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Kids’ handmade signs: Are we getting the message?

Amanda Todd YouTube video

Really, if I were to explain this piece as I should, I would scribble some words on a homemade sign. I would hold it up. I would be alone. The only one watching would be the eye of a camera, and you on the Internet. In the background, you would see edges of ordinary domestic life, a corner of an unmade bed, a desk, a backyard, a kitchen sink with dishes, the tip of a dog's tail wagging. You would have a window into my little world.

I would hold each note up to the camera for you to read, one sentence fragment after the other, an unfolding narrative that would draw you in, like a great page-turner of a novel. I would have selected an accompanying soundtrack, say, Avril Lavigne's Everybody Hurts. You would not want to stop watching, compelled to see what the next sign would say.

The expression on my face would be blank; giving nothing away. I would look off to the right or the left and only sometimes into the camera. I would let my words tell you what I need to say.

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This is a story reads the first card.

I would put that one down and hold up the next: About the signs that have become our voice

I would say nothing. I would shrug.

I wasn't sure why, reads the next.

Then this: Until I was

At first I wondered: an homage to Bob Dylan?

I would raise my eyebrows. I might give the thumbs up sign; cock my head to one side; produce a rueful smile.

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Next sign: Remember Subterranean Homesick Blues?

Then: His song from 1965.

I would bug my eyes in disbelief over how long ago that was.

Then this: Dylan holds up cue cards of the lyrics from the song as it plays.

I might make a retro peace sign with my fingers for the camera.

Cool, I let the next sign say. Anti-establishment, says another one.

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But who remembers that?

I find the next card: Bank of Montreal did something like this, too

I'd shrug again.

Revolutionary in 1996

I would flip through the cards at a fast pace that still allowed you to read each.

People holding placards in the street

One man held a handwritten sign: "Can I ever retire?"

A family's said: "Are we going to be OK?"

I would pause.

Next: Mock protest in a recessionary time

Then: A bank pretending to listen to people on the street

I might grimace slightly.

And then I saw Amanda Todd's video about how she was bullied

I would look away from the camera.

She had secrets she needed to tell

I would hold up the next, eyes downcast.

Before she committed suicide

I would look into the camera now.

She spoke in handwritten notes

I would pause again.

Weird, isn't it? my placard voice would say next.

A silent, very private confession in a public forum

Passive expression.

Next sign: She can hide behind the signs she holds to the camera

I'd shake my head in puzzlement.

Which gives her an anonymity at the same time she's putting herself on display

Pause.

Maybe it's because we live in an image-based society

Then another:

It's the only way words can have power

Pause again.

But then I watched so many similar sign stories on the Internet. All from teenagers in pain

I would hold up my index finger to indicate that I had realized something.

It's a way to distance themselves from the pain they're too embarrassed to talk about

Next: I bend my head to write. Sign-talk may have had previous moments in culture, but it has now found its most powerful voice

I compose again: These young people are wanting to belong. To reach out

I would hide behind the next one, held close to the camera's eye.

A silent cry of desperation in the community of cyberspace

I hold up the next: Not mock protest

Flip to this: Near-defeated protest

Hoping that in the telling, they're helping others

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About the Author
Life columnist

Sarah Hampson is an award-winning journalist whose work started appearing in The Globe and Mail in 1998, when she was invited to write a column. Since 1993, when she began her career in journalism, she had been writing for all of Canada's major magazines, including Toronto Life, Saturday Night (now defunct), Chatelaine, Report on Business and Canadian Art, among others. More

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