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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Billboards refuse to be ignored

A movie theme could be put to work to speak truth to power.

Three mobile billboards in Miami calling for gun

Three mobile billboards in Miami calling for gun reform. Photo Credit: Jesus Aranguren/AVAAZ via Flickr

There is no shortage of reminders on our TV and movie screens and theater stages and book pages of the degree to which artists are inspired by real life. But as the eminently perceptive and witty Oscar Wilde once observed: Life imitates art a lot more than art imitates life.

One devilishly clever exemplar of that is the current reality riff on the Oscar front-runner “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

In the film, a mother whose daughter had been raped and murdered seven months earlier rents three billboards to display a three-part message directed at the town’s police chief.

RAPED WHILE DYING

AND STILL NO ARRESTS?

HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?

Earlier this month, activists in London protesting a similar absence of action after a fire in June that killed dozens of people in an apartment tower put billboards on the sides of three trucks and drove them all over the city:

71 DEAD

AND STILL NO ARRESTS?

HOW COME?

The horrendous school shooting in Parkland, Florida, inspired two similarly themed displays, one outside the Wisconsin office of House Speaker Paul Ryan and another whose tour of Miami included Sen. Marco Rubio’s office:

SLAUGHTERED IN SCHOOL

AND STILL NO GUN CONTROL?

HOW COME, MARCO RUBIO?

On Thursday, a coalition of medical and humanitarian groups deployed a trio of trucks in Manhattan to circle the United Nations:

500,000 DEAD IN SYRIA

AND STILL NO ACTION?

HOW COME, SECURITY COUNCIL?

The starkness of the black capital letters on the orange background, the efficacy of the haiku-like form, the simplicity of the messages, and the way they were directed like lasers at their targets made them discomforting and compelling, just like the ones in the movie.

And they led to some thinking about what else might pop up in this country and abroad.

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election deepens, demonstrating that the 2018 vote also will be under attack, three billboards could circle the White House:

17 INDICTMENTS, 5 CONVICTIONS

AND STILL NO CONCERN?

HOW COME, MR. PRESIDENT?

As commuters commute, teams of billboard trucks could roam Long Island pretty much anytime:

ANOTHER DAY

AND STILL MORE DELAYS?

HOW COME, LIRR?

As potential conflicts of interest among presidential advisers remain unsettled and worries grow about who has access to classified information, three billboards could parade up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington:

13 MONTHS

AND STILL NO PERMANENT SECURITY CLEARANCE?

HOW COME, JARED KUSHNER?

As the world’s best winter athletes prepare for closing ceremonies in South Korea, three billboards could stand outside Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium:

DOPING ATHLETES BARRED

AND ONLY 1 GOLD MEDAL?

HOW COME, RUSSIA?

As Myanmar bulldozes Rohingya Muslim villages, after thousands of killings and rapes over many months forced 650,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh to the world’s biggest refugee camp, three billboards could be placed most anywhere:

ETHNIC CLEANSING PROCEEDS

AND STILL NO INTERVENTION?

HOW COME, WORLD?

As Wilde also noted, questions are never indiscreet. Sometimes the answers are.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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