington, Gardner received his fair share of sign time.”
Sign 4: MUHAMMED YUSEF, MUSLIM FROM GREAT VRITAIN FINANCED “THE DA VINCE CODE”!”
NED: “Hamilton had to obliquely weigh in on the islamophobic consipiracy theories about Tom Hank’s film The Da Vinci Code in 2004.”
[Unidentified silhouette of a face:] “But NED,”
[Unidentified silhouette of a face:] “ What did Lady Bird Johnson have to say about Uncle Sam?”
[ID: NED with his chin in his hand and legs over its heads]
She didn’t personally weigh in on the matter, but Hamilton’s sign was in violation of Washington State’s Scenic Vistas Act in accordance with Lady Bird’s bill.
The only permissible billboards? “Signs advertising activities conducted on the property… ”
[ID: an uncle sam sign with a bedraggled, tired uncle sam on the left, the sign reads “CARTER”S NEW BROOM MADE OF OLD STRAW” the top of the sign in smaller font “HAMILTON FARMS access road exit” the bottom of the sign reads “Angus, holstein, springers”]
[ID:the bottom panel is laid out like a newspaper article, the headline reads “Uncle Sam Billboard Wins Legal Tussle”  by Brother Jonathan. There is an image of a cartoonish uncle sam behind a jail cell, with his hands gripping the bars. There is an ad for jello on the bottom of page that reads “SPRINKLE JELL-O INSTEAD O]
In 1971 Washington State sued Hamilton, but the appeals court sided with Uncle Sam: even though the ad only took up 8.9% of the sign, the government had no right to say that the sign wasn’t an ad . So Sam got to say.
Hamilton sold his farm in 1995 [ID: Uncle sam sign that reads “NONCOMMUNIST STRAW FOR SALE” a small lawn sign in front of it reads “SOLD, national frozen foods.”]
…and moved the sing up the road [ID: Uncle Sam sign that reads “DEMOCRAT MOTTO VOTE EARLY VOTE OFTEN.” in front of a semi truck]
Since his death in 2004 his son Mike owns the sign and presumably is responsible for its messages . The ads and the farm are long gone, but the state hasn’t tried to have the billboard removed. [ID: an uncle sam sign that reads “TAX FREE COMMUNIST CITY BEING BUILT NEAR BOISE.”]
According to UW law professor Hugh Spitzer that’s because the Scenic Vistas Act has entered a “legal twilight zone.” Today courts allow laws that restrict the time, place and manner of speech but not content as the Act regulates– so it risks being struck down if challenged . [ID: drawing of Hugh Spitzer, an older man in a suit with short hair.]
[ID: a rear view mirror with an uncle sam sign in it, the sign reads: “BACKGROUND CHECKS LET’S START WITH THE PRESIDENT”] So Hamilton gets the last word. For fifty years and counting.
[ID: NED’s upper body with very long arms holding up text boxes.]
NED: “The Seattle Time estimates that the sign was viewed about 1.3 BILLION times between 1967 and 2017 , including gems like: “WOMEN ARE MEANT TO BE CHERISHED NOT LIBERATED,” ‘NO MEXICAN OLYMPIC TEAM? ALL THE RUNNERS AND SWIMMERS ARE HERE!” “EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE- HOME OF ENVIRONMENTAL TERRORISTS AND HOMOS?”
NED: “Sometimes the signs are absurd to the point of humor, but they can also be cruel and unwelcoming.”
In hindsight, Hamilton’s rhetoric is reminiscent of Twitter trolls.
[ID: the twitter icon drawn above the handle “@RealCandaceO” next to the icon the tweet reads:] “A step-by-step guide to not having the government separate you from your family: Step 1: Don’t Break the Law that’s it, there’s no more steps.” 
Hamilton told the Oregonian that his goal with the sign was to “make people think ” But like Twitter, the sign has only a few seconds to provoke its viewers. Driving by in your car there’s no way to respond. Hamilton certainly isn’t promoting good-faith discussion, or even a coherent political ideology of his own.
The messages he wrote were often fear mongering and mean spirited, irony-dense, designed for an emotional response. Does Uncle Sam represent Hamilton’s perspective or the overbearing government? (why are his eyes like that?)
Uncle Sam has been controversial since 1967 (the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce alone gets a call at least once a week) . A common editorial response to these complain is:
[ID: a small low house like building, in the next panel a man with crossed arms and a baseball cap shading his face says: “Free speech! If you don’t like it, put up your own.”]
One Chehalis transplant Kyle Wheeler (no relation), became somewhat obsessed with the sign
[ID drawing of Kyle Wheeler wearing a cloth mask over his nose and mouth and frameless glasses, he has shoulder length hair and is wearing a long sleeve shirt.]
And he decided to take the reply guys up on their challenge. After years of effort he’s found that
PRESS: “as it turns out, putting up a sign of your own isn’t quite as simple as comments in the newspaper make it out to be.” 
He got a plot of land along the highway but it’s not zoned for a billboard-sized sign.
[ID: Kyle Wheeler stands next to a large pride flag with a arrow of the trans pride flag on the right side that reads “LEWIS COUNTY WELCOMES…” behind the pride sign is the large torso of uncle sam, clearly much bigger than the pride sign. In front of the pride sing is a small lawn sign that says “RURAL AMERICAN AGAINST RACISM”]
He put up a smaller sign but it was puny next to the hamilton sign, and defaced within 24 hours. He continues working on the sign and related projects. He feels he owes it to other rural LGBTQ+ kids to keep going . There won’t be a responding billboard anytime soon.
[ID NED’s upper body leans into first panel from the top of the page, NED has its head resting on its hands]
NED: “Lots of people, regardless of their personal political opinions, like to call the sign a beacon of free speech, like…”
[ID the unidentified silhouette of the head and upper body of a person in the second panel]: “What a glorious example of American freedom, I love it BECAUSE I don’t agree with it!”
NED: “But who gets that free speech? Wheeler doesn’t have access to Hamilton’s volume.”
It’s ironic that Hamilton, with all his economic and social power, felt so maligned that he needed the attention of 1.3 billion people to consider himself heard.
Incidentally, the sign has a 2.5 star rating on Yelp. A particularly lyrical review
[ID: the next paragraph is formatted to look like a Yelp review, at the top of the ‘review’ is a circle with an anonymous avatar, the name Mike M. Centralia, WA and a one out of five star rating]
Alfred Hamilton…like many bitter men, blamed the democratic system of governance for every little grievance. He was also a typical conservative chicken hawk, who could not be bothered to go to war himself, but spent a great deal of time and effort putting down those who don’t “support the troops.” All hat no Cattle.
Hamilton died in 2004. I’d love to miss him, but he won’t go away .
[ID: there are three panels in a row at the bottom of the page, the first shows a steering wheel and dashboard from the perspective of the driver, looking out over an empty road. The second panel shows the driver’s seat and steering wheel from the perspective of the passenger seat, revealing that NED is driving. NED has one hand on the wheel and the other behind its head. The third panel shows the uncle sam sign with a car driving past it. The sign reads: “TAKE THAT LADY BIRD.”]
- Mark Lawton, “‘Uncle Sam’ Billboard Owner Dies,” The Daily Chronicle, November 10, 2004, https://www.chronline.com/stories/uncle-sam-billboard-owner-dies,236138.
- Zoe Sayler, “A Highway, Divided: What Drives Opposition to I-5’s Uncle Sam Sign?,” Seattle Met, March 1, 2021, https://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-city-life/2021/03/what-drives-opposition-to-i5-uncle-sam-hamilton-sign-lewis-county-lollipop-guild-washington.
- Brittany Voie, “Voie Commentary: Slade Gorton and the Infamous Hamilton Uncle Sam Billboard,” The Daily Chronicle, July 28, 2017, https://www.chronline.com/stories/voie-commentary-slade-gorton-and-the-infamous-hamilton-uncle-sam-billboard,24896.
- “Highway Beautification Act Media Kit,” LBJ Presidential Library, accessed July 31, 2021, http://www.lbjlibrary.org/mediakits/highwaybeautification/.
- The State of Washington, Appellant, v. Alfred R. Hamilton, et al, Respondents (Washington Court of Appeals January 17, 1980).
- “Uncle Sam Billboard Wins Legal Tussle,” The Seattle Times, December 24, 1979,
- The State of Washington, Appellant, v. Alfred R. Hamilton, et al, Respondents.
- Mark Lawton, “‘Uncle Sam’ Billboard Owner Dies,”
- Erik Lacitis, “I-5’s Uncle Sam Billboard: 50 Years and Still Ticked off near Chehalis,” The Seattle Times, October 21, 2017, sec. Local News, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/i-5s-uncle-sam-50-years-and-still-ticked-off-near-chehalis/.
- Brittany Voie, “Brittany Voie Commentary: Hamilton Uncle Sam Billboard Is a Landmark in a ‘Legal Twilight Zone,’” The Daily Chronicle, October 13, 2017, https://www.chronline.com/stories/brittany-voie-commentary-hamilton-uncle-sam-billboard-is-a-landmark-in-a-legal-twilight-zone,22592.
- Erik Lacitis, “I-5’s Uncle Sam Billboard: 50 Years and Still Ticked off near Chehalis,”
- Shaun, PragerU & The Law, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCTp_kYwz1E.
- Brittany Voie, “Voie Commentary: The Curious Case of the Loved and Loathed Hamilton Sign,” The Daily Chronicle, July 21, 2017, https://www.chronline.com/stories/voie-commentary-the-curious-case-of-the-loved-and-loathed-hamilton-sign,25076.
- Brittany Voie, “Brittany Voie Commentary: Hamilton Uncle Sam Billboard Is a Landmark in a ‘Legal Twilight Zone,’”
- Zoe Sayler, “A Highway, Divided: What Drives Opposition to I-5’s Uncle Sam Sign?,”
- “Uncle Sam Right Wing Billboard - Chehalis, WA,” Yelp, accessed October 1, 2021, https://www.yelp.com/biz/uncle-sam-right-wing-billboard-chehalis?q=all+hat.
Citation links and full transcript at audmcname.com
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